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Main podcast series of CIMSEC. Hosted by CIMSEC President, Matthew Hipple.

Sea Control 145 – Strategic Communications with Bill Harlow

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By Matthew Merighi

Join us for the latest episode of Sea Control for a conversation with Bill Harlow, an author and former intelligence community spokesman, about his work in strategic communications in the armed forces. He talks about the public affairs career track in the military, his experience at all levels of government, and how that experience informs the civilian work he does today. 

Download Sea Control 145 – Strategic Communications with Bill Harlow

A transcript of the interview between Bill Harlow (BH) and Matthew Merighi (MM) is below. The transcript has been edited for clarity. Special thanks to Associate Producer Cris Lee for producing this episode and writing the transcription.

MM: Now, as is Sea Control tradition, please introduce yourself. Tell us a little bit about your professional background, what you’re up to now, and how you got from where you started in your career to where you are at the moment.

BH: Well, I like to think of myself as a communications professional. I started out in the Navy, got a commission through ROTC from Villanova. And spent 25 fascinating years in the Navy, most of that as a public affairs professional. I had a number of very interesting tours while on active duty, including four years at the White House Press Office, and duty at the Pentagon many times in various spokesman positions. This included Chief Spokesman for the secretary of the Navy and retired as a Navy Captain in 1997, and went to work as chief spokesman for a secret organization. Sounds like it should be a pretty easy job.

Then I was the spokesman for the CIA for 7 years, from 1997 to 2004. I left that job and did a couple things, one was writing and helping various people, mostly former CIA officials, write their memoirs or books. I do that under my Bill Harlow communications hat. Then I also started a company called 15 Seconds, 15-seconds.com, with Fred Francis, a former NBC news correspondent. We do crisis communications and media training, and tell clients how to approach dealing with the media from the dual perspective of Fred who spent 40 years in network news and my perspective of spending almost that much time as a government spokesman, so it provides a unique perspective to people about how to deal with the media in the current environment.

MM: Well, that’s a very broad and diverse set of career experiences so what we’ll do is start from the beginning. As you can imagine, as our listeners already know, most of the people we have come through military backgrounds on Sea Control end up talking about more kinetic topics and have line officer backgrounds but you ended up in public affairs. What made you want to go down the public affairs route and how did you end up getting involved in that world?

BH: Well, I always had an interest in communications and media relations and those kind of things, but I owed the Navy four years of service for my ROTC scholarship and fortunately after a couple quicks and takes I ended up aboard USS Midway as the collateral duty public affairs officer. I got on board in Alameda and about three days later the ship got underway for Japan for a cruise that lasted a couple generations, but I was fortunate enough to be on board when the Midway went to Yokosuka for the first time. And while on board I was able to run the ship’s newspaper, the closed-circuit radio TV. It also involved dealing with crises that we had on board, things like that, while also standing bridge watches from time to time.

And although I eventually qualified as an Officer of the Deck underway on the Midway, I was having more fun doing the communicating part of it than driving the ship. So, at the end of my tour there I applied for conversion to the public affairs designator within the Navy. It’s a very small community within the Navy, Public Affairs specialists who do that solely for the rest of their careers, and I was fortunate enough to be selected. When I went ashore from the Midway, I was able to build on what I learned in the fleet to help the story of the Navy for the next twenty-plus years.

MM: I want to ask a more general question in terms of what then is the traditional glide path and the traditional trajectory for a person that is doing public affairs in either the Navy or the military services? What kind of assignments do you normally end up getting, what are the standard kind of cycles that you go through to get into those positions, and how exactly does a public affairs career end up unfolding?

BH: It varies widely and it certainly varies more widely when you talk about the different services. The Navy I think has the best track record of training and deploying their spokespeople. They give them a lot of responsibility early on, which is typical of the Navy in general as you know. And they tend to put their spokespeople in areas of fleet concentration, whether its Norfolk or San Diego or whatever. Or places where there’s lots of communications opportunities like the Pentagon and again there’s only a small number of people. When I was in less than two hundred, total. The seniormost person was usually a one star, and then on down to the junior-most person, they might be a JG or a LT. And so they’re spread pretty thinly but you get an opportunity to deal with both media relations and with the press, along with internal relations communicating within the Navy whether it’s through closed-circuit TV or through other broadcasts or internet platforms now. It also includes community relations and dealing with the public, trying to get the public to understand what the Navy does and why it does it and try to build support that can be anything from working with the bands or with the Blue Angels, to all manner of things. So those are the kind of jobs that you end up getting within the public affairs community.

MM: You had some pretty high profile and high visibility positions. So, let’s talk a little bit about your time at the White House. I’m looking at your bio and seeing the years. You were there right during the transition between President Reagan and President Herbert Walker Bush, which was obviously an interesting time for national politics and international affairs with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the establishment of the new world order, complete redefinition of the world as we knew it. Which means that as things are changing quickly, I’m sure it was very, to put it mildly, interesting to say nothing of difficult to keep abreast of those changes and communicate what the White House was doing and what the world was becoming. So, tell us a little bit about what your time was like in the White House, particularly the transitions between the two presidencies and the transition in world order.

BH: Yeah, it was a fascinating time to be there. I guess it’s probably any time that the White House is fascinating, but it certainly seemed to be that I was fortunate at that particular time and it wasn’t meant to be as long as it turned out to be. At the end of the Reagan administration there was a vacancy at the White House press office in the part that handled national security. They reorganized several times back and forth, but that particular spot would be assigned to the National Security Council staff, but at the time we were considered White House staff. And there was a vacancy at the end of the Reagan administration and there weren’t any civilians beating down the door to take the job because there were only a few months left in the administration. So people didn’t want to leave a paying job to go there. So, people at the White House thought well maybe we can get a military guy to fill in for the final nine months of the Reagan administration. And they called over to the senior spokesman for the Pentagon and they asked if he knew anybody that would fit the bill, and at the time I was the senior military assistant to the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs and he asked me for a recommendation and I said, “How about me?” And he kindly said, “Sure go over and interview,” and I went over and interviewed. I was fortunate enough to be selected for what I thought was going to be a nine-month job. But then when President George Herbert Walker Bush won election, he asked the Presidential Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater under President Reagan to stick around and keep that same job in the new administration and Marlin was kind enough to ask me if I would like to stay for a little bit longer. And I said, “heck yes.” So I took what was a nine-month temporary assignment and milked it for about four years.

It was a remarkable time to be there. President Reagan was a fascinating, wonderful guy to be around. You knew you were in the presence of somebody who was really powerful but also like your favorite uncle. You couldn’t help but like the guy if you were around him a little bit. He was truly a great communicator and he spent a lot of time working on his communications. And so, for a public affairs guy, that was a wonderful thing to observe and to play a small part in. I was there. And toward the end of his administration when he went to Moscow, for the summit meeting and things like that, I traveled with the president a little bit. It just was was a fascinating time.

Then the Vice President George Herbert Walker Bush becomes president, and it was a remarkable period in history. The fall of the Berlin Wall, the first Gulf War, the Soviet Union coming apart. And again, I was privileged to have been able to travel with him around the world, to a number of events and to be there taking part in figuring out how do we deal with these crises and how do you respond to a situation like the Berlin Wall coming down.

I think President Bush doesn’t get nearly enough credit for the way he handled all those things masterfully. He could’ve said or done things that would’ve triggered a negative response from the Soviet Union, but he handled it just perfectly and in a way which allowed the Soviet Union to take itself apart without taking down large portions of the West with them. So, it was a wonderful opportunity, working at the White House is of course a privilege.

One thing I would say is different about working in the White House and working in the military is that almost everyone at the White House understood the importance of communications. And so, you never had a problem getting the attention of some senior official to get them to give you information that you could use to respond to the media, to talk to them and think through the implications of how the reactions would play out in the media. Sometimes in the military, you run into senior officials who think “my job is to be a warfighter and that’s all I care about,” and that “The public doesn’t have to know anything about what we’re doing and therefore you press guys stay out of the way.” That was not the situation in the White House for they understood by the very nature of their jobs that they had to communicate effectively in order to do a good job for the administration and for the country.

MM: And so… when you’re within the White House versus in the military there’s a difference between how the senior leaders view the need for communications. What about the battle rhythm, sort of the day-to-day work. Was it fundamentally the same between those two organizations even though the leadership put a different emphasis on strategic communications, or is the nature of doing public affairs the same regardless of whether you’re on the civilian White House side or the more military DoD side?

BH: I think it’s close to the same, I brought with me sort of a military ethic when I got to the White House. I made a point of getting in an hour ahead of my boss, which is a typical military thing when you’re an aide or a military assistant or something like that. And  just immersing myself with the information to try to stay ahead of the game because there was so much information coming in since there are so many things you need to anticipate and deal with. And like in any organization, you just never know what’s going to come at you, there’s so many possibilities that you need to stay on top of things. The last thing you want at the White House or at any senior military command is to be surprised by actions that there’s any way to know of. You want to stay ahead of the curve but it was challenging, and it’s even more so today given the plethora of media outlets that are there to deal with so it must be even harder to stay ahead of the game.

MM: So that what it’s like on the civilian or the government civilian side and on the military side. So let’s talk about the third leg of that stool which is secret organizations. So, you went to work for the CIA in 1997?

BH: That’s correct, yes.

MM: So, in 1997, you joined the CIA as a communications person, as chief spokesman. You held that position for a number of years. So, tell us then what was the difference working on the intelligence side, as you mentioned what is it like to be in charge of the responsible for the communications or the organization whose primary cultural aspect is to try to give away as little as information as possible

BH: Yeah, it was certainly challenging. And I thought going into it I would have a little bit of a leg up on it because I had worked with the military and from time to time worked with the Navy submarine community, for example, which is notably tight-lipped and with the special warfare communities and things like that. CIA takes it obviously to a completely different level. And there are a large number of people within the organization who will forever think that the only response to any question should be “no comment.” And then they would be just as happy if the press job didn’t exist. But my argument and the argument which my boss Director George Tenet fully endorsed was that the agency has a responsibility to talk about what it can so that in those occasions when it must be secret, it has some credibility. When you say everything in the world is classified, everything is to be responded with “no comment,” but then you have no standing if the media come to you and they haven’t learned something secretive and you ask them “please don’t report that” because it would do damage to national security. You have no standing if you have been telling the same thing all along for every simple question that they might ask.

