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Cyber security, an Air Force punchline?

by Mike Hoffman on September 26, 2012

Many U.S. generals will openly admit to knowing little about one of the threats they all agree is one that is most dangerous to U.S. national security — cyber security. Yet, those same generals have used their lack of knowledge on the subject often as a punchline.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh stood up at the Air Force Association’s annual conference Sept. 18 and admitted he didn’t know what an IP address was. The comment drew plenty of laughter form the crowd of airmen and defense industry officials.

The Air Force’s top officer said he twitches when he says the word “cyber.” He explained that “we have a lot of people in this discussion who don’t really know what they’re talking about” when it comes to cyber issues.

“I know because they’re all like me,” Welsh said to more laughter from the crowd.

He didn’t question whether the Air Force needed to take cyber security seriously. He sees it as a priority. Welsh called it the future — “no doubt in my mind.”

“Everything we do can be affected either by or through [cyber],” Welsh said. “In either a good or a bad way.”

However, the Defense Department already receives about 10 million cyber attacks everyday. Cyber analysts suspect potential enemies are already establishing cyber war plans in case of a military engagement with the U.S.

Welsh pleaded with cyber experts to dumb down the way they explain threats to Air Force leaders.

“When you come to educate us, don’t come in using cyber talk,” Welsh said.

The Air Force four-star said he worried the investments made in cyber could be disappearing into a “black hole.” Welsh will wait until he understands the cyber topic better, he said.

“So you just need to know I’m going to be going a little slow on the operational side of cyber until I really understand what we’re doing,” he said. “I’ll be the one you’re dragging, Willy. I’ll warn you now.”

An Air Force officer, who asked not to be named, said as he walked out of the speech that he was surprised to hear the Air Force chief of staff plead ignorance.

“Can you imagine if he said something like that about aircraft or weapons or nuclear weapons?” the Air Force major said. “It would never happen. They’d run him out of the Pentagon.”

Welsh told the crowd the Air Force might have to wait awhile before they have the leaders in place with the appropriate cyber background to make decisions on the subject.

“In 30 years you’ll have experts making these decisions,” Welsh said. “Right now you’ve got idiots helping make these decisions. So common sense, plain English will really help us.”

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