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In the years before he became America's most powerful spy, Paul Nakasone acquired an unusually personal understanding of the country's worst intelligence failures. Growing up, he was reared on his father Edwin's recollections of December 7, how Edwin, then age 14, was eating a bowl of cornflakes with Carnation powdered milk when he saw Japanese Zeros racing past the family's screen door on Oahu on their way to attack Pearl Harbor.
They were so close that Edwin, who would grow up to become an Army intelligence officer, could see one of the pilots. This feature appears in the November issue. Decades later, Paul himself experienced another disastrous surprise attack on America at close range: He was working as an intelligence planner inside the Pentagon on the clear September Tuesday when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the building. He remembers evacuating about an hour after the attack and looking over his shoulder at the giant column of black smoke rising from the building where he went to work every day.
Over the next 15 years, as America waged the resulting war on terror, Paul Nakasone became one of the nation's founding cyberwarriors—an elite group that basically invented the doctrine that would guide how the US fights in a virtual world. By he had risen to command a group called the Cyber National Mission Force, and he was hard at work waging cyberattacks against the Islamic State when the US suffered another ambush by a foreign adversary: the Kremlin's assault on the presidential election.
This attack, however, happened not with a bang but with a slow, insidious spread.
As it unfolded, Nakasone lived through the confusing experience inside Fort Meade—the onyx-black headquarters of both the National Security Agency and a then-fledgling military entity called US Cyber Command. As sketchy intelligence on Russian meddling coalesced through the summer and fall ofhis colleagues were so caught off-guard that one of the most senior leaders of Cyber Command told me he remembers learning about the election interference mainly in the newspaper. Four years later, Nakasone is now the four-star general in charge of both Cyber Command and the NSA—one of the officials most directly in charge of preventing another surprise attack, whenever and wherever it may come, whether in the physical world or the virtual.
Nakasone's Cyber Command, meanwhile, is a once-restrained institution that has been unshackled to fight the nation's enemies online. A quiet beneficiary of Donald Trump's details-be-damned leadership philosophy, Nakasone has found himself with unparalleled, historic power—with more online firepower at his disposal than the US military has ever fielded before, as well as more latitude to execute individual missions and target adversaries than any military commander has ever been given.
It's as if during the Cold War the White House had delegated targeting authority to the commander in charge of maintaining the nation's missile silos. Nakasone's offensive cyber strategy, which was developed under the eye of Trump's former national security adviser John Bolton, represents a paradigm shift in how the US confronts its adversaries online. While the precise operations remain tightly classified, and only three have been Married woman looking nsa Saint John reported—a campaign against the Russian Internet Research Agency, a attack on Iran, and a recent operation aimed at disrupting the very large Trickbot botnet—it is likely that Nakasone has already, in his short, two-year tenure, launched more cyberattacks against US adversaries than Fort Meade had initiated in the rest of its history.
According to WIRED's reporting, Cyber Command has carried out at least two other sets of operations since the fall of without public knowledge. Without confirming specific s or operations, the White House made clear that's exactly what it expects of Nakasone.
Trump officials say they charged him with dramatically stepping up the tempo of American digital warfare. Nakasone was appointed to his position by Trump, but by custom his term will extend untiland his influence stretches back at least a decade.
He's done more than perhaps any other military or civilian leader over that period to push, drag, and pull the United States into thinking through what warfare will look like in the 21st century. The quirkiest thing about Paul Married woman looking nsa Saint John is that he prefers to write with a pencil. Friends and colleagues—including dozens of people who have known him for decades and worked with him in offices and combat zones, sometimes in enormously stressful environments—universally struggled to come up with telling anecdotes about him or to identify his personal idiosyncrasies or eccentricities.
Apparently, he purses his lips when he's thinking, and he re a lot of books. The pencil thing, though, made an impression. An oversize No. His workplace aesthetic largely eschews the plaques, coins, flags, and honorary photographs that often plaster the offices of four-star generals.
But Nakasone has held onto that big yellow pencil, and he always has a regular-size one ready for jotting down thoughts in meetings; throughout the day, his aide carries a ready supply of sharpened pencils in case of a broken tip. Few Americans would recognize Nakasone if they saw him walking down the street. He throws off the vibe of a Midwestern suburban dad, which he is. He and his wife have four children, the youngest of whom are just entering college, and Nakasone is deeply loyal to Minnesota, where he grew up.
Yet Nakasone not only le Cyber Command, he was one of its architects, and he was a key figure in each stage of its operational trials and evolution. All along, he's been a Zelig-like figure, the ultimate gray man, whose views about surveillanceintelligence, and war-fighting have remained remarkably opaque. He spent most of his career in the shadow of much larger and more visible personalities—serving as a key aide to Cyber Command's founding leader and visionary, Keith Alexanderand working under Mike Rogers' volatile tenure at Fort Meade—and he now studiously avoids attention amid the chaos and controversies of Donald Trump's Washington.
Not surprisingly, the NSA's public affairs office would not make Nakasone available for an interview. But this article draws on more than 50 hours of interviews with some three dozen current and former officials from the White House, government, intelligence agencies, and the military—including a half-dozen fellow generals—as well as Capitol Hill leaders, outside observers, and foreign intelligence partners; nearly all of them asked to speak anonymously in order to discuss sensitive intelligence, operational, and personnel topics.
Their insights into Nakasone, and the story of how he ended up atop Fort Meade, don't just help explain how America is planning to fight the next war online—they help explain the wars it is already fighting. It was war that brought the Married woman looking nsa Saint John family across the Pacific from Japan in the first place.