It’s also an opportunity, because of the nature of the organization, there are things that the intelligence community does that can be talked about. There’s analysis they do that is quite valuable to the public and the private sector, there are actions taken that can be spoken about and if you put some deposits in the credibility bag, they will be able to describe a few of the success against the inevitable stories that get out there about the failures the intelligence community or about the other difficult enemies you run into. You’ve got more ability to offset that if you play the game. If you totally stiff the media, totally refuse to respond to any question, when stuff goes badly, and it will, inevitably you’ve got little leg to stand on when they try to put it in perspective.

MM: So, let’s talk then about some of the specific events that happened while you were at the CIA because you were there for a number of years and I’d say the two that sort of pop up are 9/11 and the prosecution of the Iraq War. So, I was wondering if you could walk through then some of the specifics that you actually can talk about in your role. What it was like to be there during that tumultuous time and that very difficult time for our country?

BH: Yeah, again it was a fascinating time to be where I happened to be. The CIA was the one part of the government that was most alarmed about the potential threat from al-Qaida for a number of years. When I first got there in 1997, it was very worried about it, working aggressively against that target, but it was a very difficult one to get attention to. If you go back and look at the public testimony that the Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet made in 1998-99-2000 even early 2001, he was saying things along the lines of, “al-Qaida could attack any moment without further notice.” So, we were trying to get the word out that this was a serious situation of extraordinary concern to the agency and to the nation, but again you run into the difficulties of not being able to talk about many of the things you are doing, and also there’s so much that’s unknown about it. But we were definitely feeling the potential pressure of that situation as the 9/11 commission quotes that Director Tenet was saying that at the time the system was blinking red and we knew that something big was coming. We didn’t know precisely where, we didn’t know precisely when, we didn’t know how it would happen. We were trying to raise the alarm within government but there’s always only so much you can do there, because if you can’t tell them precisely what’s going to happen or where, they say to you, “aren’t you guys just crying wolf again?”

So, there was a tremendous feeling of pressure at the time and then when 9/11 happened. I was at the CIA headquarters that morning and we were in a senior staff meeting and one of the watch officers came in to the director’s conference room and said a plane has just hit the World Trade Center. And while many people will say their initial reaction was “it’s probably a small plane that got lost or something,” I think our reaction was generally was it could well be al-Qaida and I went back to my office and saw the second plane and then certainly knew instantly that it was. Then there was the tremendous outpouring and support where the entire country came together to try to band together against this fight. And the wonderful work that was done by the agency and special warfare community in going into Afghanistan after a couple weeks of 9/11 and essentially routing the Taliban and putting al-Qaida on the run was a very dramatic period in the country’s history.

And then what inevitably happens after a crisis like that, the first reaction is that people pull together and work together and the second reaction is that people start pointing fingers. “Why didn’t somebody tell us? Why didn’t you stop this? Why didn’t you do whatever it is in retrospect what should’ve been done?” And after the crisis whether it’s that one or whether its any other one you could name, it’s very easy to go back and look at things that might have been done, should have been done. You now have the complete picture and you go back and find the pieces of the puzzles that were missing. At the time when you’re in the run-up to a crisis, the cliché is that it’s like having a jigsaw puzzle without the box top, or worse than that is a jigsaw puzzle without the box top and thousands of pieces of other jigsaw puzzles mixed in among them that look like they would it but really don’t fit. So, after the fact, you know precisely what to look for and you can find a dozen pieces you can put them together and understand what may have happened and what might have been missed. In the lead up, it’s a different picture. So that was 9/11 and the aftermath to it involved a tremendous work of effort and focus at the agency. And I was privileged to be in there and help tell as much of that story as we could at the time and help try to explain the things that we couldn’t answer, and trying to explain why we couldn’t answer the question. 

That whole atmosphere played into the next one that you mentioned, the run up to the Iraq War. You can’t overstate how much impact of 9/11 had on the thinking within the administration about dealing with the potential threat of Iraq. And there were a couple mainstream ideas that touched on things that I was able to deal with at the time, one was the terrorism threat and there were a lot people who were connecting Iraq to al-Qaida, inappropriately we thought. They were over-stressing, this is outside the intelligence community, over-stressing the potential connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida. And I spent a lot of my time, to the extent that I could, factually dealing with that, trying to knock down the notion that there was some direct link between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaida. Things like that. And then there was the WMD portion and as Paul Wolfowitz famously said at one point, “That was the one thing that everyone could agree on.” This includes every intelligence service around the country, even Saddam’s, I would bet you. Every pundit for the most part was pretty well convinced that Saddam had some fashion of weapons of mass destruction. Turned out that it was nowhere near as far along as feared. And you can write books, and I’ve help write a couple, thinking in to a great detail about how did it happen, how it could’ve happened. But it was a tremendously complex period in the country’s life. And there was a feeling of “we don’t want to get this one wrong. If we get this one wrong and we underestimated it, the results could be catastrophic.” You could argue though we got it wrong in the other direction, and we certainly did, but it was a difficult period and the life of the intelligence community in the country’s history.

MM: And then not too long after that, you ended up retiring from your role and then taking that experience to the ventures that you are working on now. So, the PR firm, Bill Harlow Communications, and also 15 Seconds that you mentioned earlier that you co-founded with Fred Francis from NBC. So, what was that transition like, to go from what must have been the most difficult part of your career dealing with 9/11 and the lead up to the Iraq War and the immediate aftermath, into the private sector just all of a sudden. Was it a difficult transition, was it hard to learn the new tricks and tips and things that you have to figure out? Or was the transition relatively smooth? What kind of things did you learn what things in your previous career helped you find a new one?

BH: Yeah, well backing up a little bit, I had actually retired from the Navy before I took the job at the CIA. So, I had been out of the Navy for a while, and although I left the Navy on a Friday and started on Monday at the CIA, the only difference was showing up in civilian clothes. But there wasn’t much difference between those 25 years in the Navy and seven years at the CIA. Then all of a sudden, I left the CIA. Frankly after 33 years of fairly intense service, I was kind of exhausted, so I welcomed the opportunity to not show up at work at 5:30 or 6 in the morning every day, and stay until 7 or 8 at night.

Initially, one of the things I was able to pursue shorty after leaving the agency was to help George Tenet with his memoirs, which were published in 2007, in a book called At the Center of the Storm. And that too was a fairly intense process, a very difficult one to figure out what could be said, help him get it written and get it through the CIA clearance process which is challenging. So that kept me busy, and at the same time, I was setting up this other company 15 Seconds with Fred Francis where we were trying to pitch ourselves to both the private sector and we had a few governmental clients as well where we helped train people to deal with the media. So, all that kept me busy and it was an interesting change of pace. So, it wasn’t as difficult a transition as I might have feared

MM: And so with all of those things that ended up happening to you, how much of that did you say did you build intentionally? How much happened by luck?

BH: I think about 90 percent of life is luck. You just keep showing up to the work and doing the best you can and networking at the extent that you can. I never planned to spokesman for the CIA. In fact, when I retired from the Navy, the one thing I didn’t want to do was go back to work for the government. At the time you had to give up most of your retired pay if you went back to work as a civil servant and that made no sense for me to do that at all so when the guy who was spokesman for CIA was leaving at the time I was shopping around for a job, and I knew him from the Pentagon in the past, he asked me if I wanted to go over for an interview for his job. And I had no intention of getting that job, I thought it might be good practice to interview over there and then when I went out to the private sector I’d have more practice with job interviews.

Because usually in the military you don’t do job interviews, that’s not really the way you get assignments. So, I went over there thinking I would work my way up the bureaucracy with people and I’d practice my interview skills. Well, the first guy in the interview was George Tenet. And I just hit it off with the guy, just was totally impressed with him, and I thought, “you know it might be fun to work with him for a year or two and then go off and into the private sector.” Well, a year or two turned into seven years and I never planned it that way, but it turned out to be a wonderful thing. I didn’t anticipate that so many historic things would happen when they did and I helped convince him that he ought to tell his story, and then he asked me to help me do it and then one thing led to another. I think that if he tried to plan it then that never would have happened. When I went to the White House and I was only going there for nine months, it was a temporary job and I had no way of knowing that President Bush would be elected or that he would ask Marlin Fitzwater to stick around or that Marlin would ask me to stick around. So, it was just the luck of the draw and I’ve been very lucky.

MM: So then let’s talk a little bit more about the crisis communication aspect, since you’ve lived through crises. I imagine your firm 15 Seconds has something to do with crisis communications so if you could walk us through why did you founded that particular organization company and what is it like to handle crisis communications, how do you do it, and how is it different from non-crisis public relations.

BH: We call the company 15 Seconds, it’s sort of a play on Andy Warhol’s in the future everybody will be famous for 15 minutes. He said that 40 years ago and things have sped up so much that you only get 15 seconds. And our theory is that in a crisis situation you’ve got to respond enormously fast in order to get ahead of the curve and in order to establish what you’ll want to say because everybody else is going to be out there: all your competitors, all of the people who are your opponents, all your pundits, all the people who are just looking to get some notoriety will be out there talking about your issue whether you want to be or not. So, the difference between crisis communications and normal public relations, is that you don’t really get a vote on whether you play or not. If you’re at Equifax and you’ve just been hacked and lost the details of 143 million people, you got to get out there and talk about it whether you like it or not because otherwise your company’s going to be decimated. In normal situations, people in organizations can pick and choose, “Do I want to engage, do I not want to engage, do I want to put out a spokesman, do I want to just respond in a written response, can I just let this go and keep your head down and maybe we’ll do fine?” But in a crisis situation, you’ve got to play, because otherwise you’re just going to get your head handed to you because everybody else is going to be damning you, putting out information which may or may not be true, and redefining your organization. So, it’s a challenge and we think that organizations who only think about crisis communications after the crisis hits have put themselves in a very difficult position. Because if they haven’t thought through how you would respond to a crisis, if you haven’t thought through who would be your spokesman on it, if you haven’t thought through mechanisms on how we get information out, “do I put out a press release, do I put out a press conference, do I know how to hold a press conference, do I know where to hold it?” If you haven’t thought through it in advance, the chances of it coming out perfectly well aren’t so good.

