Tubes: A Reason for Cyber-Optimism?

Not intelligent — yet. This visual representation of the Internet by the Opte Project is important for what it doesn’t show: the physical places which enable these connections.

It’s been quite a week for cyber issues in the news. CIMSEC’s own Matt Hipple has a must-read article in this month’s Proceedings about “Cloud Combat,” the coming blur between man and machine, and the rise of autonomous weapons systems. As a child of the ’80s, his writing couldn’t help but conjure in my mind the image of Governor Schwarzenegger in all his red-eyed glory as the Terminator. After reading Matt’s article, I skipped across cyberspace to Wired’s Danger Room, where I read about GPS spoofing and drones, a topic Matt also covers in his piece. Though the Wired post says that researchers only made a drone assume a crash course, it seemed all of a sudden that making drones take lives when we don’t want them to is more than plausible with today’s technology.

Autonomous weapons systems? Machines tricked into behaving badly? This common plot seems to be everywhere in our imagination: from Prometheus and the “Alien” franchise to Call of Duty: Black Ops II. In the world of the arts, drones, cyber attacks, and the loosening of man’s control over technology have constituted common plot elements throughout my lifetime. Now, it seems like technology is actually catching up with our imagination. It’s no wonder, then, that the military has placed so much emphasis on cyber warfare – it is an opaque medium. And we fear that which we don’t understand.

Fretting over the risks of modern technology, a pit of anxiety formed in my stomach as a dim memory from 2003 surfaced. Acting on it, I re-watched the last few minutes of Terminator 3. As autonomously-launched nuclear weapons decimate the human race, the character John Connor says the following lines:

By the time SkyNet became self-aware, it had spread into millions of computer servers across the planet. Ordinary computers in office buildings, dormitories – everywhere. It was software – in cyberspace. There was no system core. And it could not be shut down.

The Cloud! Nothing seems more threatening than this ethereal place, where all of our data resides to be taken or manipulated. And still more threatening code could reside there, as in the film. Members of my generation, I think, frequently think about these issues and feel powerless because the technology is already here. Pandora’s box has already been opened, so to speak, and we don’t know the awesome and potentially destructive implications of the rise of this technology. But… even though the new frontiers of technology are indeed threatening, there are many reasons to pause before buying all the bottled water you can find and speeding off to your bunker in the country.

Those of us living on the mid-Atlantic seaboard are still recovering from the so-called “Super Derecho” that felled trees and caused blackouts that for some are only being repaired now. As the Washington Post noted earlier this week, an Amazon data center was a casualty of the storm and the popular Netflix, Instagram, and Pinterest applications were all affected. Despite the fact that the Internet’s predecessors were specifically designed to be survivable, The Cloud, data feeds for our drones, and all of the other cyber-boogeymen we love to fear reside in physical places as vulnerable to real-world events as you or I.

This truth brings me to the title of the post: for those of you wishing to dispel some of your fears of our cyber-frontiers, the book Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet is a great place to begin. The title is a riff on Sen. Ted Steven’s famous declaration that “the Internet is a series of tubes,” which rose to become a prominent internet meme. The author, Andrew Blum, essentially confirms Sen. Steven’s much-lampooned statement. Even in our wireless age, there is still a huge physical infrastructure supporting the internet – much of it tubes: fiber optics, transoceanic cables, and the like. This physical infrastructure needs power and cooling and is as vulnerable to fires, power outages and – most importantly – the destructive agency of man.

For a military reader, Tubes illustrates a useful lesson: as much as we talk about cyber warfare and the ability of malicious computer programs like the StuxNet virus to affect the physical world, the physical world’s affect on the cyber realm is equally as important. In fact, the structure of the Internet may be particularly vulnerable, according to scholars. A paper published by Doctors Cohen, Erez, ben-Avraham, and Havlin from 2000 says that the removal of a few key sites from some networks could bring them down entirely.

So, for the time-being, it makes sense to pierce the veil covering the Internet, machines, and what we’re doing with them and stop our hand-wringing over Judgement Day. Andrew Blum’s engaging writing and deft manner of illustrating complex issues simply are perfect for the layman who doesn’t know a TCP/IP protocol from a toaster. When it seems we’re a keystroke away from a technological armageddon, Tubes rises above the cacophony of fear-mongering and suspicion and reminds us that our technological creations are as vulnerable as we are — for now.

