This website uses cookies. By continuing to browse this website, you accept our use of cookies and our Cookie Policy. Close

People, Connectivity and Cybersecurity With Lt. Colonel Arnel David - Ep. 51

This week, Army Strategist and Lt. Colonel Arnel David joins us from the UK to discuss the intersections between people, connectivity and cybersecurity.

Episode Table of Contents

Episode Introduction: Connectivity and Cybersecurity

ARIKA PIERCE: Hi, and welcome back To The Point Cybersecurity podcast. I am one of your co-hosts, Arika Pierce. I'm joined, as always, by my other co-host, Eric Trexler. How are you doing, Eric?

ERIC TREXLER: I'm doing great, Arika. We're going across the pond again, to a U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel in the U.K.

ARIKA PIERCE: Yes. Now, I always like when we take our podcast international. So, with that said, thank you so much. We have our guest today, Lieutenant Colonel Arnel David.

ARNEL DAVID: Oh, Arnel's fine. I'm over here, with the British, they elect that they use first names, so you'd say, "Lieutenant Colonel Arnel."

ARIKA PIERCE: Oh, interesting.

ARNEL DAVID: Normally, I have two first names, so people get confused, but it tends to work better over here, on this side.

ARIKA PIERCE: Oh, excellent.

ERIC TREXLER: That would blow my mind.

What is An Army Strategist?

ARIKA PIERCE: Well Arnel, you are an army strategist and still on active duty, but as you just said, over across the pond in the U.K. First, let's just start a little bit with your background. What is an army strategist? I'm very familiar with a lieutenant colonel, my father is an army man himself, but I do not know what an army strategist exactly is.

ARNEL DAVID: Sure. That's a good question. So, I won't bore you with the textbook definition. I have my own little elevator pitch I give to people when they ask me what I do. You know, the office based question. "What is it exactly that you do?"

ARNEL DAVID: But, as a strategist, I read voraciously and I write frequently, but we spend lots of times taking complex concepts and ideas and we do our best to synthesize, cohere and simplify them so that we can translate them into policy or a strategic plan. We produce products that, hopefully, they just don't explain something, they inspire action. So, that's generally what I would explain is a strategist.

ERIC TREXLER: Arnel, just to go through your background, I mean, you were company commander, an executive officer in the infantry. You've also deployed as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom too, right?

ARNEL DAVID: Yes, Eric. Yeah, I've got a lot of deployments and my wife's family will tell you, I mean, I spent six combat deployments, five-and-a-half years in other places. But Iraq, Afghanistan, the Central Asian states, such as Tajikistan, Philippines to Levant, Jordan, Lebanon. All over the place.

ERIC TREXLER: Okay, credentials? Check. I mean, that's an impressive experience across the globe, really dealing with international cultures. Certainly, one that I don't even come close to.

ARNEL DAVID: Yeah, it's quite the adventure and it's been a good career.

What is the Role of Connectivity and Cybersecurity in National Security

ARIKA PIERCE: Well, and Arnel, how does that translate in terms of your background? I know you've spent a lot of work and you have a book that we definitely want to talk a bit about as well, that focuses on people, connectivity. In terms of the cyberspace, how does that work translate into that area? What's your focus, in terms of cybersecurity, national security?

ARNEL DAVID: So, being a strategist, I mean, we tend to be broad and we have to like I said earlier, we read pretty widely to look at and examine, not just in the physical, kinetic space for military activity, but virtual as well, and the cognitive.

So we have to understand cyber strategy and how that's being developed and how our adversaries are using different attack vectors or different means of trying to coerce or compel the West or to extract concessions. So, I mean, a strategist can't be a one-trick pony and has to account for all of it.

ERIC TREXLER: What have you seen over your career now? If you go to LinkedIn, I mean, your resume is incredibly impressive. What have you seen change over the last couple decades, from a cyber perspective, specifically?

ARNEL DAVID: Sure. So, I guess I could tell a quick story. I mean, we had a visit, when I was in strategic studies group, we visited New York City. We had the privilege and honor to meet with Chief Leonard, the FDNY chief. He said something that just kind of clicked with me, which I put into the book. One of the chapters is that, he explained back to, I think it was Hurricane Sandy, he explained that something had changed to him, and he's had a lot of experience, he said, "Something's changed in the present." Where people texted or tweeted or messaged that gas prices were shooting up fast, which was not necessarily true at that time, but what it did was, it created chaos and panic.

So, people were at the pumps, people are piling up at the pumps and guns were getting pulled out and it has created this chaos and it developed and spiraled out of control so fast. That right there. I mean, how do we get tools to help mitigate that from getting out of control and maybe messaging and saying, "Gas is not going to." Or whatever the situation might be.