MM: Let’s talk also then about the part of your career that you alluded to when you were talking about helping write At the Center of the Storm with George Tenet, his memoirs. You’ve written a number of other books too, one with Michael Morell and a number of others, primarily about al-Qaida and the war on terrorism. How did you end up deciding to pursue that business model of helping others write their stories and how is that different from other kinds of writing that you have to do either in your private sector or in your public-sector PR roles?

BH: Well, the first book I wrote was actually a novel that I wrote towards the end of my time in the navy, called Circle William. And it was about two brothers, one who was a White House press secretary, obviously based on my experience, and the other was a captain of an Arleigh Burke destroyer, and that was actually based on a friend of mine and yours, Jim Stavridis. I had worked with him within the secretary of the navy staff, and when he was a young commander. So using those two worlds of the Navy and the White House press operation, I worked on this novel which was well-received. I wasn’t able to promote it that much because by the time it came out I was at the CIA and I had a full-time job but it was an interesting experience as simply getting published is both rewarding and challenging. So, I had been through the process.

Then at the end of my time at sea, I had been published once at least and I knew the mechanics of doing it. I had this belief that George Tenet had a terrific story to tell and I wanted to help him tell it and it came out very well. His book opened number one in the New York best seller list, you can’t complain about that. But I didn’t intend to get into that line of work, but having done that successfully with Tenet, other book opportunities presented themselves to me. Fortunately for every book that I have coauthored, the people I worked with were first friends before coauthors, so Michael Morell and then Jose Rodriguez, and Jim Mitchell is the most recent one.

So, these are people I certainly knew of and in most cases, knew well and were friendly with. And that made the process a lot easier to help them tell their stories. Of course, this is their story, it’s not my story, but they’re also all very busy people and the extent that I could help them convey what they want to convey, about their lessons learned from their time and any government, it’s been a worthwhile and rewarding experience.

MM: Since you’ve done this a number of times already, do you have any writing advice for our people out in our audience, who I imagine most are more used to say, writing articles for CIMSEC or doing background papers in their government jobs? Any writing advice that you gleaned from both your time in uniform, and as a government civilian, and as a writer?

BH: One bit of advice would be to keep writing, it’s something that gets better, and it gets easier the more you do it. And to the extent that if you let that skill atrophy, it takes a while to get back in the saddle. And don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Just keep writing and writing. The other bit of advice is, to paraphrase Elmore Leonard, when you’re writing, leave out the parts that people are going to skip anyway. I see a lot of people writing things and it is way too long. I get a lot of former CIA and military people who want to write novels or non-fiction books who come to me and ask for some advice, and what I tend to see is that they write too much. People who write books which if they ever got published would kill thousands of trees. It’s much better to leave people wanting more than to have them wanting less. So, to the extent that you write stuff, if you could keep it punchy, memorable, short, it’s to your advantage. Other times, where you need to write long, the Tenet book, At the Center of the Storm, was a pretty hefty sized book, but he had so much material to cover and so many historical things that justified it. But for most of us, writing material to keep it punchy and short is much better. 

MM: Excellent. Now since we’ve reached the end of our episode, let’s conclude the same way we conclude every episode. Especially since you’ve worked in communications, you likely know this question well, what kind of things are you reading nowadays, and for the people out in the audience who are either interested more in the public relations and public affairs world or just interested in what’s on your mind, what things would you recommend that they pick up?

BH: I don’t read a whole lot about the public affairs world, so I may let down your readers on that regard. I tend to find myself reading more nonfiction historical stuff, that’s what interests me and that, when I break away from my daily routine, is what I tend to focus on. One book I’m reading right now is Churchill and Orwell, by Tom Ricks, terrific book, I’m only about halfway through it but I would never have thought to have combine those two people in a single book, but Tom is doing a great job, has done a great job telling two stories of two quite remarkable men during a critical period in the world’s history. Tom is somebody I knew, he was a correspondent from the Wall Street Journal and he’s someone who has given me writing advice early on, so I certainly respect everything that he does. I also read stuff that is sort of on the periphery of things that I have done or there’s a number of books by former CIA officials or people who are interested in CIA things. There’s one coming out from the Naval Institute Press called Operation Blackmail about Betty Macintosh, who was a woman in the OSS in World War II in the Pacific, who led a remarkable career. And that’s a book I read in galley form. It’s well worth a read by people who read your blog and who are interested in World War II history and espionage. It’s quite a remarkable book.

MM: I’ll definitely have to pick it up I’m sure. Thank you again Bill for taking the time today. Really appreciate you appearing on Sea Control and best of luck in all of your ventures, writing, and communications and otherwise.

BH: Thank you very much, it’s been my pleasure.

Bill Harlow is the President of Bill Harlow Communications and Co-Founder of 15-Seconds.com. He is the author of Circle William and has co-authored a number of books, including At the Center of the Storm with George Tenet and The Great War of Our Time with Michael Morell. 

Matthew Merighi is Senior Producer for Sea Control, CEO of Blue Water Metrics, and Assistant Director for Maritime Studies at Tufts University’s Fletcher School.

Sea Control 144 – Humanitarian Operations with CDR Andrea Cameron

By Matthew Merighi 

The military plays an integral role in dangerous humanitarian operations. What are these operations and how exactly does the humanitarian world work?

Join us for the latest episode of Sea Control for a conversation with CDR Andrea Cameron of the U.S. Naval War College about her work at the intersection of security policy and humanitarianism. She talks about the different kinds of humanitarian operations, how the military gets looped in, and provides guidance for how people in uniform can better operate in a complex environment.

Download Sea Control 144 – Humanitarian Operations with CDR Andrea Cameron 

A transcript of the interview between Andrea Cameron (AC) and Matthew Merighi (MM) is below. The transcript has been edited for clarity. Special thanks to Associate Producer Ryan Uljua for producing this episode and Associate Producer Cris Lee for the transcription. Note: these views do not necessarily represent those of the U.S. Naval War College, the U.S. Navy, or Department of Defense.

MM: So, as is Sea Control tradition, please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your background and how you got to where you are now.

AC: I have had a very unique career, I was a Surface Warfare Officer for seven years, I was stationed on big deck amphibs and aircraft carriers. And then I was a human resources officer in the Navy for about 10 years. I specialized in education, training, and development. And after that I was selected as a permanent military professor. When I joined the Navy back in the 90s, the post-Cold War era had a really different variety of military operations other than war, and I was fascinated at the time how military could respond to such a variety of contingencies in short order. So, my particular interest is humanitarian assistance/disaster relief. When I was selected as a permanent professor, they let me study whatever I wanted within the security studies field so I chose kind of a mix of international relations theory and political science, and applied that specifically to my topic of humanitarian assistance-disaster relief

MM:  So, you mention the term permanent military professor a couple of times in your intro, what is that role, how did you get selected for it? What are the benefits and drawbacks, how did you get to be in that particular role?

AC: So, permanent military professor is a lateral transfer. If you’re selected, the Navy funds a PhD program for you and your obligated service is basically the rest of your career through statutory retirement, while you’re serving as a professor at one of the Navy’s educational institutions. It’s a very small community, we have about 80 billets. And four of them are at the Naval Postgraduate school, three are currently at the Naval War College, and the rest of them are all at the Naval Academy.

MM:  So what do you have to do to become a PMP?

AC: The community is generally open to the unrestricted line and information warfare corps, but other restricted lines can be considered. Every year there’s a NAVADMIN that comes out that says what fields of study we’re trying to find people for, and when that time comes, be ready.

When I tell some what I do, I hear, “that’s my dream job” or “I want to do that.” So, I usually give out two general pieces of advice. One advances in your designator, and to be a permanent military professor, you need to be an O-5 or O-5 select, and they do that because it hits the sweet spot of that junior O-5 level. You have enough time to get a PhD and also a lot of years of teaching at one of the institutions. And the second one piece of advice that I’d give everyone is to really think of your academic future. This is what you want to do and you want to get selected as a PMP, then you have to be accepted into a PhD program. There are stellar applicants into the program, but if you don’t have a undergrad and a master’s degree in your field and have really good grades that would let you be admitted into a PhD program, then that’s kind of a roadblock. So, if you’re one of those junior officers out there and you think you’d like to do this someday, really think long term about your academic future and build a record that will really shine when your opportunity comes. 

MM:  So, that actually sounds like a pretty sweet deal, are there any drawbacks to be being a PMP because that sounds pretty fantastic.

AC: It is, I won’t lie, I’m living the dream job, the primary drawback is that there is definitely lack of upward mobility. When you’re doing this, you’re most likely a terminal O-5. Everyone would love to be considered for those handful of O-6 positions, but when you get picked up, you acknowledge up front in the application that there’s limited career progression and its driven (like every other community) by the needs of the Navy and PMP requirements, so that’s the primary drawback.

MM:  Okay, so let’s talk then a little bit about what it’s like being a PMP in terms of your research. So obviously you mentioned it at the top, but your field of study that you’ve kept consistent through these different phases has been development and humanitarianism, which let’s just say for most members of the military is atypical. So, what brought you to study those particular fields? How’s that gone so far?

AC: It’s going well. I work at the Naval War College and fortunately, they allow you to study every field that can be related to national security interests. Why do I study these? Because I tend to take a broader view of what national security interests are. A lot of times you’ll hear that 4+1 construct: China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea, and violent extremists, and that construct works really well. With those threats, you can identify a country, a place on a map, a leader, a government system, their capabilities, and you can figure out what you want to do to counteract that. And fortunately there’s thousands of people around the world who study this very in depth.

I look at national security interests differently. As a country with global interests, politically, economically, and ideologically, there are a lot of national security issues that aren’t covered under this 4+1 construct. One of my favorite phrases is “Threats without enemies.” And if you look at a variety of human security issues, they are threats without enemies, and they’re going to affect our national security interests in the future.

