Rethinking "Hacking" for the U.S. Navy

USS John S. McCain
USS John S. McCain

Published Sep 5, 2017 6:10 PM by David Campbell

An investigation has found there was no apparent hacking involved in the USS John S. McCain and the USS Fitzgerald collisions.

With all the civilian employees who have access and close interaction with U.S. Navy crew members, it may be easy to conduct searches and to find no evidence of hacking. But what criteria is being used? If the investigation is only looking at the IT systems, is that a fair conclusion?   

Beginning with the ill-conceived directives that allow any IT or other civilian crew members aboard U.S. Navy vessels or in any shore station that impact operations and systems, it can be clearly understood that the term "hacking" can be shown to mean a breakdown in overall mission execution. 

The traditions and disciplines of the U.S. Navy have historically lifted the U.S. Navy to the heights of global sea power. In our modern world, where corporations have more money and influence than some countries, it is necessary to understand that corporations also have agendas, and these agendas may not run parallel to the agenda of the United States.  

Hacking then, can also be a term applied to government and military leaders, who having acquiesced to budgetary pressures or peer pressures to be cool and with it the “wow” IT innovation, may be inadvertently dividing the core strength and fundamental principals upon which the U.S. Navy was built. This is all done in the name of "innovation" or perhaps under the pressures of "keeping pace with technology."

How can hacking be applied to the weakening of any solid military foundation? Swinging a budgetary axe? Swinging any axe that deliberately strikes at the core disciplines and loyalties developed through Navy training.

So, no evidence of hacking? I beg to differ. Not only does the U.S. Navy have a serious issue, so do any government agencies that have allowed IT personnel or any other persons access to operations or systems resources, or to co-mingle with U.S. Navy crew - that are NOT U.S. Navy trained from boot camp. Dividing the U.S. Navy into TWO groups - contractors and U.S. Navy members has created a breakdown of fundamental loyalty to core U.S. Navy doctrines in executing the U.S. Navy mission.  

What can be done to correct this egregious error?  

U.S. Navy IT, systems and operations need to be rebuilt in-house. Any system or component that can be "hacked" or has the potential of altering the mission from external "hacking" must be replaced with IT products that are made in the United States, under strict guidelines. Otherwise how can anyone be certain that any component which has been purchased on the open market and installed in any U.S. Navy or US government operational, IT related system, is free from external signal reception? There's no way all these components are physically examined.  How are they tested?  Are they tested?  Is each component taken apart and physically examined?  Likely not. It would be very expensive to do so and would call for in house expertise to ensure security is optimal.

Ask yourself how sure you are that U.S. government components are 100 percent free of any installed devices by non-U.S. or even U.S. made sources.  Any component that came in a box and was installed is suspect.

As for seamanship and blaming the crew members, this is not an option, because the breakdown of seamanship performance is the most devastating blow the U.S. Navy has imposed upon itself.  Any U.S. Navy crew member who has had to serve alongside contractors for hire, has already received a devastating blow to morale and loss of effective seamanship is the result.  

In varying degrees, U.S. leadership has imposed the most devastating "hack" job to the U.S. Navy. It can be corrected. It must be corrected quickly.  

First, get rid of "performance" and "dashboard" metrics. People are not machines. Honor, Courage and Commitment come from indoctrination; internalizing values and belief within the heart and soul of every sailor and that endearment to our nation is what is needed more than any "innovation" in performing the U.S. Navy mission.  

Compromising that membership with "hired contractors" is the biggest "hacking" of the axe, and it has been self-imposed by the U.S. Navy acquiescing to poor and ambivalent government leadership.  We are the United States of America, first and foremost, that is our first priority: The security and safety of our citizens. Citizenship and sailors are made through excellent doctrine. National pride is essential to developing and motivating citizens. Sailors have modeled this pride since the birth of the U.S. Navy. The same is true for any other branch of the military service.

David Campbell is a Former U.S. Navy Deep Sea Diver.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.