Research note: Strategic compression and the future of information security

LECLERCIn the world of strategic theory there are many pages and gallons of ink exhorting the relative merits of various historical figures thinking. I don’t discount the relative merits of Clausewitz or Sun Tzu but in each entities time their thinking was new and built upon the past and history of conflicts they had witnessed. Lutwalk and Gray have recently written about perceptions and considerations of strategic thinking. There are entire professional military education establishments built around the idea of strategic leadership.

Dave Dillege at Small Wars Journal started to work with the idea of strategic compression but was more interested in the adversary response and how it effected perceptions. This little article is about the idea of organizational compression in the associated information environment of leaders and soldiers. There are two forms of strategic compression. The first is directed towards leadership and the second form is directed towards soldiers.

Strategic leadership and much of the current writing on strategic thinking are based in an industrial era of conflict. Business, commerce, dating and war all have the imprint of the industrial revolution upon their very thinking and thus their actions. Industrial era thinking is not bad. In the high intensity conflict of the past 100 years of war it has served society quite well providing better and more capable meat grinders. Yet over time precision and targeting have taken hold making a more precise meat grinder a possibility.

There is a subtle change sneaking under the tent wall. An ephemeral camel’s nose in the tent. The concept is strategic compression. Strategic compression occurs as the bandwidth of command and control (C2) increases and the lag or delay in C2 decreases. The overall flattening of the social network of an organization compresses the operational layer into a thin veneer. The compression increases the tactical component overtaking all but the most thin layer of strategic level leadership.

If you want to see this in action we have a few anecdotes to discuss. The first is the early identification of the relatively maligned concept of the strategic corporal. It is not so much an example of the strategic capability but the absolute strategic effect of the lowest layer of leadership in the military. Add into this discussion mission command and there are some interesting suggestions. This layer cannot win a war alone but may be able to have strategic consequence. The second anecdote is the photograph of the POTUS and the various cabinet secretaries watching the Bin Ladin raid in real time from the Whitehouse. This shows the time compression and C2 effects dramatically.

Speaking first to time lag as only compression is to miss a few key points. The removal of barriers between a tactical level (bullet delivery mechanism) and a leadership entity requires speed of message execution. Do not miss that a message is composed of transmission, encoding, reception, cognition, and decoding to be relevant. This idea of C2 inherently involves C2 AND removing social and cognitive barriers to increase presence and perception. The sending entity regardless of direction must be able to communicate a clear picture of intent and outcomes in a transactive capacity.

The idea of bandwidth fully understood as a network and technology concept is not new. What is new is that the bandwidth concern is so limited in the face of the utter breadth of what is able to be communicated. Having this highly rich and interactive communication capability allows for much better situational awareness and emotional interaction. This is a capability that will likely increase and create additive components of understanding to the tactical and strategic compression concept.

There are inherent risks in strategic compression. What can happen is that the leadership layer is overcome with minutiae or details. If the strategic leadership layer attempts to micromanage capabilities rather than intent the wheels fall off. If the tactical layer has no trust in the strategic layer to manage, the wheels fall off. There are lots of ways for this to fail but as the industrial way of war has slowed and this new form of war has begun an organic capability has sprung up.

The adherents to industrial warfare will claim that this idea of strategic compression will never happen though it already has occurred. They also will attempt to link it completely to special operations or limited operations capabilities. The adherents to large military forces will see the idea of strategic compression as a threat to high intensity big military conflagrations. None of this is testament to the failure of the concept of strategic compression. The advent of advanced communication gear and modeling and visualization technologies for leadership to fight the big Army fights possible today are actual evidence of strategic compression.

There are some substantial risks to this strategic compression concept and some of them are internal. The concept of mission command in some ways breaks with the tightly coupled communications requirements of strategic compression. This concept of mission command based on a white paper from the Joint Chiefs of Staff inherently is based on a requirement to operate in a domain of contested communications. Unfortunately, many of the directions and concepts espoused around the idea of mission command are merely industrial age thinking dressed up in a new lexicon. Fortunately mission command also inherently embraces strategic compression.

There is an element to strategic compression that is interesting in view of the mission command principle. Strategic compression is a requirement for an entity or unit to operate under the intention of a commander with the most flexibility and utility in the field to adapt without out definitive C2. More of the traditional command and control decision process is at the tactical layer where commanders intent is used as a principle. Compression of strategic leadership is bi-directional in all cases.

Where C2 is compressed or addressed primarily at the tactical layer you have the second form of strategic compression.

Though current manning and operational ideals have not caught up to the efficiencies of waging war it is apparent that the logistical and staff officer roles with associated staffing are rapidly eroding as flotsam within a system. The actual “do” of war has a long tail with small tooth ratio. That suggests a significant parasitic loss on the system of waging war. Relative to the needs of the serving officers and enlisted personnel very little needs done other than get out of the tactical layers way. The logistical and operational future will look a lot more like Amazon than the Pentagon.

This is all great for the military but what about information security and the enterprise? Authority and responsibility are conversely proportional to capability and accessibility when dealing with information assurance and security. The higher up the leadership hierarchy the less likely the individual is going to be in the hardware of a system securing it. Even those leaders with heavy experience within technology rarely are going to be acting at the tactical level. It simply is not a good use of their time.

Similarly, we see an anecdote forming and though not evidentiary, it simplifies the understanding of the issue. Authority follows responsibility in incurring debt to the organization. Few firewall administrators will have signing authority for the millions of dollars inherent in a modern large enterprise for security equipment and licenses. Yet, they will have the authority of management within the information enterprise that is worth substantially more or exponentially more. The firewall administrator and system administrator are the strategic corporals of the modern business enterprise.

What has not happened within the corporate enterprise to meet the requirements of strategic compression is the associated command and control capability. Relatively few associated tools are created to allow the strategic leadership level a capability to discern the status of their enterprise information assets. Much of the best practice at the corporate level to understand strategic capability are based on in person meetings and email communication channels. These are not fast or broad sense enhancing or cognitive enhancing capabilities. Command and control at the strategic layer has not grown to enhance understanding yet.

There are issues at the tactical layer too. In the information assurance and security field the tactical layer can not perceive of general trends or directions of the enterprise until they become “has happened” rather than “before” they have happened. The reactive descriptor for tactical employment is as much a cultural artifact as it is a reality for the current environment variables. The information patterns at the tactical layer do not give a good indicator of strategic necessity and unrefined command and control indicators fail to provide valuable feedback.

Even worse, the idea of reactive and active at the tactical layer of information assurance and security is subject to the same lexical maltreatment as the military mission command paradigm. Definitions selectively adjusted allow for a status quo of assumed success in a deteriorating reality. Unabated strategic compression never occurs and strategic leadership intent is not passed through the veil of operational controls into tactical execution. The relative flattening of the business enterprise capable in a variety of business capabilities like sales, design, research, and fulfillment are not associated with information asset protection.

Tools to communicate and alleviate the issues of command and control with feedback to the strategic leadership of the business enterprise are starting to make their way into the market. The first step was understanding or base lining the enterprise. The buzzword filled world of big data and data sciences have started to provide the relevant information repositories. Visualizing and displaying that information as a data feed is also starting to take shape. It will not be long until the equivalent of strategic leadership sitting around a table directing and communicating with tactical assets in a botnet take down is a reality. Those at the tactical layer who are incensed at the idea likely will be even less thrilled with what follows that impending capability.

Leave a Reply