MM: That sounds like a bit about the ideas behind human security that we hear about  inside the security realm nowadays. There are schools like Fletcher that will be teaching human security issues in the midst of the traditional security studies classes because it’s become such an integral part of the community’s view on things. So, could you give us some examples of how those threats without enemies manifest? Are there ones that are at the top of your mind that you think would resonate with our audience?

AC: Human security is often described in the inverse, in the insecurities of individuals, not states. You’ll often hear about economic insecurity, food insecurity, or health or environmental insecurity, those are all broad topics that fall under the umbrella of human security. Within this, there’s a laundry list of things that are covered. Global climate change, food and water scarcity, poverty, urbanization, mass migration, epidemics, all of that falls under this broad umbrella of human security issues. And some of these may not touch us directly, but they’re definitely going to start affecting our partners and allies around the world. I definitely think that this is a good approach to looking at national security issues.

MM: So, if this is a good approach, how then does the United States operationalize that in foreign policy? What does that mean? Are there certain tweaks and ways that we do things differently from the past that allows us to go after these sorts of threats without enemies? How does that all work?

AC: We tend to look at our foreign policy in this 3D construct, and if you’re not familiar with the three ds they’re defense, diplomacy, and development. And that has evolved over the years. For a long time, defense has been naturally your military arm or your hard power. And diplomacy and development are more of the soft power. This can get rolled up into a formula that can combine the two and they often call it smart power. These are very important things to consider because you want to have a balance. And that’s something that is very hot in the language today with how these organizations are changing. The military, the DOD, is naturally in charge of the defense-D. And the State Department is the lead on diplomacy. And the United States Agency for International Development has the lead for all the development and humanitarian efforts of the United States government.

MM: And that’s the construct as it stands now. How is that evolving and changing under the current administration? Is it going to be more of the same, are there tweaks that are being talked about? I know in the news there’s been talks about putting USAID back under State Department. What do you see as the long-term trajectory of that bureaucratic organizational system that currently comprises the 3-Ds?

AC: This is a great discussion that’s come out in a lot of places. First, the discussion by the administration of expanding the defense department and wanting the it paid for by the budget proposal the president put forward. In that budget proposal, are increases to Defense and massive cuts to the State Department and USAID. It’s still to be determined whether this is going to happen, if Congress is going to execute the President’s budget as it was submitted, which is probably not likely that it will cut state and USAID to such a great degree. However, we see Secretary Tillerson in State Dept. already reducing personnel, reforming the institution and taking away some of the programs that have long term implications for Foreign Service officers. And that’s all of course, in accordance with the President’s vision of where State should be going.

USAID is to be determined. They just confirmed Ambassador Mark Green to lead the USAID and he recently testified before Congress. A slightly different approach to development, which is much more of a hand up, not a hand out perspective. Nothing wrong with that. But what was reassuring was his language about humanitarian efforts in the future. So that’s kind of the current status under the new president and I’ll probably talk about a little bit more as we discuss some of the topics.

MM: So, you’ve used a lot of terms so far that I think much of our audience is familiar with, at least on a basic level. But I know that they don’t all mean the same thing. So, you’ve mentioned development, you’ve also mentioned humanitarianism and humanitarian assistance, disaster relief. There are a lot of different layers to this. So, I was wondering if you could walk us through some of those terms now that we’ve got the baseline. What is the difference between development, humanitarianism, and disaster relief? How does that kind of difference pop up in your studies?

AC: Development is the broad category and most of our foreign aid assistance falls under the development category. Development is basically when one state or actor helps to improve another’s economy, health, government, social well-being, anything that you’re trying to do. By its nature, it’s inherently political. The United States government is working with another actor to help them out and of course when you’re doing that, there is this natural question of what’s in it for the United States government?

There are fourteen different agencies that use foreign aid and assistance: DOD is just one state, USAID, they all have lines of accounting this. In FY16 it was about a $36 billion budget and it effects 142 countries around the world. So, when we’re talking about what does slashing this budget impact, it involves a lot of U.S. government agencies and a lot of countries we work with. The military does development. It usually does it through security cooperation or military-to-military relations. We do some infrastructure building, we do some global health engagement. But a lot of what the military does is through security cooperation. Through exercises, through education exchange programs, institution building, those types of activities give a really good example of what the military is doing for development.

MM: Alright, so that’s development. So how does it differ from humanitarianism?

AC: Humanitarianism has a completely different mindset. Humanitarian actors provide aid for saving lives or alleviate suffering. And with this, they have some governing principles, they operate under the principle of humanity, impartiality, neutrality, and operational independence. Those principles kind of govern everything they do. They take them very, very seriously. Everything about their identity, their effectiveness, their safety, and authority all derives from these principles. What’s different about governments and militaries is that we cannot be neutral. And we’re not going to be impartial. This is also what makes them different from development agencies. Because of this, that the nongovernmental organizations don’t want to blur the lines primarily by working with militaries. The international humanitarian institutions from the United Nations and the nongovernmental organizations, they all reflect this preference for the humanitarian principles, and as such, working with the military is what they call the last resort.

MM: So, if there is that big of a difference between development and humanitarianism, it seems that there is that underlying friction between the humanitarian community and the military, why then did you decide to focus on humanitarian assistance as the field that you wanted focus on for your PMP?

AC: I focus on humanitarian assistance largely because I believe there isn’t a conflict that doesn’t have a corresponding humanitarian crisis. And often whatever is driving the humanitarian crisis is probably the root cause of the conflict. And if you look at those escalating human security issues, we touched on earlier: urbanization, food and water scarcity, mass migration, I think the logical conclusion is that we will see more conflicts like this in the future, and if we don’t address the root causes of conflict, you won’t find a way to end the conflict. So, I look at this way so that as my contribution to the study of war.

MM: So, let’s dive in deeper. You think that there’s a way to reconcile the military component and humanitarian assistant component that are intertwined and whatnot. But let’s talk about those actors. Between the humanitarian actors and the militaries, go into a little bit more detail about what that friction is, how it manifests, and how that affects the battlespace.

AC: So, I mentioned the international humanitarian governments. It was all developed back in the post-Cold War 1990s, at the height of humanitarian intervention missions. So, militaries were all in these types of humanitarian interventions, there still was the use of force, although we labeled it humanitarian, we were not being impartial, we were not being neutral, we were trying to end violence through the use of force. The military was in fact not being a humanitarian actor. In these various events, you might remember Somalia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Kosovo. We had varied levels of engagement and varied levels of results. But in the context of civil-military coordination, it was all developed during this time.

Militaries and humanitarians, they work in the same geographic space, but back then we tried much harder to segregate. You work on this side, and I’ll work on this side of the humanitarian space and if we can, we’ll just stay out of each other’s way as much as possible. And this helped reaffirm the humanitarian principles for the humanitarian actors, and it helped mission completion for the military actors. Also during this, the military, being in essence, the belligerent, the NGOs are not compromising their values and they’re not ultimately compromising their mission or their safety. So, they really liked to segregate as much as possible.

This has evolved a lot over the years, and basically the concept of having separate spaces no longer exist. The collapse of the humanitarian space forces the nongovernmental organizations and the militaries to work together much more closely. A great example of this is in Iraq and Syria today. Where you get the military operating, CENTCOM is working with USAID and they’re trying to deconflict, that’s the word: Deconfliction efforts. So that the NGOs, if they’re willing to cooperate, provide us some information of where they are, so we cannot be operating in the same space, or be operating at least with some understanding of where they’re working so we can avoid each other.

MM: And so, you’ve mentioned sort of the historical foundation of this and mentioned a bit about how it works in Iraq and Syria. Do you see any other changes happening in that relationship as time goes on since clearly that immediate post-Cold War relationship of segregation to where we are now is very, very different? Do you see that as continuing to change or are we in kind of a state of equilibrium right now or do people know what the swim lanes are and people know how to interact with one another?

AC: No, we don’t know where the swim lanes are, we’re constantly evolving in this practice, and the government still largely remains the same. Of course, the humanitarian principles still guide the humanitarian actors but their willingness to work around and with militaries is evolving somewhat. Just for their own safety, there’s more and more attacks on humanitarian workers, security has become such an issue for them, that how they view the military and how they can partner with the military, is a constantly evolving thing and we shall see where it goes in the future.

MM: So, we talked about development, we’ve talked now about humanitarianism. But there’s also the third aspect, the second half of HA/DR, a term that most people already know, which is the disaster relief element. So how does the instance of a flood or a hurricane or an earthquake change the dynamics between the relief community and the military, and how the military gets involved in those kinds of things. Is it the same? Is it different? What are the rules of the engagement on that front?

AC: So, this is what I find the most fascinating about the natural disaster component. Because the sudden onset of crisis really brings the humanitarian imperatives to the front. You want to help this many people, to do these humanitarian missions, save lives, and alleviate suffering. So, whoever the host nation or the affected state invites to assist is doing that. They are there to save lives and alleviate suffering. Counter to everything I’ve just explained, in many countries, the military is actually evolved as a first responder within their own country. Or even a lot of bilateral agreements have been set up that a partner country, agrees that if there’s a natural disaster, a partner country will supply these kind of military resources. So, in counter to everything I just said, because of the different context of natural disaster, now keep in mind the nongovernmental organization still may resist working with the militaries, but it may change the larger the scale of the event. They want to help people, and they need the resources that they didn’t need yesterday.

So, this entire notion of being in a disaster, it kind of upends the government with the rules, the norms, and it changes the notion of what can be done with civil-military coordination. This isn’t just true for humanitarians, it also upends military norms. You know, in the military we have the mindset that we’re here to break things and kill people. And in a flash of an event we’re here to build things and save people. So, this isn’t something that Clausewitz has laid the groundwork for previously. The really big question is why does this topic matter? Because we the military, we are doing this now, and we’re going to keep doing this in the future. So, the nature of warfare is changing, what you can do with the military is doing is changing, and we’ll all be better by giving this certain activity some more attention.

