The war on terrorism is being fought not only in places such as Afghanistan and Pakistan, but also on a cyber battlefield where terrorists are using information technology to their advantage.
However, the Defense Department is also using IT and is attempting to "connect the dots" before the next attack is carried out, according to one member of the Joint Staff.
Army Lt. Gen. Joseph Kellogg Jr., director of command, control, communications and computers for the Joint Staff, said the cryptology being used by terrorists to protect their data and communications is as good, if not better, than DOD's solutions.
He added that terrorists also have the capability to use steganography to pass instructions and other information. Steganography involves hiding a message or image within another image, a sound file (or musical composition) or some other unlikely document location.
"They are hiding stuff in pictures and embedding them in places we can't get to...like porn sites," Kellogg said during a March 5 panel at the Homeland and Global Security Summit in Washington, D.C.
DOD also is leveraging IT to "connect the dots" to ensure that there is never a repeat of the type of terrorist attacks that occurred Sept. 11, 2001, he said. "The best counter in asymmetric war is information and how you use it."
Asymmetric warfare is any means by which a generally inferior force can gain advantage over mightier opponents. On the asymmetric battlefield, Kellogg said, "The primary [thing terrorists] are using to their advantage is information technology."
In an interview with FCW, Kellogg made clear that no DOD personnel are accessing porn sites looking for hidden terrorist messages. But he added that other government agencies and organizations are able to do it and that DOD would use and act on any "legally vetted information" that is uncovered.
Kellogg also said that last week's capture of al Qaeda operations chief Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was significant not only because he is in custody and can be interrogated, but also because "they got his computers," and even deleted files may hold valuable information for DOD and intelligence agencies.
Northern Command (Northcom), which is responsible for ensuring homeland defense capabilities and supporting civilian authorities when directed by the president or secretary of Defense, doesn't yet have the integrated battle command capabilities of its fellow worldwide DOD combatant commands, but IT solutions are starting to make it happen, Kellogg said.
He added that Northcom must share information with all of the military services and DOD agencies as well as federal agencies and state and local law enforcement and first responders, which makes the task even harder.
Northcom will have about 600 people at its headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado Springs, Colo., when it achieves full operational capability Oct. 1, said Air Force Brig. Gen. Lloyd Dodd, the command's chief surgeon. He added that as of last week, the headquarters staff included 258 people.