National Security

In the Army Now

A veteran on why her daughter should sign up.

An instructor at West Point once told me that if she had a daughter, she would not want her to attend the Academy or join the Army. "I want my daughter to be part of organizations in which all jobs are open to her, provided she meets the qualifications," she said.

At the time, I did not fully appreciate why my instructor was saying this. I was just a 20-year-old cadet trying to make it through West Point, after all. In the ensuing years, however, I served in the Army, twice deployed to Iraq, transitioned to a civilian career, and became a mother to a baby girl. And, although the combat exclusion rule would not have precluded me from encouraging my own daughter to serve her country in uniform, I do believe that ending it will make the U.S. military a stronger institution.

Since Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta's announcement last week that women will be formally allowed into combat roles, many commentators have noted that female soldiers have already seen plenty of combat in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. What many don't fully appreciate is how well integrated many aspects of the military already are. In those parts of our armed forces, women and men work side by side in an environment that focuses on getting the job done, not who is doing it. That approach has been self-reinforcing and, I think, made the secretary's decision easier.

I spent eight years in the active duty Army. During part of that time, I was a Military Police platoon leader and company commander. When conducting a mission, writing a performance evaluation, or recommending a job assignment, what I asked myself was, "Is this soldier well-trained? Can this soldier perform the tasks associated with the mission? Do I trust this soldier to do the right thing?" I did not ask myself, "What is this soldier's gender?" It simply did not matter; what mattered was ability and aptitude.

In 2004, I was the personnel officer for a large Military Police battalion deployed in and around Baghdad. I was responsible for all of the awards, casualty reports, major disciplinary actions, and evaluation reports for several hundred men and women engaged in combat operations. Every day, female soldiers completed their missions and distinguished themselves heroically when their convoys came under enemy fire or their forward operating base was hit over and over again by mortars, just as their male counterparts did. I processed the casualty reports on female soldiers injured in the course of their duties, just as their male counterparts were. And when it came time for evaluations and discipline, I observed that nearly all female soldiers displayed professionalism, grit, assertiveness, and determination, just as their male counterparts did.

As a result of focusing on getting the job done, without regard to gender -- a focus shared by countless colleagues in the many units that include both men and women -- in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, female soldiers, just like their male counterparts, have had the opportunity to complete their missions, no matter how difficult, and give their all for their comrades and their country. Over the last decade in particular, during a counterinsurgency fight that eliminated the difference between a frontline and a rear area, both genders routinely faced combat. In doing so, they have been able to show that "what is this soldier's gender?" is not an important question to ask.

My fellow MPs and I were fortunate to be part of a branch of the Army where every position in every unit was open to everyone, assuming he or she met the standards. As such, we were able to flourish in an environment where gender had no impact on job assignment. As a woman in an institution still dominated by men, this had an extraordinarily empowering effect on each of us. And it ensured the best person could be selected for a given job. Unfortunately, because of the combat exclusion rule, I also knew that the equality I enjoyed in the MP Corps was not universally shared throughout the armed forces.

I have now spent nearly five years as a civilian. During that time, I have worked with and for organizations where all that matters is whether or not you are the most qualified for a given job. This strengthens a woman's place in the workforce and, more importantly, strengthens the organization itself. The organization can get the most out of its talent pool and benefits from a greater diversity of experience. While I fully appreciate that military service, especially in combat, differs in many, many ways from working in a civilian institution, I also believe the tenet of choosing the most qualified individual should know no bounds.

Seven weeks ago, I gave birth to a little girl. As I look upon her in my arms, I have come to believe even more strongly that she should have the same opportunities as her two-year-old brother. That if she -- just like he -- has the right qualifications, she can be all she can be, in whatever line of work she wants. And that, similar to my West Point instructor's opinion, she should join institutions where her future is only limited by her dreams, her determination, her work ethic, and her ability to meet a job's exacting standards. 

So given the personal journey I and my fellow female comrades in arms have traveled, I was thrilled this past week when I learned Secretary Panetta lifted the ban excluding women from combat. This will mean that, going forward, the women who have proven themselves on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan -- and the women who came before us and will follow us -- will have the same opportunity as our male counterparts. This not only empowers women. It also strengthens our military and our nation.