MM: So, the U.S. military is involved in humanitarian disaster relief mission, but you specifically mention that there are other countries where the military isn’t just an actor, but the primary first responder. So, from your research, which countries are currently configured that way, where the military is the first responder and consequently, which ones of those that are configured that way do you find do the best job and maybe the model best worth emulating rather by the United States or by others?

AC: I think, two examples, and unfortunately, they’re countries that deal with these events quite frequently. One that is very obvious is the Philippines. They get typhoons quite regularly and they have a very robust internal emergency management system and they actually just train military and emergency managers routinely so they can be prepared for the next event. Another example, I think of is, Chile. And they have earthquakes quite frequently and occasionally with tsunamis and the military is also first responder down there. That is probably the poster child of how to do it right.

MM: So those countries are configured with specifically dedicated units and peoples and processes and whatnot, but for the United States, how then with our configuration, does the military get involved in HA/DR missions? What’s the process? Since a lot of people have some operational experience, how do the tasking orders work, who ends up being in charge? How does the military then get looped into HA/DR missions from the U.S. context?

AC: There’s two pieces to this. There’s the formal kind of process and there’s what’s happening when they’re working together. So formally, there’s an event, the host nation goes to the ambassador, the State Department writes it up to the secretary of state and the president, “can we assist this country, they’ve formally asked for our help.” If the government wants to do that, of course the United States Agency for International Development, USAID, responds and the DOD might be tasked as a supporting unit to them. While all of that is happening of course, we watch the news, we know there is an event, there is a geographic combatant commander whose working with the embassy on the ground, who’s already probably working with the USAID people on the ground, and they’re all setting this up so that when the formal guidance comes, the operational orders come, we’re ready to do it.

Because it is a natural disaster, there is a small window of opportunity for any geographic combatant commander. They have 72 hours, while all of this formal stuff is happening, the geographic combatant commander has a 72-hour window to save lives and alleviate suffering. And what they’re doing is possibly redirecting their forces, plotting out some logistics, setting up their staffs, task organizing. Whatever they’re doing to get ready so that when the order comes, they’re already in action. The size of the response could be anything from a single ship, to a joint task force, or you might recall the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, where the joint task force quickly evolved into a combined support force, where other militaries were working with us to support the humanitarian assistants.

As soon as an event happens, it’s not just the U.S. government that responds, there is an international humanitarian system that responds, led by the United Nations agencies. Specifically, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). They have a robust cluster system that provides coordination, they also set up coordination cells for middle-of-the-mill cooperation and for civilian-military coordination. And it’s through this broader network that both USAID and supporting Department of Defense resources will all plug into.

MM: One of the things that I’ve noticed that we’ve talked about before is that there is a change in the Navy and the aea services strategy, the Cooperative strategy for 21st Century Seapower. The 2007 version that had HA/DR as a core capability, but then it was changed where it wasn’t considered a core capability in the 2015 version. Could you talk a little about then how current Navy and sea service strategy addresses the HA/DR mission?

AC: So, the HA/DR mission has now been placed under power projection. And it’s the same assets and capabilities of ship-to-shore movement, that is wrapped up into power projection which is why HA/DR kind of was removed as a core capability. But it’s still something very important to one of our primary missions which is power projection.

It’s very interesting to see how this has developed over time. HA/DR is something listed specifically in the QDR. It’s been mentioned in the National Security Strategy. Given that it was already kind of placed underneath power projection in most recent security strategy, I think that will carry through even with the new administration. I don’t think that’s something that is going away. I just think that it will be something that stays core to our mission, but probably underneath the power projection category.

MM: So, if it’s not going anywhere, I imagine then it would probably make sense for the people listening to get even smarter on the topic then you’ve already made us in this interview. So, for those people that are out there, especially imagining they’ll be doing humanitarian interagency coordination one day, do you have any recommendations about how people can learn more about this topic and what sorts of sources they should dive into? Since this is sort of an atypical field of study, either in the humanitarian space or inside the military space.

AC: There’s two particular training opportunities that I recommend to anyone interested in the subject. First, in Hawaii there’s the Center for Excellence for Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance. They have a fantastic course called the HART course: Humanitarian Assistance Response Training. And if you cannot get to Hawaii, they have wonderfully put this online through the JKO, the Joint Knowledge Online. So, it’s the HART course on JKO and anyone can take that with a CAC card. The second opportunity is with USAID military liaison teams put together the Joint Humanitarian Operations Course. They teach it to us, and they travel around to different military commands, the ones most likely to be doing this type of work, and they give you the basics on the USAID-DOD relationship and how in operations we work together. So, if you ever get an opportunity to sit in on what they call the JHOC course, Joint Humanitarian Operations Course, it’s a fantastic opportunity and extremely valuable.

MM: So, for those officers and enlisted people out there in the services that don’t have the opportunity to take any of those course, what would you say then is the biggest takeaway for them? So that if they get put into a situation where they need to know about HA/DR they can be at the very least literate in what’s going on?

AC: So, most importantly, just remember that the military is a short-term piece of a very large-scale response. And we’re only there for a little bit of time until the civilian response capabilities can be fully established, and then we’re out. And also remember that there’s USAID, they’re the lead agency and if we do this, we are supporting them. There’s much less of them than us, but they are the lead agency when we do humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

MM: Well, since it seems like we’re getting towards the end of our interview, we’ll end it the same way we do all the other episodes. Tell us a little bit about what you’re reading. And what kinds of resources and articles are capturing your attention nowadays.

AC: I’m participating in the Women, Peace and Security Conference at the Naval War College and I’m reading a book right now by Rosa Brooks. She previously worked as the counselor to the undersecretary of defense and she wrote a great book about how everything became war and the military became everything. It really shines a light on all the ways that war, and everything else we do that is not war, has been blurred in modern warfare. So, it’s a fascinating book. And the second thing I’m reading right now is unpublished, but it should be published in the next year, it’s a book called How Navies Fight and Win at Sea by Jeff Cares and Tony Cowden, and it really provides an in-depth modernization to naval operational art. It draws on rich operations research background and then it pulls in kind of the prolific naval thinkers like Fisk’s and Wiley and Wayne Hughes, and I think this book, How Navies Fight and Win at Sea, will be kind of a future classic, so no doubt it will show up in some way on CIMSEC when it gets published. Fantastic work.

MM:  I’m looking forward to giving that one a read at some point. Thank you again Andrea for your time. Appreciate you sharing insights into this unique topic in the military space and best of luck with your research and thank you very much for being with us on Sea Control today.

AC: Thank you, Matt.

Commander Andrea H. Cameron, U.S. Navy, is a Permanent Military Professor teaching the Policy Analysis sub-course.  In 2011, she also completed a Doctorate Degree in Educational Technology from Pepperdine University with research about the Apple iPad in the academic environment. She also holds a B.A. degree in Political Science, a M.A. in Human Resource Development from The George Washington University, and a M.S. in Military Operational Art and Science from the Air Command and Staff College.

Matthew Merighi is the Senior Producer of Sea Control and Assistant Director for Maritime Studies at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He serves as a member of CIMSEC’s Board of Directors.

Sea Control 143 – Cyber Threats to Navies with Dr. Alison Russell

By Matthew Merighi 

Join us for the latest episode of Sea Control for a conversation with Dr. Alison Russell of Merrimack College about navies and their relationship with cyber. It’s about the distinct layers of cybersecurity, how navies use them to enhance their capabilities, and the challenges in securing and maintaining that domain.

Download Sea Control 143 – Cyber Threats to Navies with Alison Russell 

This interview was conducted by the Institute for Security Policy at Kiel University. A transcript of the interview between Alison Russell (AR) and Roger Hilton (RH) is below. The transcript has been edited for clarity. Special thanks to Associate Producer Cris Lee for producing this episode.

RH: Hello and Moin Moin, Center for International Maritime Security listeners. I am Roger Hilton, a nonresident academic fellow at the Institute for Security Policy at Kiel University, welcoming you back for another edition of the Sea Control series podcast. Did any listeners read the news on twitter, message your friend on Facebook, or even do some mobile banking? Are you streaming this podcast for your enjoyment? If you did any of the above, like myself, you are dependent on the internet. So logically, based on this fact, it should come as no surprise that contemporary navies are as well. Naval technological capabilities and strategies have exponentially evolved from the nascent beginnings. Steam ships have been replaced by nuclear powered carriers while cannons have been substituted for intercontinental ballistic missiles. No doubt the power of modern navies is awesome, and as a result, their dependency and reliance on the cyber realm must not be overlooked.

Consequently, does this interconnectedness between hardware and software in fact leave 21st century navies more exposed to attacks from invisible torpedoes than actual physical ones? Here to help us navigate the minefield of the cyber threats facing both naval strategy and security is Dr. Allison Russell, she’s a professor of political science and international relations at Merrimack College in Massachusetts and a nonresident researcher at the Center for Naval Analyses. In addition, she’s the author of two books, Cyber Blockade and more recently, Strategic A2AD in Cyberspace. Dr. Russell, thanks for coming aboard today.

AR: It is great to be speaking with you Roger. Thank you for having me in your program today.

RH: Well, let’s get right into it. There’s no doubt that cyberspace and threats associated with it are hot topics today. While much of the news coverage on cyber threats is focused on hackers spreading disinformation, or even potentially gaining access to critical infrastructure, can you provide an initial overview of the role cyber plays in the contemporary maritime environment and as well as some of the menaces targeting the Navy?

AR: I would be glad to. As you pointed out, much of the attention on cyber threats focuses on hackers, data thefts, cyber espionage, and information or influence campaigns. And those are important. But these really are not the biggest threats in the maritime environment. The threats naval forces face in a maritime environment vary depending upon the part of cyberspace we’re talking about.

See, there are four levels in cyberspace: the physical, the logic, the information, and the user layers. The physical layer is the physical infrastructure, the hardware that underpins the global grid that is the basis of cyberspace. Although we tend to think of the internet and cyberspace as wireless or in the cloud, it is very much reliant upon physical infrastructure at its most basic level. Fiber optic cables including undersea cables, and satellites comprise some of the more prominent features of the physical layers of cyberspace.

