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American Forces Press Service

Dempsey Discusses Cyberattacks, Other Issues in NBC Interview

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 25, 2013 – The worrisome nature of cyberattacks, the threat of global terrorism and the military’s need to emphasize character as well as competence were among topics the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff discussed in an interview with correspondent Ted Koppel broadcast last night on NBC’s “Rock Center with Brian Williams.”

Governments, individuals and organizations are engaged in trying to take advantage of vulnerabilities in the cyber domain, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said, citing disruptive “denial-of-service” attacks as an example. Such attacks overwhelm websites, rendering them inaccessible to users.

“What I worry about is that [a cyberattack] could be used to implant a destructive device that could cause significant harm to the industrial base, whether it’s critical infrastructure or the financial network,” Dempsey said.

There are reports that destructive cyber tools have been used against Iran, the chairman said. “I’m neither confirming nor denying any part in that, but what it should tell you is that capability exists,” he added. “And if it exists, whoever’s using those [capabilities] can’t assume that they’re the only smart people in the world.”

When Koppel asked Dempsey which part of the world he worries about most, the general noted that the threat of global terrorism complicates matters.

“There’s kind of a near-term, long-term aspect to that,” he explained. “I think near-term continues to be the threat of global terrorism. We track a global terrorist network that is not uniquely al-Qaida, but is affiliated at some level with al-Qaida.”

This requires a network to defeat a network, Dempsey said.

“What it means is you’re not going to see these broad, sweeping movements across the desert of eastern Iraq -- ‘Hail Mary,’ ‘right-hand cross,’ [or] whatever it was called in 1991,” he explained. “You’re going to see smaller groups of military formations confronting these distributed enemies across a much wider scope.”

Although U.S. combat forces will be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014, Dempsey said, it would be a mistake to give the American people the sense that al-Qaida is defeated.

“I think that it’s fair to say there will be a part of the al-Qaida threat emanating from northwestern Pakistan, and potentially, Afghanistan, for the foreseeable future,” he added.

In the final portion of the segment, Koppel asked Dempsey about recent missteps by senior military leaders. The chairman said the value placed on competence over more than 10 years of war might have been a factor.

“Not that we’ve neglected the character side of this equation,” he added, “but we probably are at a point where we ought to re-emphasize it.”

And perhaps senior leaders need the view from “those that are at the bottom looking up,” Dempsey said.

“I’m actually more interested in, ‘What are the lieutenant colonels saying about the colonels? What are the colonels saying about the [brigadier generals]?’” Dempsey said.

But although character is important, he added, the bottom line for the military is to protect the nation.

“Competence will always be the most important thing, and you can’t have a man or woman of incredible character who can’t deliver on the battlefield,” the chairman said. “At the end of the day, that’s what we’re accountable for. But character counts, and it counts mightily.”

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