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Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

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Question and Answer with Lt. Col. Bircher, Army’s Electronic Warfare Futurist

By: Luke Gilman | Other Posts by
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Once I got over the fact that the United States Army not only has an Electronic Warfare division, but a “Proponent’s Futures Branch” within that division, it occurred to me that Lt. Col. John Bircher has perhaps one of the coolest jobs in the world. He responds to the denizens of slashdot in this post Lt. Col. John Bircher Answers Your Questions -

At its foundation, this is what military operations are about: effects generation and management. Traditionally, we tend to think about effects having impact in the physical domain only, but military operations have always been about cognitive effects, too. In cyberspace, most effects are cognitive: they inform, affect and influence our beliefs, values, dogmas and, ultimately, decisions. One of the best aspects of my current job is that I am afforded the luxury of “engaging” (there’s that word again) in discussions, debates, and decision processes that actually cause me to think beyond traditional military functions, and I get to “engage” in these forums with some pretty smart, outside-of-the-box thinkers who are not in uniform (and some who are!).

There has long been a debate about the appropriateness of the military participating in influence operations but if we think about it, influence operations are fundamental to everything we as a society do. Rather than shy away from the debate, we are actively embracing it as we strive to articulate an appropriate role for the Army in cyberspace. The American Public, too, has its role – that of defining the checks and balances that proscribe the acceptable limits of these operations.

Lt. Col. Bircher’s sense of the Constitutional dimension of his job is a bit surprising if one has heard the last eight years of political speeches or read certain recent Supreme Court decisions.

As members of the military, we are sworn to uphold the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. The challenge in cyberspace is being able to discern with clarity one’s enemy. Social engineering takes advantage of this anonymity. There are significant legal implications with which we are constantly checking. The rules of war have always been their own; yet we have always held American forces to a higher standard, and the same will hold true in cyberspace.

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