The second layer is the logic layer. This is the central nervous system of cyberspace. This is where the decision-making and routing occurs to send and receive messages to retrieve files, really to do anything in cyberspace. The request must be processed through the logic layer. The key element of the logic layer are things such as DNS, the Domain Name Servers, and internet protocols.

The third level is the information level. This is what we see when we go on the internet: Websites, chats, emails, photos, documents, apps. All of that is the information posted at this level. But it is reliant on the previous two levels in order to function.

Lastly, the fourth level is the user level: the humans who are using the devices and are interacting with cyberspace. They matter because cyberspace is a man-made entity and its topography can be changed by people. Cyberspace is critical to modern naval strategy and security because it underpins the essential communications networks and capabilities of naval forces. And adversaries will seek to destroy or degrade those capabilities in the event of a conflict. Cyberspace enables robust command and control, battlespace awareness, intelligence gathering, and precision targeting, which are at the core of mission success. These days navies must defend and maintain their freedom to operate within cyberspace in order to be effective forces at sea.

RH: Thanks for the brief outline. As I mentioned earlier the identity of the navy has changed greatly since its original inception into conflict theaters. Accordingly, the advent of cyberspace has added an entirely different dynamic to the field. And you mention some of them as well. Consequently, what are some of the new responsibilities that have arrived with the integration of cyber to navies? And in general, what is the role the navy plays within a larger national security architecture?

AR: The cyber capabilities are really integrated at all levels at the naval mission. So, the core capabilities navies seek to provide are the blue-water capabilities of forward presence, deterrence, control, sea control, and power projection, as well as maritime security and humanitarian assistance or disaster response. All of these core capabilities are supported and enhanced by cyber capabilities. Thus, the full spectrum of naval operations and the corresponding naval strategy involve cyber capabilities today.

For more technologically advanced navies, these cyber capabilities are so integrated into weapon systems and platforms, that they’ve become essential to full spectrum warfighting operations. For the less technologically advanced navies, cyber capabilities can still play an important role in augmenting other capabilities by providing command and control and acting as a force multiplier in certain situations. In addition to their blue water role, naval forces are responsible for providing cyber capabilities to support combatant commanders’ objectives in defense of national information networks and for fleet deployment. They are force providers to joint and interagency operations. They are supporters of the national mission and blue-water warriors all at the same time. As a result, they must have a holistic, full spectrum understanding of the role cyberspace plays from tactics to operations to grand strategy.

RH: That was a great encompassing of it. As you can see it comes full circle when you compare conflict theatres to human assistance missions which is great you mentioned. At the same time Dr. Russell, you cite out naval strategies are in a period of transition at the moment. Could you elaborate on these implications with regard to how cyberspace is impacting the current formation of national naval strategies?

AR: Yes, naval strategies are in a period of transition with regards to cyberspace. Most navies acknowledge the importance of cyberspace as a critical enabler, but there’s emerging recognition that cyberspace is also much more than that. Ultimately, cyberspace is a game changer for naval forces and security forces in general. All phases of conflict now have a cyber dimension. From phase zero planning to phase five stabilization and reconstruction, cyberspace affects all levels of war, from strategic to the operational to the tactical. All types of conflict are affected by cyberspace including conflicts in the other four domains. For naval forces in particular, cyberspace enables new kinds of fires: Cyber-fires. It improves situational awareness and enhances command and control.

It has also opened the door to new threats. Anti-access and area denial operations, improved targeting capabilities by adversaries, and presenting more targets for attack in the form of cyber-attacks. As naval forces adopt next technologies to leverage the unique capabilities of cyberspace, reliable access to cyberspace is a necessity. Assuring access to cyberspace and confident C2 for deployed forces regardless of the threat environment is a top priority for the U.S. Navy as well as for many others.

RH: There’s no doubt based on your texts and some of the other content out there that reliable access seems to be driving naval strategy and security, especially among the technically advanced navies. So thank you for mentioning that to the listeners.

We spoke about technologically advanced navies and less technologically advanced navies. To demonstrate some of the diversity in strategy, can you provide a quick comparison about how some of the national strategies have integrated cyberspace in their doctrine?

AR: Yes, I think a comparison of the U.S. and Russia helps to illustrates this.

RH: You couldn’t have picked two better countries to compare at the moment, so thank you for that selection, Dr. Russell.

AR: (Laughs) Well, there’s a lot of interesting things happening there. The current U.S. maritime strategy, the 2015 Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower, has incorporated cyberspace and cyber power into that strategy in a very robust way. The strategy talks exclusively about all domain access and cross-domain synergy. By which it means, synchronizing battlespace awareness with all the layers and sensors and intelligence within that, and synchronizing that with the short access to networks. Offensive and defensive cyber operations, electromagnetic maneuver warfare, and integrated kinetic and non-kinetic fires. All of this is apparent in U.S. maritime strategy as essential elements in supporting the naval mission. And it’s all spelled out.

In contrast, there is very little information that is publicly available about how cyberspace effects the Russian maritime strategy. At last check, Russian maritime strategy does not directly address cyberspace and cyber security as a maritime or naval responsibility. But it does recognize the importance of what it calls information support of maritime activities for the maintenance and development of global information systems, including systems for navigation, hydrographic, and other forms of security. Most of the publicly available Russian cyber strategy in general focuses on information operations and disinformation campaigns. Despite having advanced cyber-capabilities, there’s not much information available on how that is being integrated into the Russian naval strategy.

RH: You know, it’s very unfortunate that there was no release of any new information recently in St. Petersburg, they celebrated national Navy day with President Putin visiting. But I guess we’ll have to stay on the lookout for any new information.

Before we even go up into the highly integrated platforms of navies in cyber, you reference very acutely the Kremlin’s use of synchronized fires. Can you briefly elaborate on what this concept is and if we can expect to see a similar pattern in future conflict theaters?

AR: Yes, without a doubt I think we can expect to see a similar pattern in the future. For those who don’t know, during the Russia-Georgia War of 2008, Russian forces assaulted Georgia on land, in the air, and from the sea, while at the same time Georgia was subjected to destructive distributed denial of service or DDOS attacks on the websites of Georgian government offices, financial services, and in news agencies. So, this was a synchronized attack in multiple domains on Georgia from Russia simultaneously.

In the Russia-Ukraine conflict, similarly Ukraine suffered multiple cyber attacks in conjunction with that conflict, including cyber attacks targeting infrastructure. I think that these synchronized integrated fires will likely continue and eventually become the norm in conventional conflict unless some action is taken, diplomatically or otherwise, to limit the use of cyber fires or restrict the number of quote unquote “legitimate” cyber targets.

RH: Again, that’s Russia picking on countries that are less developed, but it would be interesting to see moving forward against another more developed or modern adversary if it would be as effective a concept. When assessing operational level warfare, as well as tactical level warfare, how does cyberspace enhance their application?

AR: Starting with the operational level, cyberspace operations can be categorized in three ways: Offensive action, defensive action, and network operations.

Offensive cyberspace operations are designed to project power through the application of force in or through cyberspace. They’re cyber attacks. Defensive cyberspace operations are intended to defend national or allied cyberspace systems or infrastructure. Network operations design, build, configure, secure, operate, and maintain information networks and the communications systems themselves to ensure the availability of data, the integrity of the system, and confidentiality. So those all work together on operational level.

So, to give an example, we already talked about how cyberspace enables assured command and control, integrated fires, battlespace awareness, intelligence, as well as protection and sustainment. It also enables naval maneuvers, with positioning, navigation, and timing support. For sea-based power projection, in a landscape that is very often devoid of signposts and landmarks, the ability to have precise navigational information and over-the-horizon situational awareness is particularly critical. Cyber and satellite-based global positioning and navigational systems provide this capability. Beyond the navy itself, commercial and academic institutions that provide support to the fleet or the military in the form of design, manufacturing, research, and other products and services, are also part of the broader environment for naval security.

So, naval security and warfighting advantage depends in part upon thwarting attacks on military or government sites, as well as securing sensitive information from cyber theft or cyber espionage. Sensitive information in the wrong hands can of course undermine the operational effectiveness of the fleet by improving targeting of naval forces by adversaries and increasing the adversary’s knowledge of how forces man, train, and equip for warfighting.

Moving to the tactical level, naval commanders must incorporate the use of cyber technologies into their battlefield tactics. In practical terms, this means that defensive and offensive cyber capabilities will be integrated alongside kinetic action. This is the integrated fires. Cyberspace can increase the effectiveness of traditional kinetic fires through improved intelligence and targeting. But it also presents new challenges for defensive operations to protect these systems from cyberattack as well as kinetic fires.

Cyberspace and cyber capabilities play a particularly important role in supporting network-centric weapon systems, such as the tactical Tomahawk missile, which the U.S. launched into Syria in April. Tactical Tomahawks receive in-flight targeting data from operational command centers. Similarly, carrier aviation maintenance programs rely on cyberspace to enable them to provide mission ready aircraft.

There are alternatives and workarounds to overcome system failures, but the point is that reliable access to cyberspace is critical to the successful employment of these systems. Naval security also depends upon the protection of access and critical information whether it is classified or not. For naval forces, this process of protecting critical information means educating and training sailors in good cyber hygiene habits and having cyber security integrated into the life cycles of systems.

 

RH: Moving on, we’ve discussed how naval strategies revolve around the four key layers. It is clear that the structure of cyberspace begins with the physical layer. Sometimes users forget how hardware like fiber optic cables and satellites are hidden from view in our daily use of cyberspace. It looks to be a frightening future as you provided a few examples that confirm how vulnerable these physical elements are to tampering.

An appropriate contextualization for the listeners of this threat was on display in a 2015 New York Times article that describes increased Russian submarine activity and how the construction of unmanned, undersea drones related to fiber optic cables is rattling the Pentagon. According to Rear Admiral Fredrick Roegge, commander of the Navy Submarine fleet Pacific (COMSUBPAC) he was quoted as saying, “I’m worried everyday about what the Russians could be doing.” What is your take on the threat to the physical layer and is this threat explicitly exaggerated? Or is it a feature that national security policy makers should be more concerned with?