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Catie D. Edwards/DVIDS


The People's Republic of Hacking

China’s campaign of cyber attacks has reached epidemic proportions. Can anything be done to stop it?

In an extraordinary story that has become depressingly ordinary, the New York Times reports that Chinese hackers "persistently" attacked the newspaper, "infiltrating its computer systems and getting passwords for its reporters and other employees." The attacks began around the time journalists were preparing a story on the massive wealth the family of China's Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has allegedly accumulated, but the methods, identification, and apparent objectives of the hackers have been seen before in previous attacks on defense contractors, technology companies, journalists, academics, think tanks, and NGOs. Bloomberg, which published a story on the wealth of the family of Xi Jinping, China's top leader, has also been reportedly attacked.  While just one case in a sweeping cyber espionage campaign that appears endemic, the attack on the Times does highlight both the willingness of Beijing lean out and shape the narrative about China as well as the vulnerability the top leadership feels about how they are portrayed.

As with many cases of cyber espionage, the break-in is assumed to have started with a spear-phishing email, a socially engineered message containing malware attachments or links to hostile websites. In the case of the attack on the security firm RSA in 2011, for example, an email with the subject line "2011 Recruitment Plan" was sent with an attached Excel file. Opening the file downloaded software that allowed attackers to gain control of the user's computers. They then gradually expanded their access and moved into different computers and networks.

Once in, the hackers are pervasive and fairly intractable. The hackers involved in the attacks on the British defense contractor BAE Systems, for example, were reportedly on its networks for 18 months before they were discovered; during that time they monitored online meetings and technical discussions through the use of web cameras and computer microphones. According to Jill Abramson, executive editor of the Times, there was no evidence that sensitive information related to the reporting on Wen's family was stolen, but in previous cases hackers encrypted data so that investigators had a difficult time seeing what was actually taken.

Evidence that the hackers are China-based in all of these cases is suggestive, but not conclusive. Some of the code used in the attacks was developed by Chinese hacker groups and the command and control nodes have been traced back to Chinese IP addresses. Hackers are said to clock in in the morning Beijing time, clock out in the afternoon, and often take vacation on Chinese New Year and other national holidays. But attacks can be routed through many computers, malware is bought and sold on the black market, groups share techniques, and one of the cherished clichés of hackers is that they work weird hours.

Perhaps the most compelling evidence has been the type of information targeted. The emails and documents of the office of the Dalai Lama and Tibetan activists, defense industries, foreign embassies, journalists, and think tanks are not easily monetized and so would apparently have little attraction to criminal hackers. The information contained in them would be of much greater interest to the Chinese government.

Beijing is pushing its Internet power outside of China into the rest of the world. At home, it controls the flow of information on the Web domestically through censoring and filtering technologies as well as attempts to steer conversations or drown out opposition on social media sites by government-paid commentators, known in China as the 50 Cent Party for the going rate per posting. What the New York Times and other hacks demonstrate is the desire to shape international political narratives as well as gather information from those who might influence the debates on topic of importance to Beijing. The Times' worry that the hackers might take the paper offline on election night also reveals an attempt at intimidation as well as influence.

What will also be dispiritingly familiar in the aftermath of the attacks is the discussion about what can be done. Over the last several years, U.S. government officials have mounted an increasingly public campaign of naming and shaming China. But this has had little effect, and the Chinese response has been one of denial, calling the accusations "irresponsible," noting that hacking is illegal under Chinese law, and pointing out that China is also a victim of cyber crime, most of it coming from IP addresses in Japan, South Korea, and the United States.

So what can be done? Private security experts and U.S government officials say they are getting better at attributing attacks to groups and individuals. If that is the case, then the United States may begin to think about targeted financial sanctions or visa restrictions on identified hackers. What might cause the most difficulty for Beijing, however, are private and government efforts to ensure that reporting of the caliber of New York Times and Bloomberg is made widely available within China through translation and efforts to circumvent the Great Firewall of China. U.S. diplomatic cables posted online by WikiLeaks suggested that the hack on Google in January 2010 was ordered by a member of the Politburo who "typed his own name into the global version of the search engine and found articles criticizing him personally." Wen Jiabao and Xi Jinping might have had the same reaction.