LT Kurt Albaugh, USN is President of the Center for International Maritime Security, a Surface Warfare Officer and Instructor in the U.S. Naval Academy’s English Department. The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.

Lego Combat Ship

What do kids do when they get new set of Legos? Immediately start construction. Maybe in the beginning they will follow the assembly instructions, but soon discipline breaks and creativity wins. LCS, thanks its modularity, resembles a Lego set in some respects. As Christopher Cavas noted on Information Dissemination:

Will some of the mission equipment not work well? Probably. Have something better? No problem. Change it. Bring stuff in and install it, ship stuff out, bring in different stuff.

While awaiting finalization of already defined mission modules, why not think about additional ones? For example, the SuW module has been designed to counter swarm attacks, based on experiences from Middle East operations. It would probably work well in Strait of Hormuz or even in Far Seas as defined by Dr. Andrew Erickson. But would it be as effective in China’s Near Seas? Later at Information Dissemination, Wayne P. Hughes summarizes his arguments in favor of distributed offensive power and risk. LCS is not conceptual like SeaLance, but installing Harpoons as a part of next SuW module could be a step in line with his reasoning.

ASW is another example. Although it stands for anti submarine warfare, is the conventional submarine the only underwater enemy of the future? If US Navy is pursuing autonomous robot projects, we should assume that our opponents are doing the same. The question arise what will be the best defense against future armed Bluefins or underwater gliders turned into intelligent mobile mines? Even if not armed, underwater robots are dangerous as scouts providing enemies with essential information. Will we need anti scouting module as well?

Recognizing all the challenges related to their development, inventing new modules seems to be unrealistic. Here our analogy could again be helpful. The inspiration for the whole concept of modularity came from Denmark, as did Legos. What Danes did with their StanFlex modules to minimize complexity and risk, was to take EXISTING systems and packed them into standardized container, a true Lego approach. So let us allow our creativity to wander, under subtle supervision of reason.

July 4th: Nation from a Navy

A year before Boston’s infamous “Big Dig” was started.


Before the Founding Fathers put pen to paper, formally declaring the independence of these United States, there was a navy. This is a nation birthed by a navy. Our vast nation started with the intrepid explorers, pilgrims, and entrepreneurs who first crossed the vast and often terrifying Atlantic to reach our shores. As the colonies developed, the journey became mainstream, the colonies plied an ever-growing trans-Atlantic trade network supported militarily and logistically by British Naval might .

I’m torn between my love of America, and my distaste for French Rococo.

Founded by sea, defended by sea, and nourished by sea, our Republic found its independence at sea. From the Boston Tea Party to the Continental Marine’s landing at Nassau and John Paul Jone’s raid of England proper, the colonists’ plucky determination to use their hard-won seamanship skills against the mighty Crown served as a source of great courage to the embattled freedom fighters. However, of even greater importance was the interference provided by the French and later Spanish navies. The very ocean that served as America’s source of wealth was also Britain’s greatest source of military strength and a direct link back to the Realm’s stores and armories. No amount of determination could, with that source of power unchecked, defend the colonists from the full might of Imperial disciplines.Indeed, the war itself was won at sea, the French putting the lid on Cornwall’s Yorktown coffin as the colonists hammered in the nails.


USS KEARSARGE (LHD-3) transits the Straits of Hormuz.

Here at CIMSEC, we celebrate the transformation from Jefferson’s colonial upstart to Hamilton’s commercial superpower. From the Barbary Wars to America’s modern steady-state Great White Fleet, America is now defined by its global position: an economic, political, military, and cultural presence fed by a world-spanning arterial network of ships both commercial and kinetic. America is a nation born by sea, raised by sea, and living by sea.

That was your obligatory Fourth of July post. Now get some BBQ and set off explosions.

Matt Hipple is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy. The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy. 

Front and Center: CIMSEC’s Past and Future

I recently returned from leave and some thistle-pulling and sagebrush clearing a family reunion and realized that the month of June has already ended. It’s surprising how fast the summer has arrived and equally surprising that in a week or so, CIMSEC and the NextWar Blog will have been active for three months. With the selection of a leadership team and our continued growth, I’m writing all of you in my new capacity as President to talk about where we have been and where we may dare go.