AR: That’s a great question, I don’t believe that it’s exaggerated. The cables carrying global business for more than $10 trillion per day and 95 percent of daily communications. They are very important to our global economic and political structure.

Back in the 70s before there was a system as robust and widespread as it is today, the U.S. was willing to take great risks to tap into the cables in Soviet waters to gain intelligence. Now these cables carry much more information and have much more value in the present context. The Russians are seeking to identify and potentially exploit infrastructure weaknesses of the US and the West. So, I think it is absolutely worth being concerned about.

RH: Can you comment a little bit on what would happen in the event of tampering and what the process of repair might look like moving forward?

 AR: Well, it’s a little hard to speculate on exactly what would happen, but somethings that could happen is, cables could be severed, they could be cut, which would cause a slowdown in the system, and it would be difficult to repair them, particularly because these cables lie along the ocean bed, the floor of the ocean. And so, there are a certain number of ships in the world that can go to these places and fix the cables and that can be a process that is expensive and is time consuming. That’s just one scenario where the cables are cut.

Another scenario is that they can be potentially tapped into somehow. That is, of course, what the U.S. did to the Soviet Union in Operation Ivy Bells in the 1970s, and that was used for espionage purposes. So, something along those lines could be done with these cables with information being stolen or simply recorded and copied, but then passed along so that nobody knows that someone else was listening in. So, there are a variety of different things and they would require different responses, but some of them would be difficult to detect and to identify that there was a problem, while others like a cut in the cable would be immediately apparent.

RH: In terms of the logic layer, do you think it’s conceivable that a Stuxnet-like attack could seriously damage naval operations? It is worth noting to our audience that even in the case of air-gapped networks, which is what Iran was using, infections from viruses are still possible.

AR: I think it is entirely possible that a cyber-attack could manipulate the logic layer of cyberspace in a number of ways which could cause it to malfunction or shut down completely in order to inhibit the flow of data, which could directly affect naval operations. You make a very good point that even air-gap networks are still at risk. The Stuxnet attack happened 10 years ago, but it successfully targeted highly sensitive protected air-gap systems. And the technology and cyberweapons have advanced quite a lot in the decade since then.

RH: It seems like a bit of an antiquated question, but in the event, that a Stuxnet attack hit a naval operation, what would the response of the Navy be? I mean, do they still know how to use compasses and work like they did back in the day?

AR: (Laughs) This is a good question. But there are workarounds. There are capabilities that are redundant that have resiliency built in. Things would not function perfectly, but most things would still continue to function, so they would still be able to get to where they were going, but they wouldn’t be as effective as they’re intended to be. And so, it would be problematic. Absolutely.

RH: Just as an example for listeners though, but again theoretically, if there was a Stuxnet attack on an operation, it could kill the ability of network-centric weapons to function, correct?

 

AR: It has that potential, or could cause them to malfunction. So, an object could appear to go on course  go off course, or not be able to function entirely or, if it’s ordnance, explode too early, something along those lines.

It can cause a variety of effects, depending on exactly what type of attack it is and what it’s designed to do. Because these attacks – we say attacks in cyberspace happen very quickly because they do in cyberspace – but they also typically take a very long time to develop.

So, that’s another thing where we can develop the cyberweapons and keep them until you’re ready to use them, they do take a while to actually develop. But once you deploy them they happen almost immediately.

RH: A lot of those symptoms you just mentioned earlier about, sort of, missiles veering off course or exploding too early, that’s also a good way to look at the early stages of the North Korean missile program, which unfortunately has evolved to a dangerous point right now. But that’s also maybe a good example if you would agree about the various difficulties that come with a Stuxnet like attack on any sort of cyber infrastructure.

AR: I think that’s an excellent sample.

RH: Drives people crazy in Pyongyang. We have an established the crucial role of cyber for naval strategies, and touched on the composition and structure. Against this backdrop, what are the main opportunities for naval forces and policy makers moving forward with cyber?

AR: Well, there are many potential opportunities but there are three that I think are the most important and exciting.

The first is improved battlespace awareness. Cyber capabilities allow naval forces to have a better understanding of the environment in which they are operating and that is very very good for them.

The second is that cyberspace presents new opportunities for modelling and simulation to help naval forces prepare and train for warfighting.

And then third, as a new domain, cyberspace presents opportunities for cooperation with partner nations for developing, maintaining, and protecting a domain to ensure things like reliable access for allies and partners. And limiting the adversary’s maneuverability within the domain.

So, the domain is essentially a blank slate for cooperation within the international community. That provides some really exciting and interesting opportunities.

RH: Despite these improvements in the maritime domain, it is safe to say that you still remain skeptical of the numerous challenges that threaten naval security. Can you identify and describe some of the major threats? To either advanced technological navies or less advanced navies.

AR: Yes, and there are many challenges, but again I’ll pick the top three that I consider to be the most dangerous or the most important:

First, anti-access and area denial operations in cyberspace are the most significant challenge to the basic goals of naval forces: To retain freedom of maneuvering in cyberspace and deny freedom of action to the adversaries. Cyberspace is essential to naval operations so therefore; the protection of cyberspace is also essential. It doesn’t matter how new or fancy your ships are, if they don’t have the capabilities you need because you can’t access cyberspace. So, I think the most important challenge is, maintaining access to the domain.

The second is significant challenge for naval forces is that offense has the advantage. Threats in cyberspace develop faster than forces can protect against in many cases. The domain is constantly evolving, and innovation is happening so quickly that creating new systems, platforms, and tools occurs at a rapid pace. With the creation of new applications comes the opportunity for new vulnerabilities within the systems. Adversaries are constantly seeking new ways of attack or penetration of networks.

While defensive cyber operations have to work very hard to keep up with the constant onslaught of attacks, there are things like advanced persistent threats, APTs, that are these stealthy persistent attacks on a targeted computer system in order to continuously monitor and extract data. These are particularly problematic because they are so difficult to detect and could render significant damage. We just saw recently that a very prominent cyber security firm was actually targeted with the use APTs, which is very worrying given that they are a prominent cyber security firm. And in addition, the speed at which some cyber attacks can take place, the relatively low barriers on entry to cyberspace, and the potentially big impact of an attack provides a lot of incentive for attackers to keep trying. So, it’s difficult for defensive operations to keep up with them and innovate to protect against future attacks.

RH: I have to be honest Dr. Russell, based on our discussion and the litany of challenges, I’m more inclined to believe that navies will remain exposed to invisible torpedoes more so than physical ones. But hopefully the offensive actions and the various layers will become more resilient in defending and fighting them off. Undoubtedly, it has been an eye-opening podcast that has served to expand our collective assessment on the role of cyberspace and the implications for both naval strategy and security. As we sail off on another sea control series podcast Dr. Russell, do you have any operational takeaways for the listeners or the issues they should pay special attention to?

AR: Well, the rise of cyber capabilities of allies and adversaries such as precision targeting and long-range attacks on systems mean that navies will be simultaneously more connected and more vulnerable at sea than ever before. The modern Navy has so many capabilities that rely on cyberspace that it must not take access to cyberspace for granted. As our ships grow smarter and we invest more and more in the high-end capabilities that allow this unprecedented array of actions, let us not forget to simultaneously ensure that the cyber-connected systems are protected so that our new technology can be used effectively when it’s called upon.

Sun Tzu observed that it is best to win a war without fighting. If modern navies did not have access to cyberspace, it would be very difficult for them to fight. The goal of the navies in the future will be to retain freedom of maneuver and deny freedom of action to adversaries at sea. As well as in cyberspace.

RH: Dr. Russell, thank you again for taking the time to enlighten us on such a relevant and complicated issue.

If our listeners want to follow up in more detail on cyberspace and maritime strategy, or gain a better outlook on the general maritime domain, The Routledge Handbook of Naval Strategy and Security, edited by Sebastian Bruns and Joachim Krause, published in 2016 is an indispensable resource to have. Please check www.kielseapowerseries.com for more info on the book and other podcasts derived from the book.

With no shortage of maritime issues within the greater geopolitical landscape, I promise I will be back to keep CIMSEC listeners well-informed. From the Institute for Security Policy at Kiel University and its adjunct, the Center for Maritime Strategy and Security, I’m Roger Hilton saying farewell and auf wiedersehen.

Dr. Alison Russell is an Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Studies at Merrimack College.  The author of Cyber Blockades (Georgetown University Press, 2014), she worked for six years as a security analyst at the Center for Naval Analyses where she specialized in naval strategic planning. She holds a Ph.D. from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, an M.A. in International Relations from American University in Washington, D.C., and a B.A. in Political Science and French Literature from Boston College.

Roger Hilton is a nonresident academic fellow for the Institute for Security Policy at the University of Kiel.

Matthew Merighi is the Senior Producer for Sea Control. 

Sea Control 142 – The Blue Economy and Ocean Clusters with Kate Walsh

By Matthew Merighi 

Join us for the latest episode of Sea Control for a conversation with Professor Kate Walsh of the U.S. Naval War College about the Blue Economy, ocean clusters, and their relevance for maritime security. It’s a conversation about innovation, organization, and competition between the U.S. and China.

Download Sea Control 142 – Blue Economy and Ocean Clusters with Kate Walsh

For additional information on this topic, take a look at the following links:

The Ocean Economy in 2030 (OECD)

Center for the Blue Economy (Middlebury Institute of Monterey)

CMSI Workshop on U.S. and Chinese Perspectives on the Blue Economy (U.S. Naval War College)

Vision for Maritime Cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative

A transcript of the interview between Professor Walsh (KW) and Matthew Merighi (MM) is below. The transcript has been edited for clarity. The views in this interview do not reflect those of the U.S. Naval War College, Navy, Department of Defense, or Federal Government.

MM: As is Sea Control tradition, please introduce yourself.

KW: I teach at the U.S. Naval War College as an Associate Professor of National Security Affairs. I teach officers and others policy analysis, which is basically policy decision-making in the U.S. and how it works or doesn’t work in some cases. I am also an affiliate with the China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI) where I do research on China.

