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Cyberattacks in Afghanistan

April 2, 2013, at 4:00 PM

Fact: By the end of 2014, U.S. troops will not be withdrawn from Afghanistan. The Afghan army might well be "responsible for its own security," as President Obama pledged, but only with more than 10,000 U.S. combat and support troops nestled by their side. Not only has the Pentagon not committed to a specific withdrawal date for all non-Special Operations forces, it remains opaque about whether the U.S. deployment in 2015 will look like it does in Iraq, a country with whom the U.S. has a very different standing agreement.

What will U.S. troops be doing? Targeted counter-terrorism, yes: The "drone" war, but well within the confines of a battlefield that Congress recognizes. (Afghanistan will still be the base for U.S. incursions — either secretly on the ground, or more likely using unmanned aerial vehicles — into Pakistan.) But counter-terrorism is not a stand-alone endeavor. We picture commando raids and training exercises in our heads, but there's a lot more to it.

One U.S. contractor is hiring cyber-attack experts for the U.S. mission there.

Leonie, Inc. is based in Pacific Palisades in California, but it maintains an office in Arlington, Va., close to the Pentagon. That's useful because it's been tasked to provide subject matter experts in "CNO" — computer network operations, but particularly, experts in "exploitation" and "attack." You exploit a digital network by penetrating it and gathering intelligence from it. You attack a network in order to manipulate and deceive the enemy.

The bland acronym that the Defense Department uses for such military deception operations is "IJSTO." It's hard to find an open source definition of the acronym, which stands for Integrated Joint Special Technical Operations. In general, ITSTO involve the manipulation of the electromagnetic spectrum to confuse, deceive, and defeat the enemy. Most U.S. offense cyber-operations that involve military purposes are organized by special cells embedded in a particular command's intelligence branch, segregated from others because their work is so highly classified.

According to a job posting, The Leonie Group wants people who can relocate to Kabul and:

Provide expertise/conduct/support:

Development of computer network operations objectives

Provide advice and assistance to key strategic operations synchronization team with CNO integrating processes, procedures and products into operational planning

Knowledge of intelligence and interagency processes

Synchronization computer network operations efforts with military deception (MILDEC), operations security (OPSEC), and military information support operations (MISO) in support of political and military objectives Provide support and subject matter expertise to maximize successful execution of theater and strategic CNO plans

Provide support to an enhance Cyber requirements analysis and tracking process, including highly focused studies and analyses to support development of processes for the identification, refinement, and prioritization methodology of Cyber requirements

In order to get the job, the incumbent needs a TOP SECRET clearances with lots of extra tickets attached, five years working CNO with "at least 2 years of operational Computer Network Exploitation (CNE) and Attack (CNA) planning and integration," and "knowledge of developing CNO/CYBER Attack/Exploitation campaign strategy, plans, and orders." (This refers to classified CONPLANS developed for the U.S. Cyber Command.)

Planning and executing cyber operations against the Taliban, the Haqqani network, Iranian proxies, and maybe even the Afghan army takes years. All of this is to say: We'll be in Afghanistan for a while.

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