First, I have a running tab of gratitude to settle. To the established centers of thought who have encouraged us to strike out and begin writing, especially the teams at Information Dissemination and the US Naval Institute, thank you. Thanks specifically to LT Rob McFall, LCDR BJ Armstrong, Galrahn, Sam LaGrone, CDR Salamander, Peter Munson and CDR Chris Rawley for your advice, hyperlinks and shameless plugs. Thank you to our members, readers, authors, and all of the other interested parties who have lent their time and their minds to growing a new organization. There have been too many acts, both large and small, to name here. I hope that everyone who has posted on NextWar or on our facebook page realizes the significance they are having while at the tiller. Thank you for keeping the ship steady. Most of all, however, thanks is due to our Founding Director and current Vice President, Scott Cheney-Peters (anyone wish to second my motion to name him “Fearless Leader”?), whose vision and leadership have created an important new space in the discourse on securing the seas.

We have a lot to be proud of in the nearly three months we have been active. Under Scott’s leadership, CIMSEC has expanded from a ragtag band of junior officers into an organization with many dozens of members ranging from E-5 to O-8 in the U.S. military and countless other affiliations in government, industry, and think-tanks. We are most proud of the international facet of our identity; the lack of international dialogue on maritime security is a gap we sought to fill early-on as we contemplated our role in the defense blog ecosystem. We have members from countries all over the world, including Poland, Japan, the Philippines, Uruguay, the United Kingdom and Canada. Many of these international members are or will be active authors. We can learn much from each other. We’ve also sought to prove that a web platform can help give voice to less well-known authors. NextWar blog posts have been cited by many prominent defense blogs and websites as well as the Navy’s CHINFO Clips – so we have reason to keep our shoulder to the wheel. Our writing has also attracted partnerships with prestigious and diverse organizations such as the Atlantic Council of Canada, the Naval Institute, and – and we look forward to additional partnerships in the future. Finally, one friend of ours said in an email that CIMSEC is the realization of a maritime variant of Small Wars Journal. This humbling compliment is, to me, more of an admonition to continue what we’ve started and a worthy aspiration which I hope we can, in time, fulfill.

As with any new organization, the most exciting opportunities lie ahead. We need your help in the following areas to further grow and mature:

  • Branding. Successful websites have a strong visual brand, and we aspire to present an appearance commensurate with our writing. I’m pleased to announce the “CIMSEC Logo Contest.” Anyone interested in fashioning CIMSEC’s new logo can submit art to me by 15 July. Images should be high resolution and fit in a rectangular shape (a ratio of 1:2.5 height/width). We are also looking for a “Favicon” which will appear in the URL line in most internet browsers, which should fit in a square (1:1 ratio). I will treat the winner of each category to liquid refreshment at our next meet-up. Thanks to Armando Heredia for stepping up to manage our online presence – you can contact him if you have more technical questions.
  • Membership. Though we have grown significantly in membership and readership, increasing both will remain a priority. Each of you has a role to play in growing our base. Email links, tweet, “like” us on Facebook and use good ‘ol fashioned word of mouth to introduce us to new people. Again, we are proud of our International character, and are specifically seeking international members, readers, and contributors. LCDR A.J. Kruppa is directing our membership efforts – please contact him for more information.
  • Publications. Our strategy for publication is simple: we will continue to publish the best possible writing on international maritime security. If we quietly pursue excellence, people will cross-post, read, link, like and discuss our products. Contact our Director of Operations and Editor of the NextWar Blog, LTJG Matt Hipple, if you are interested in posting. We are also excited about the NextWar Journal, a longform e-publication that will feature in-depth coverage of international maritime security issues. We are still seeking contributions for our first edition. Contact me if you’re interested in contributing to the journal.
  • Organization. A personal priority for me will be to legitimize CIMSEC as a legal entity. We seek to incorporate as a non-profit organization in the United States and will pursue appropriate copyright and trademark protections for our work. Though the digital domain is still a wild frontier when it comes to intellectual property, pursuing these goals will allow CIMSEC to become as respected and as durable as our desires and ability allow.
  • Social Media. We’re in the midst of a rapid expansion beyond our website to other forms of social media. More will follow from our Director of Social Media, Ben Purser, on this subject.

I’m honored to be a part of this organization and excited to see what the next three months bring. Don’t be afraid to get involved – this is your discussion!

LT Kurt Albaugh, USN is President of the Center for International Maritime Security, a Surface Warfare Officer and Instructor in the U.S. Naval Academy’s English Department. The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.

Fostering the Discussion on Securing the Seas.