I came to the Naval War College as a former think tanker and consultant in Washington, DC. In 1997, I was offered a project in the Commerce Department to look at China and issues of technology transfer. That’s where I started on a different area of research focusing on science, technology, and innovation in China. I’ve stuck with it since then. In 2013 or thereabouts, I started to find references to the Blue Economy in that research. I started asking around what the was and didn’t get any good answers. I found since then that this idea is one which China and others are developing.

MM: Let’s dive into the idea of the Blue Economy. I’ve noticed that there’s a general lack of awareness on what the Blue Economy is. Tell us more about what it is, what industries are involved, and how is it relevant to your maritime work.

KW: One of the challenges is the different terminology whether you call it the Blue Economy, Ocean Economy, or Marine Economy. The definitions are not set yet so it’s hard for the U.S. and China to know what the other is talking about.

It’s organized around clusters where industries, such as fishing and shipbuilding, ones which deal with marine issues, are clustered together in a coastal area. It follows on earlier research done in the 1990s on innovation clusters in Silicon Valley. The ocean clusters build on that original research because it’s not just about innovation but also conservation. There’s the industry, innovation, and conservation aspects in ocean clusters. Some of the industries involved include oil and gas, shipbuilding, fishing, fisheries, conservation NGOs, government departments including navies and coast guards, and anyone having to do with anything wet or ocean or coastal or water. But the terminology differs in different areas.

MM: You mentioned different time periods. From your research, how long has this ocean cluster concept been around? Is it new or is it new branding for an existing trend?

KW: I’m still investigating this as I know you and others are as well. My best understanding is that they build on earlier research but focusing on an area which doesn’t get a lot of attention. My sense is that the cluster concept only goes back to about the late 2000s or 2010. Iv’e been focusing mostly on China’s Blue Economy concept which dates to a policy from Hu Jintao in 2010. China’s concept was built on earlier work in Europe and the U.S., so dating it is difficult. It’s definitely still new, which is what makes the terminology so difficult. That terminology is a real world problem. Just recently I was at an event and these definitional issues were raised because it hasn’t really been decided what they mean even in the U.S. It’s a new field in early days, which is exciting.

MM: Have you discovered why the Blue Economy is going unnoticed? A lot of our listeners are likely already literate in ocean issues but why is the broader academic enterprise ignoring this area?

KW: I don’t have the definitive answer but my sense is that a lot of the actors and interest is there but that the cluster idea is new. What I’m seeing regionally in Rhode Island is people saying they already have the parts that go into clusters: the academics, industries, and entrepreneurs. What they don’t have is an approach to network and connect these different players in a way that is beneficial to all of them.

There’s a natural resistance with some of these actors, such as ocean researchers and fishermen who are in competition with each other over use of water resources nearby. It takes work to overcome these differences; they don’t happen organically most of the time. I think there’s an interest, as globalization is progressing, to connect people together in ways which promotes cooperation, new ideas, and new opportunities. When I look at China, it’s first Special Economic Zone (SEZ), which in itself was a cluster, dates back to 1979. The focus on the ocean and adding of blue conservation in a way that serves everyone’s interest in the long term is the new part. The ocean is already under threat due to climate change and overfishing which I think has increased the focus on the ocean as an area of study.

MM: You mentioned geopolitical entities of various sizes ranging from China to Rhode Island. Clearly the cluster concept is happening in a lot of different places. Which areas, whether its counties, cities, or regions, have the most dynamic ocean cluster systems?

KW: I started my research with China and I would put them high on the list because they’ve been thinking about this for almost a decade now. Other countries are looking to China for their expertise, including countries in Africa. China is a big player there not only because of their size but because of their interest in this issue for such a long period of time. Under Xi Jinping, it’s been enhanced. Also of course the U.S.

We have a very different approach from China but the idea is not new here; in San Diego, L.A., and Monterey, they’ve been studying this idea for a while. San Diego is particularly strong. They have a virtual network of companies called The Maritime Alliance to foster and collaborate on opportunities. They’re providing a lot of advice to other countries now in Europe and elsewhere. Europe is the birthplace of the Blue Economy concept, so a number of countries there are pursuing this in their own way. Iceland comes up quite a lot and is prominent, along with other Scandinavian countries. Ireland has a Blue Economy effort underway. There are other countries in Asia beyond China, particularly in Small Island Developing States. It’s a global enterprise and the attraction is universal. I think this will be a growing area of study. In the U.S., there’s a number of different pockets: Maine, parts of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Alaska, among others.

MM: You mentioned different approaches in these different clusters. You said the U.S. and China models have the largest different. What is the biggest difference between them?

KW: I alluded to China’s system, which is top-down like most of their innovation programs. The plan comes from Beijing and trickles down to the province and local level. It’s the same with the Blue Economy. In the U.S. it tends to be more organic, more locally driven. Many of them start because something was already happening and there was a clear opportunity for more. It comes from an opportunity to be entrepreneurial and seeing that the actors are there. All that’s missing is the coordination and collaboration. It just takes one person to start that.

For example, in San Diego, The Maritime Alliance started when its founder, Michael Jones, started talking to people and trying to get people connected. In Rhode Island, there’s an effort to develop a cluster with an international linkage between a local city with a sister city relationship in China. At the end the day, it’s all about global networking.

MM: What is the most pressing or relevant aspect of the cluster model for maritime security and national security?

KW: Building on the idea of global networking, this is a cooperative opportunity, but also a competition in terms of who does this better. Because global population is increasing and food and energy are depleting, the ocean is being looked at as more of a resource but one which is very unexplored. There’s competition to be the one who exploits the resources more effectively. I use the term exploit very carefully here to mean “understand what opportunities the ocean provides.”

One of the differences between the U.S. and China I’ve found is how they look at the ocean. Americans see the ocean as tourism, as recreation, and beach-going as well as industry. In China, it’s very different because they had a land-based mentality for a long time. They look at the ocean as an extension of the land. Conservation is the last priority. It is a part of their model but it’s not a priority; the priority is industry and innovation. There’s opportunity for cooperation but there’s going to be competition. And whoever competes better is going to have an economic advantage.

On the science and technology side, this is part of the consideration when evaluating the South China Sea or Arctic or Antarctica. What comes back is about Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs), mineral rights, and economic rights with these zones. Part of the Blue Economy efforts have to do with planning who will be able to use which parts of the ocean and who can’t. Of course, in the Asia-Pacific much of this is under dispute. There’s a lot of uncertainty in that relationship and that has to do with the nature of the ocean itself. The ocean connects us whether we like it or not. And if countries start to fight over ocean spaces, this could become more a conflict driver than cooperation driver. On the positive side, we’re involved with a number of Track 2 discussions with our Chinese colleagues. I think we have similar goals but different approaches to developing the the Blue Economy, especially for disputed EEZs.

MM: For those who are interested in ocean clusters, what are the short and long term trends to see how this concept develops?

KW: I’m going to be a bit parochial with my interest in China. One of the things I’ve seen that is important to the U.S. government and U.S. Navy is China’s plans for the Maritime Silk Road. Xi Jinping announced in 2013 a new One Belt, One Road plan; a very ambitious plan to connect China to parts of the old Silk Road on both land and sea. The maritime part of that plan includes the Blue Economy and ocean clusters along the way. If you look at the map, there are dots along the route where China hopes to develop the maritime road. There’s an action plan that came out March 2015 that has considerable detail. These includes developing ocean clusters, SEZs, and Blue Economy zones along this route. It takes China’s model and develops them overseas.

There’s a question as to whether or not the U.S. and its allies, partners, and friends will be able to be a part of this effort as collaborators and investors. China just recently announced a new maritime vision which is even more ambitious than the original plan. That’s important because it puts Xi Jinping’s stamp on what was originally Hu Jintao’s concept. This new maritime vision has a number of different initiatives which have the word blue attached to them: Blue partnerships, Blue carbon efforts, and Blue conservation efforts. The Blue Economy idea will be a carrot to other countries along the Maritime Silk Road. I don’t see anything in competition with this coming from the U.S., so it’s something to keep an eye on.

It seems to me that these zones and cluster are to be driven by Chinese investment, developed by Chinese infrastructure, using Chinese telecommunications, possibly with Chinese labor, all along the Chinese cluster model. This is not necessarily bad but it opens questions on how much the U.S. and its allies could be able to be involved. This is going to be somewhat of a race to see who can exploit these opportunities in a way that doesn’t undermine conservation. The ocean is a lot of ungoverned space with a lot of unknowns. We’ll have to work hard to make sure that, if it is a competition, that it’s a benign economic and industrial competition.

MM: What things would you recommend to learn more about the Blue Economy and ocean clusters? Beyond that, are there any other interesting things you’re reading now?

KW: There’s a great study by the OECD from 2016 which looks at the Blue Economy through 2030. It’s quite long but it is a good introduction and those with a strategic mind will find its future orientation useful. Those interested in the economic aspect, the Center for Blue Economy at the Middlebury Institute in Monterey, has a journal which is worth looking at. They’re trying to come up with economic metrics to measure what the Blue Economy is and how much it contributes to GDP.

Those interested in the China question, CMSI held a workshop in late 2014 addressing U.S. and Chinese perspectives on the Blue Economy to understand the similarities and differences. The Center for American Progress, a think tank in DC, has done a number of studies on the Blue Economy and U.S.-Chinese issues. They’ll be coming out with a report soon from a June dialogue which focused on the Blue Economy, fisheries, and the Arctic.

Those interested in the Maritime Silk Road should read the maritime vision white paper which China put out on 20 June to get a sense of how they promoting new blue partnerships not just domestically but in the entire region. In terms of other things, because I teach policy analysis, I picked up John Farrell’s new Nixon biography. I’m also just starting The Beautiful Country by John Pomfret.

Kathleen (Kate) Walsh is an Associate Professor of National Security Affairs in the National Security Affairs Department at the US Naval War College (NWC), where she teaches Policy Analysis. She is an affiliate of the China Maritime Studies Institute  and participates in NWC’s Asia Pacific Studies Group

Matthew Merighi is the Senior Producer of Sea Control and Assistant Director of Fletcher’s Maritime Studies Program.