InPaul's grandfather fled hostilities between Russia and Japan, two expansionist empires, and settled in Hawaii. Paul's father, Edwin, grew up selling strawberries door to door to his family's haole white neighbors. Four years after witnessing the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Edwin ed the Army; as a young intelligence officer, he was dispatched to occupied Japan as an interpreter. He met his wife, Mary Costello, a librarian, when he asked her for help with a paper about India. They were married inand their second son, Paul, was born just three days before John F.
Kennedy was assassinated in As he grew up, Paul kept faith with his family's devout Catholicism and his father's military service. Immediately after graduation, he went off to Fort Carson, Colorado, following his father into Army intelligence.
The first 15 years of Nakasone's military career were relatively unremarkable. He spent much of the s serving in Korea and working desk jobs at the Pentagon. As the US military was mobilizing to invade Iraq, he led a battalion at Fort Gordon, Georgia, a center of the military's als intelligence work.
He and his wife were juggling brand-new twins, their third and fourth children, while his team at Fort Gordon found itself struggling to overhaul the Army's slow approach to delivering intelligence to the field. In July he went to Iraq, experiencing firsthand how intelligence filtered down to soldiers—or didn't—on the modern battlefield.
He took over command of the Meade Operations Center, a unit deed to wrangle the NSA's capabilities to support combat troops around the world. At the time, Nakasone thought this might be his final Married woman looking nsa Saint John in the military. He had just made colonel, and the career path ahead of him narrowed sharply; there weren't many openings to become a general in Army intelligence. Up until then, Nakasone was seen as bright but not really a highflier—not, say, a Michael Flynnthe hotshot officer a few years his senior who was then running intelligence for US Central Command in the Middle East.
Plus, he was a cyber specialist; there wasn't much of a proven career path for someone with his area of expertise. But Nakasone's arrival at Fort Meade came at an auspicious moment. The director of the NSA, Keith Alexander, then a three-star Army general, was growing frustrated that his agency was failing to support the men and women at war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He was on the lookout for like-minded leaders who could help him transform it. The NSA that Alexander inherited was a proud institution, steeped in its own history of wartime code-breaking and code-making. The NSA's historic strategy was to intercept the telecommunications of foreign governments, eavesdropping on fixed targets over long stretches of time.
To explain its culture of strategic patience, NSA veterans sometimes point to the story of Laura Holmes, an internally legendary Cold War cryptologist. I spent two years learning to speak Russian, two years learning to think Russian, two years learning to understand what experience, what arrogance, and what hubris they would bring to bear, and then I spent the rest of my career waiting for them to do that.
That culture was increasingly ill-suited to an era of fast-moving stateless terrorists, cell phones, and digital communications. Alexander was a visionary technician. His management style was to set impossible tasks as a way of forcing an organization to rethink problems and come up with radical new approaches.
He told his senior leadership that he wanted the NSA to start delivering percent of its relevant intelligence and combat data to the war zone in a minute or less. The goal was clearly out of the question, but it touched off an audacious rethinking of how to connect back-end intelligence gathering with frontline troops. One part of the solution was to place cryptologists in Iraq to receive encrypted intelligence from Fort Meade and then dole it out to combat units. The job of figuring out who to send fell to Nakasone, then a relatively young lieutenant colonel.
He had served as the asment officer for the Army's intelligence branch for a time in the s and had a good grasp of the talent in the ranks, so he was able to assemble a particularly effective set of leaders for the job. Nakasone's performance so impressed Alexander that he soon tapped the young colonel to lead a new team that would invent a whole new way of war. In the years after that, Nakasone amassed four stars faster than almost any other officer of his generation. In OctoberNSA officials made a startling discovery: Someone had managed to penetrate the military's classified network, which was supposed to be fully disconnected from the public internet.
While they never figured out for sure what happened, US officials came to believe that Russia had seeded thumb drives infected with malware among the electronics for sale in the bazaars around US bases in Afghanistan. Investigators surmised that an unsuspecting service member may have purchased and used one, against regulation, on the classified system.
The US response came to be known as Buckshot Yankee—a secret, round-the-clock, month effort led by Alexander to rid the Russians from the network. It forever changed how the military looked at cyberspace. Most important, it ushered in the idea that the internet wasn't just useful for intelligence gathering, it was also an actual theater of war.
And if cyberspace was a battlefield, the US had better figure out how to command its own troops there. Alexander, who loved the domain of big ideas, assembled a small brain trust of senior officers to work out the details.
Nakasone was one of them. Nakasone found himself conscripted together with three other relatively young officers. The quartet was formally called the Implementation Team, but everyone came to refer to them as the Four Horsemen despite the fact that one member, a cybersecurity whiz and lieutenant colonel named Jen Easterly, was a woman. They were faced with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rethink how the nation would fight in a new century—a military revolution as ificant as the 19th-century shift from single-shot rifles to machine guns, or the 20th-century move from fighting on land to a world of fighter planes and bombers.
Nakasone, the putative leader of the four, set up the team in a conference room down the hall from Alexander's office, and they spent months working through what the Cyber Command would look like. They worked six days a week, late into the evening, and usually a half-day on Sundays. Nakasone had a less-technical background than some of the others, but he intimately understood the world of military intelligence and—most important—had the boss's ear.
Davis, another member of the team. The goal was to create an entity that could defend US military networks against cyberattacks but could also occasionally go on the offensive—to wage cyberattacks against the digital infrastructure of America's adversaries. But one of the biggest questions they wrestled with was whether to publicly discuss this latter orientation.Married woman looking nsa Saint John
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The Man Who Speaks Softly—and Commands a Big Cyber Army