A Disinformation Campaign

ARNEL DAVID: I mean, in Afghanistan, the same thing is happening, where the adversary, the Taliban, were creating a crisis of panic to the Afghan Army, by messaging that they took parts of the town or checkpoints are gone. All of it not true and then, just again, pushing this information, just false information, to where it just creates this panic and crisis and we have to mitigate and arrest that from getting worse.

ERIC TREXLER: So, really, a disinformation campaign, not dissimilar to what the Russians did with the election. The presidential election, what we're trying to prevent in the next one. We had Chris Krebs from CISA on a couple months ago, talking about the concerns around the election and protecting, but we're not even talking malware in this case. We're talking, really, using information technology in a disinformation campaign or effort.

ARNEL DAVID: Yeah, absolutely.

ERIC TREXLER: That almost sounds like there's more potential for catastrophe there. When your mom or somebody you know or somebody you're linked in with on Facebook, whatever it may be. Somebody who has some level of credibility or believed, perceived credibility tells you something, then when something happens to your system-

ARNEL DAVID: Yes, and the stuff that's happening with these bots that can recycle or re-syndicate these messages and themes, I mean, it starts to saturate the information environ. Starts to plug your feed with different messages and people are starting not to know what to believe. My mom had forwarded me something the other day and I was like, "I would question everything that was said in that video." She was like, "Hey, look at this. Is this true?" And I was like, "No, absolutely not."

People, Connectivity, and Competition

ARNEL DAVID: I mean, that can be, the Russians from (inaudible sound) creating that message. It was very political. So, I was like, "Be careful what's on your feed. You got to be mindful of what you're reading and listening to."

ERIC TREXLER: It's interesting, your book, Military Strategy in the 21st Century, the subtitle is People, Connectivity, and Competition. One of the lines in the 'About the Book' section is, "The character of not just war, but strategic competition appears to be changing. Failing to adapt will result in further losses of blood and treasure, as well as prestige and influence. Power withers when it proves frail." It's such a powerful line.

ARNEL DAVID: Yeah, thanks for that, Eric, yeah. So, the co-authors, Lieutenant General Cleveland, who used to be the commander for U.S. Army Special Operations Command, Dr. Ben Jensen, instructor at the Marine Corps University. Another good friend, Dr. Sue Bryant, and she's teaching at John Hopkins and running Strategic Education International. I mean, the four of us, we were initially going to write some articles and it just turned into a book, because we were seeing the direction that the government, particularly defense was going, is that we had these 18 years of war, where we now have the most experienced generation of war fighters in our nation's history.

We didn't want to walk away, or not learn those lessons from these wars, where we failed to understand the local dynamics of the conflict that we're entering into. We want to make sure that the defense, especially, particularly defense and soft and special operations, we have the capabilities to help leaders understand. To give them decision space before we do something. I mean, fundamentally, if you think about logic, I mean, understanding should proceed action.

The Future of Interconnectedness from a Security Standpoint

ARNEL DAVID: So, before you start doing something, you should understand what's going on before we go in there and do some kind of kinetic action and make matters worse. So, thanks for bringing up the book. I'm always willing to make a plug for it, so I appreciate that.

ARIKA PIERCE: Continuing with the book, I mean, I think there's some interesting things that are hit on there. One of them is the focus just on, and I think you've already been talking about this, how interconnected we are. I mean, I see that only increasing and when you raised the issue about the bots, I mean, I actually had not thought about that, from just a security standpoint. So, what do you see in terms of that direction? I mean, I think we're only going to see people being more plugged in. More issues only arising, in terms of how we look at security. I think, just from a personal standpoint, as well as from a broader national security standpoint. I mean, what are your thoughts, in terms of when you look to the future?

ARNEL DAVID: Right. So, a lot of folks in the military get caught up on the enemy and the threat. That is one aspect of the environment, that we have plenty of people, enormous amounts of resources looking at the threat. There's also a part of the environment that you have to take a look at, which is not necessarily the threat, but the civilian populace. I mean, other civil society groups, NGOs. I mean, a whole host of organizations that we need to develop a relationship with.

We need to make sure that we, like I said earlier, we have to capture these relationships and build these and illuminate these networks.

A Military Theory

ARNEL DAVID: Right now, I would argue that we don't have a way to interrogate these networks, to illuminate them, to show them. I mean, we have them for the red, for the adversary, to map those out. We haven't mapped the human geography, as we state in the book. I mean, we have to do that, so that we know. Really, some of these indigenous issues can be fixed by indigenous forces or partners, rather than us putting boots on the ground. So, the better we have these networks flashed out and who's important and who should be working with, the better.

ERIC TREXLER: So that we don't lose all the work that you and your peers have done over the last couple of decades with these populations?

