Defense Science Board on Avoiding Strategic Surprise

10.14.15 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

The Department of Defense needs to take several steps in order to avoid “strategic surprise” by an adversary over the coming decade, according to a new study from the Defense Science Board, a Pentagon advisory body.

Among those steps, “Counterintelligence must be enhanced with urgency.” See DSB Summer Study Report on Strategic Surprise, July 2015.

The Board called for “continuous monitoring” of cleared personnel who have access to particularly sensitive information. “The use of big data analytics could allow DoD to track anomalies in the behaviors of cleared personnel in order to thwart the insider threat.”

“Continuous monitoring” involves constant surveillance of an employee’s activities (especially online activities), and it goes beyond the “continuous evaluation” of potentially derogatory information that is an emerging part of the current insider threat program.

“Insider actions often generate suspicious indicators in multiple and organizationally separate domains–physical, personnel, and cyber security. The use of big data and creative analytics can be carefully tuned to the style and workflow of the particular organization and can help to audit for integrity as well as individual user legitimacy,” the DSB report said.

The DSB report broadly addressed opportunities and vulnerabilities in eight domains: countering nuclear proliferation; ballistic and cruise missile defense; space security; undersea warfare; cyber (“The Department should treat cyber as a military capability of the highest priority”); communications and positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT); counterintelligence; and logistics resilience.

To an outside reader, the DSB report seems one-dimensional and oddly disconnected from current realities. It does not consider whether the pursuit of any of its recommended courses of actions could have unintended consequences. It does not inquire whether there are high-level national policies that would make strategic surprise more or less likely. And it does not acknowledge the recurring failure of the budget process to produce a defense budget that is responsive to national requirements in a timely fashion.