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Today’s Dangerous Defense Cut Idea: Electronic and Cyberwarfare Capabilities

The United States’ cyberwarfare capabilities, especially our cyberdefense capabilities, suck. They’re just awful. They sucked in 2006 when someone – we don’t know who – broke into the State Department’s computers and hauled off terabytes of data. They sucked in 2007 when the Department of Commerce had to keep the Bureau of Industrial Security’s computers offline for months after they were compromised. They sucked in 2008 when several congressional offices and the campaigns of both presidential candidates were hacked by foreign intruders. They sucked so much in 2009 that Wired’s Danger Room posted an article titled “3 Reasons Why U.S. Cybersecurity Sucks.”

So naturally, there are now calls being made to cut the Pentagon’s electronic warfare budget. Taxpayers for Common Sense, a group that’s nonpartisan in that it has attacked both Democrats and Republicans for not raising taxes enough, doesn’t think the military has done enough to embrace austerity:

The Pentagon is seeking to increase its technology research budget, which includes electronic warfare, to $12.2 billion in fiscal 2012 from $11.8 billion — and that doesn’t include spending in the classified portion of the budget. Critics cite this type of military spending as another example of bloat in the $729-billion defense budget. “Of course there will be priorities, but the government has to ask themselves at some point: ‘Do we really need this?’ ” said Laura Peterson, a national security analyst for Taxpayers for Common Sense, a government watchdog group. “We haven’t seen the kind of discipline that’s needed to really rein back the defense budget.”

To his credit, the president has not only resisted calls to cut spending in electronic and cyberwarfare, but has correctly called for spending increases. So far so good.

Nonetheless, the broader narrative developing – that we still need to “really rein back the defense budget” – could not be more dangerous. The defense budget has already been stripped to the bone on the pretext that forcing the Pentagon to prioritize will make DoD planners prioritize well, a statement that among other things is demonstrably the opposite of true. Further cuts – which would be on top of the 20 weapons systems Obama cut, and the initial wave of cuts Gates made, and the 2011 wave of cuts Gates made – risk a complete hallowing out of the U.S. military.

We could get self-destructively petulant about military inefficiency, especially when it comes to long-term planning. We could insist that, like the Department of Education, Defense will simply need to do more with less. Or we could accept that the kind of bureaucracy needed to project power globally in the 21st century will never be totally efficient, and that we’re going to need to absorb some Pentagon wastefulness because national security is kind of an important thing.


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