ARNEL DAVID: Absolutely. In the book, we outlined a military theory that one, charts the changing character of strategic competition and conflict. Two, we propose a new operational construct, for mapping the human domain, is what we call it. Building security network and then leveraging these relationships, so that we can gain a position of relative advantage.

ERIC TREXLER: Speaking of relative advantage, I want to switch to your current role. You've been coming up on a year-and-a-half now. The U.S. Special Assistant to the Chief of General Staff for the British MOD, Ministry of Defence. I know you're-

ARNEL DAVID: Well, British Army. British Army, British Army.

ERIC TREXLER: Sorry, British Army. Thank you. I know we've spoken in the past about prototype warfare and what the British Army is doing. Can you elaborate a little more?

ARNEL DAVID: Yeah, absolutely

ERIC TREXLER: I think that'd be a great story for our listeners.

ARNEL DAVID: No, absolutely. I've listened to some of your past podcasts talk about innovation. So, this idea of prototype warfare, I mean, it's exciting.

Nurturing a Culture of Adaptation Through Cybersecurity

ARNEL DAVID: And the British Army is starting after this big idea, where it's being embraced by not just the most senior, but the most junior leaders in the Army. It's really about innovation delivery. It's about increasing the conversion rate of idea-to-capability, where you might take commercial, off-the-shelf technology and put it into soldiers' hands to experiment and test more rapidly in a training or deployed setting.

So, we're prototyping new ways of operating, but then feeding that information into a data lake, where it can be interrogated further and we can learn from. So, in essence, it's an approach to military activity that‘s specifically designed to catalyze creativity and power leaders at a test level and then just overall, nurture a culture of adaptation. Pretty exciting stuff.

ERIC TREXLER: How does cybersecurity figure into that?

ARNEL DAVID: How would that work if, let's say there's a commercial, off-the-shelf solution that normally, traditionally, you have to go through all these gates, the Valley of Death as you might've heard it been called, to finally get to become a thing that we would field or use. I mean-

ERIC TREXLER: Many years later.

ARNEL DAVID: Yeah, and it's right now. This age of digital disruption that we're entering into, I mean, stuff is becoming available weekly, monthly and it's changing fast. So, we understand that now and so, we're trying to create a, for lack of better word, innovation hub, where we have a dedicated force of people that, and they might not just be soldiers or uniform members. It might be civilians, it might be like, well, you've seen the movie Star Wars, and you walk into the bar there, it might look like that, you know?

You might have people with pink hair and earrings and we're okay with that.

The Millenial’s Relevant Role in Tech Startups

ARNEL DAVID: So long as they are able to communicate, connect with all these younger generations, these tech startups. I mean, industry, academia types, to bring in ideas, to crowdsource new ideas and to integrate them more rapidly into the military. So, if there is a commercial, off-the-shelf cybersecurity script or software, why not prototype and get after it now? Test it, deploy it to a unit, and if it works, then just buy more and scale as needed.

I mean, I think the idea is awesome. I mean, I'm proud to be a part of it and watching it unfold. There's a three-star, the commander of the field, Army General Ivan Jones, who is aggressively pursuing this. He's given every commander £15,000 to start doing innovation, to experiment, which I think is pretty profound.

ERIC TREXLER: Arika, we're back to your millennials.

ARIKA PIERCE: Yeah, I was thinking the same thing. I'm like, "It all comes back to the generations, it seems like, in the cybersecurity space now." We've spent a lot of time talking, I should say, the last few episodes, just talking about some of the differences in terms of the generations when it comes to security, as well as just overall technology. So, interesting to hear you mention it as well.

ARNEL DAVID: We hope that the military, the British Army, U.S Army, the challenges that we have, they're complex and confounding, right? So, we want to attract top talent and I think it's not always about money. It's about wanting to work on something meaningful. There's plenty of those types of challenges in the military. So, it's good to see these kinds of activities like prototype warfare, innovation outreach happening to attract more talent.

A Competition of Ideas

ERIC TREXLER: And we need to play in these domains, because our adversaries are, right? They're looking at ways to flank us. We clearly have the greatest military and strategic influence, but there are very easy, cost-effective mechanisms to outflank America through cyber?

ARNEL DAVID: Yeah, but the difference is that, I would say, the advantage we have is that you can't force innovation and you can't force creativity in people, make them exercise their imagination. That's what's great about the West, is that with an open society and democracy, we have this competition of ideas that flow amongst organizations. Inspire this creative ingenuity in all this stuff that's getting produced. I mean, you can't force that, and I think these other countries, they want it, to steal it. So, it tends to need to protect it, with cybersecurity platforms and such.

