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To fight future cyberbattles, Air Force recruiting part-time geeks

The Air National Guard is drawing from Microsoft, Cisco, and other high-tech firms.

By John LaskerContributor for The Christian Science Monitor / June 5, 2008

General Lord: Air Force’s Cyber Command will be fully operational in October.

Courtesy of the US Air Force

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Columbus, Ohio

The TV commercial opens with an aerial view of the Pentagon. “This building will be attacked 3 million times today,” says a concerned voice over a gloomy guitar riff. “Who’s going to protect it?”

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The ad – part of the Air Force’s new “Above All” publicity campaign – is partly a not-so-subtle message to Congress: Cyberwarfare is real and the Air Force is the military branch to defend against it. It is also a recruiting tool to overcome one of the biggest challenges facing the year-old Air Force Cyber Command (AFCYBER): finding cyberwarriors to fight its 21st-century battles.

By recruiting in new places and relying heavily on the Air National Guard to find part-time, rather than full-time, employees, the Air Force is meeting with some success by seeking recruits from some of America’s most iconic tech companies.

For example, the 262nd Information Warfare Aggressor Squadron, an Air National Guard unit in Washington State, has tapped into guardsmen employed at Microsoft, Adobe, and Cisco, wrote Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne in a recent article. Based at Lackland Air Force Base in central Texas, the 688th Information Operation Wing recruits from tech-heavy Austin. The Air National Guard is also drawing from Sprint and Boeing for the Kansas-based 177th Information Aggressor Squadron, he added.

“We ... must capitalize on the talent and expertise of our Guard and Reserve members who may have direct ties and long experience in high-tech industry,” Secretary Wynne wrote.

So far, AFCYBER has recruited 400 part-time personnel with no added incentives such as pay or benefits, he adds.

Air Force seeks full-time geeks, too
The Air Force is also seeking full-timers for AFCYBER. Future cyberwarriors may be more couch geek than fit flyboy – not “the same kind of folks that perhaps you want to march to breakfast in the morning,” Air Force Col. Jeff Kendall told the Council on Foreign Relations in March. The colonel also suggested the Air Force may have to make exceptions to its entry standards and recruit ex-hackers, who may have committed computer-related crimes or have a felony conviction for unlawfully cracking a network.

Whether the Air Force has already recruited such hackers remains a mystery. “Due to privacy concerns, we do not discuss the background of our employees,” wrote Major Todd White, a public affairs officer for AFCYBER, in an e-mail responding to a reporter’s questions.

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