Following a recent speech, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey dismissed concerns about the U.S. militarization of cyberspace. “We have a Navy, but we are not being accused of militarizing the ocean,” he said. As the world reflects on and responds to the actions of former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, and as the investigation of possible leaks by former Joint Chiefs vice chairman General James Cartwright unfolds, it is difficult to avoid wondering if General Dempsey’s answer is the best the administration can muster. An increasing number of adversaries and even allies are coming to believe that the United States is militarizing cyberspace—and that impression of hubris and irresponsibility is beginning to have a real-world impact.
So what needs to be done? New thinking is required, in at least three ways: First, the administration needs to acknowledge that this is a problem. Second, a more holistic approach is required when making national-security decisions that affect the internet. Third, the government needs to learn to respond to these types of leaks in a way that does not make the situation worse.