ERIC TREXLER: You can't force innovation. It's also really hard, it's very difficult to teach innovation. The concept of innovation, how to innovate. I think you can teach it, but it's very difficult, in my experience. That's clearly an advantage. It's great to see the British Army going in this direction.

ARNEL DAVID: Absolutely.

ERIC TREXLER: You think we'll bring it to America?

ARIKA PIERCE: That was my next question, you just took it. Took the words out my mouth.

ERIC TREXLER: Arika, we're in sync today.

ARNEL DAVID: Well, I think, in the U.S. Army, we are a bit ahead in this space, where I was able to, again, the last job, I was the chief of staff to the Army future studies group. We worked on this project called the Army Futures Command, which they stood up this new four-star command, which doesn't look like any other force or command headquarters, in Austin, Texas.

ARNEL DAVID: It is where, I mean, you got people in hoodies and sweatshirts, walking around the building with iPods in their ears and it just looks different. So, they're doing this and I think it's exciting and think times are changing.

ERIC TREXLER: Great, it's about time. We need to.

How Military Operations, Innovation, Cybersecurity Are Evolving

ARIKA PIERCE: Yeah, it's good to hear. It's definitely good to hear. In terms of thinking about military operations, innovation, cybersecurity, how is that changing? I think certainly, we better understand now, that the attacks that we see, the threats that we see, they will more likely be cyber attacks versus ground attacks. So, when you're looking at this, especially from the lens of both the U.S. Army, the British Army, how do you see that being, that evolving?

ARNEL DAVID: Well, I'll just say this; These two organizations that can explain where things are going. On the U.S. side, in the U.S. Army, Army Cyber Command, led by General Fogarty, I mean, they're starting to make sense of what's happening, these new threat vectors in cyberspace and especially with information. His head mark is now information warfare command, that he wants this work towards. On this side of the pond, we have Six Division, which is stood up, which is going to focus on a similar thing. We were trying to have what they call information maneuver, where we were trying to master the information environment and understand what's going on there. That includes cybersecurity.

I mean, I think the big thing is that there's a realization that we in the military defense, when you look at things like DARPA and all these different research labs, I mean, we used to lead SNT in development.

Connectivity and Cybersecurity: A Team Sport

ARNEL DAVID: I think we've come to a reality that the private sector is leading and getting ahead. I mean, they're way ahead in terms of artificial intelligence, quantum computing. Now, Google just announced they just developed a first quantum computing computer, or what have you. We just realized that there's no way to play catch-up. It's just, "Why don't we just create platforms where we collaborate and share and work together?" It's a team sport.

ERIC TREXLER: That's a good point. We're seeing that across the board, where industry is really leaping ahead, which I think is great. If we can take advantage of it.

ARNEL DAVID: Absolutely.

ARIKA PIERCE: Well, thank you so much. This has been an incredibly insightful conversation. Can you tell our listeners where they can get your book? Again, the title is Military Strategy in the 21st Century: People, Connectivity and Competition.

ARNEL DAVID: Yeah, it's definitely on Amazon, so you can go on there, but a Cambria Press is our publisher. If you go there, right now they're running a discount, I believe. I can't remember what the code is, but thanks for that. When people read the book, we're not getting royalties, because you know, we produced a lot of the information while we were on active duty and so, ethically, we just want to share the ideas and get them out there, so that people are more educated on what's going on and around them.

ERIC TREXLER: I have one last question, Arnel. I've looked at your background. When do you sleep?

ARNEL DAVID: You know, we have a saying, "Sleep when you're dead." But, yeah. When you get, do all these things that are exciting and you work on stuff you like, it's not really work.

You just tend to have fun and it's been that way for quite some time. So, yeah, I tend not to take on a lot, but it's been good times. The reward is that you start to see the impact it's making, and in particular with the book, spreading and becoming a textbook at different universities and institutions. But, I mean, it's rewarding to see that happening and to be changing things for the better.

ERIC TREXLER: I know, but I know what it's like to work in the U.K. when a lot of your business is back in the States AMD you're currently in the Artificial Intelligence program at Oxford and you just look so busy.

ARNEL DAVID: Oh, I finished that over the summer. Yeah. Don't get my wife started.

ERIC TREXLER: We're not going there on the podcast. If you can live on two to four hours a night, you just. I know we've spoken a bit and it's so impressive, what you're accomplishing over there, what the military is doing. Thank you so much for your time.

ARNEL DAVID: No, thank you guys. Very fine. Thank you.

Subscribe and Leave Us a Review on Apple Podcasts

ARIKA PIERCE: Thank you so much and thank you to all our listeners for tuning in every week. We appreciate it. Please do continue to subscribe to the podcast, share it with a friend or a colleague and let us know what you think of it. Until next week, this has been To The Point Cybersecurity podcast. Thank you.