America’s defense forward swagger

America’s defense forward swagger
© UPI Photo

This is not your Grandpa’s kinetic conflict. There are no tanks or fancifully named fighter jets striking inside demarcated lines. Today’s battlefield is ubiquitous and there is little physical evidence of who is in the trenches and whether the good guys or the bad guys are winning. 

The cyber battlefield is drawn up on two predominant fronts – cyber warfare and (dis)information operations. However, the absence of tangible struggle seduces us to ignore the conflict all together. And we did, for ten years.

As a Nation we learned the hard way that the only thing necessary for disinformation to triumph is for good American men and women to do nothing. No more. We now acknowledge that the frontline is networks and social media - the weapon of choice, information.


With the release of President TrumpDonald John TrumpFederal watchdog accuses VOA parent company of wrongdoing under Trump appointee Lawsuit alleges 200K Georgia voters were wrongly purged from registration list Ivanka Trump gives deposition in lawsuit alleging misuse of inauguration funds MORE’s National Cyber Security Strategy, the United States has adopted a posture of offensive deterrence. America’s cyber soldiers are no longer hamstrung by superfluous regulations and White House micromanagement. The U.S. can finally level a full broadside at our antagonists. 

The uncomfortable truth is America has long had the capability to wage crushing information operations and cyber warfare against our enemies. We have simply lacked the political will.

Crucially, PPD-20 the ill-conceived and poorly executed Obama presidential directive on offensive cyber operations, has been rescinded. The excuses for inertia and inaction are many including legal roadblocks, convoluted rules of engagement, bureaucratic obstructions and a fundamental misunderstanding of the threat and consequences. In short, political interests trumped America’s long-term strategic security.

As National Security Advisor John Bolton observed, with the annulment of PPD-20 “our hands are not tied.

America’s recalibrated “swaggering” foreign policy and the “defense forward” dogma outlined in the White House’s Cyber Security Strategy has shunted the bureaucratic morass and shed the lethargy.


We are now leveraging America’s resources and heralding her values. The United States is no longer playing defense against Iran, Russia, China and North Korea. We are taking the fight to the place our enemies supposed they outgunned us: cyber space.

A critical element of the reworked cyber policy is the “defend forward” concept. This strategy provides the Department of Defense and the intelligence services the ability to “disrupt or halt malicious cyber activity at its source, including activity that falls below the level of armed conflict," the DOD wrote. "We will strengthen the security and resilience of networks and systems that contribute to current and future U.S. military advantages."

Ben Buchanan explains it succinctly for the Council on Foreign Relations: “The modern conception of defending forward gives the military authority to conduct similar kinds of operations and perhaps also the ability to interfere directly with adversary operations by manipulating their devices and infrastructure.” U.S. Cyber Command can now proactively attack enemy hackers and networks.

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoUS to temporarily withdraw some embassy personnel in Baghdad: report Pompeo to host indoor holiday parties at State Department despite warning to employees to hold some missions virtually The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Capital One — Pressure builds as UK approves COVID-19 vaccine MORE has publicly and repeatedly decried the tyrannical regime in Teheran on Twitter.  His approach to and use of social media illustrate that the days of closed-door, speakeasy, if-we-are-nice-they-will-be-nice conferences are over. America’s chief diplomat makes his case equally clear for friend and foe.

America’s arsenal against disinformation extends far beyond two hundred and eighty characters. The unheralded organs of democracy, including the State Department’s Global Engagement CenterRadio Free Europe/Radio LibertyThe Voice of America and Polygraph – perhaps the most thorough and overlooked U.S. anti-propaganda agencies - work hard, not for bylines and sound bites, but for the truth. Together, these assets give the United States the capacity to vanquish malign propaganda. To convey who America is and what we stand for. There really is no more formidable apparatus for freedom and democracy.

We may be late to the battlefield, but we are Americans. Don’t underestimate us. After all, as Winston Churchill observed, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing, after they’ve tried everything else.” 

Gregory Keeley is a retired lieutenant commander with service in both the United States Navy and the Royal Australian Navy. He is a veteran of Iraq, Afghanistan and the Pacific. LCDR Keeley also served as senior adviser to a vice chairman of the House Armed Service Committee, Rep. Jim Saxton (R-N.J.), and to a chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.). He was also the National Cybersecurity Institute’s inaugural visiting fellow. He currently serves as Managing Partner of Dreadnaught.