Congress is calling on Pentagon red teams to model potential adversaries more accurately. It’s a mandate akin to Sun Tzu’s age-old maxim, “Know thy enemy.” Unfortunately, for every 100 persons who remind us to know our enemy, perhaps five know how to practice it effectively.
To be fair, it’s a hard problem. Maxims help, but the real world is much more complex than we usually care to admit. Our adversaries are rarely unitary and completely rational. Nearly every adversary sees the world differently. Few adversaries tell the truth, and fewer still perceive the truth. Many are deceived by their own hubris. Some will uncover a short cut we haven’t anticipated. And all of this applies to us in reverse. It’s why we red team, but it’s also why red teaming is so difficult. If we’re honest, understanding reciprocal perceptions in conflict is more akin to a wild scrum of Hungry, Hungry Hippos than an artful game of chess. Know thy enemy? Good luck with that! (Yes, I’m exaggerating, but only just a bit.) Read on …
Round VI of The Red Teamer’s Book Club will feature the book Find Out Anything from Anyone, Anytime: Secrets of Calculated Questioning from a Veteran Interrogator by James Pyle and Maryann Karinch. As we note in RTJ Red Teaming Law #34 (“Question”), “In many ways, the art of red teaming is actually the art of asking the right questions, from the right perspective, at the right time. Ask the wrong questions, and it almost doesn’t matter how well your red team performs.”
Join us on 3 June to discuss the book and talk about how asking questions applies to the art of red teaming. Register here.
Over the years, I’ve been asked my times how red teaming began. I don’t believe there’s an easy answer to the question. Some point to the German Kriegsspiel or earlier variants of battlefield simulation (chess, for example). Micah Zenko in his book Red Team highlights the Catholic practice of employing a devil’s advocate. I’ve recently encountered another example of proto-red teaming: the ancient Stoic practice of praemeditatio malorum. Read on …
While I’ve long said that red teaming is useful for more than just security, I believe security red teaming remains by far the dominant form. To test this hypothesis, I surveyed the first five pages of red teaming jobs on Indeed.com.
What I learned informally confirmed my hypothesis. In the first chart, you’ll see that the only non-IT forms of red teaming that appeared were proposal management jobs and jobs that I binned in the “intelligence” category (one involved future technologies and the other described a general intelligence red teaming role). I separated the IT-security jobs—those with the red bars—into categories as best I could based on the job announcements, but the overall trend is clear: roughly 85% of the jobs listed relate directly to IT security. Read on …
I had the pleasure yesterday of sitting down with Steve Rotkoff, the Director of the U.S. Army’s University of Foreign Military and Cultural Studies (UFMCS—informally dubbed “Red Team University”). Steve updated me on the goals and methods of UFMCS, and we were able to talk at length about the current state of red teaming. He’s a master storyteller with a deep library of red teaming experiences and insights. I’ve long been impressed with Steve and his passion for red teaming and, more broadly, the UFMCS approach to training students to think critically and make better decisions. If you’re not familiar with their critical thinking handbook, be sure to get a copy right now. (And if you believe that red teaming is nothing more than repackaged pentesting, read the first half of the handbook and get back to me.)
We completed another session of The Red Teamer’s Book Club today. Joining us this time around was Andreas Kluth, author of Hannibal and Me. While we certainly talked about Hannibal and his stratagems, we also talked about life and the nature of making decisions in challenging circumstances. All in all, the discussion supported the notion that the best red teamers know a lot about a lot of different topics. (Andreas Kluth showed signs of being a natural red teamer, by the way!) Be sure to join us for future sessions. We’ve reached out to two different authors to see if they might be available in the next couple of months to talk about red teaming, life, and the universe with us.
I worry sometimes that I spend too much time focused on the project-of-the-moment. Yesterday, I broke away from my desk and had lunch with RTJ contributing editor Kelly McCoy. I always enjoy talking with Kelly because his years as a firefighter combined with his broad knowledge give him a unique perspective on the challenges we face as red teamers. Our discussion ranged across a variety of topics, but one thing that struck me was just how important it is for the red teamer to see the whole system. It comes through in Kelly’s writings here, here, and here. If you haven’t read these posts, be sure to do so. They reinforce just how complementary the concept of resilience is to both security and red teaming. The posts also remind us how important it is to share concepts and ideas across domains. And all this because I decided to go eat lunch in the sun with a friend!
Intrepid 23rd century red teamer Donald Odysseus-Jones returns for another episode of his oh-so-retro future adventures. If you missed the first installment, be sure to read it before diving into this one. I’m pleased to add that my son took time from his college freshman studies to contribute the artwork. Get ready to join Mr. Odysseus-Jones for a rapid-fire chain of first-rate surprises!
The atrium was strangely empty as our escort marched us to a waiting tramcar. Inside two more red-suited, helmet-clad members of the enigmatic “onsite red team” waited. They were obviously disinclined to talk, although I could tell Bill was itching to pepper them with questions. I flashed him a “zip it” signal.
Bill and I are both civilian employees of the Solar Authority Space Force (SASF): Analytical Bureau. I have more years than Bill in the Bureau and technically outrank him by two grades, not that it matters much on our two-person red team. In situations like this, though, I usually need to step up and run interference. Bill gets difficult when our military colleagues dismiss or patronize us, and while the technical status of our escorts remained ambiguous, their manner was anything but civilian. Read on …
We are pleased to point Red Team Journal readers to a new monograph from RTJ advisor Dr. Robert J. Bunker. The monograph, Old and New Insurgency Forms, is available as a PDF download from the Strategic Studies Institute. Per the executive summary, it “creates a proposed insurgency typology divided into legacy, contemporary, and emergent and potential insurgency forms, and provides strategic implications for U.S. defense policy as they relate to each of these forms.” As always, we highly recommend Dr. Bunker’s work.
Round V of The Red Teamer’s Book Club has changed from the afternoon to the morning of March 18 to accommodate the author, Andreas Kluth, who will be graciously joining us from Germany. This is a great opportunity to dive into his book Hannibal and Me, which is about much more than just Hannibal’s military adventures. If you’re a philosophical red teamer, you won’t want to miss it. For starters, the book has caused me to think much more deeply about how we should think about our adversaries’ operational codes. I’ve also changed the dates for the next round of the Becoming Odysseus two-day course to April 5 and 19. You can register for any or all of these events at our WebEx Training Center site.
Edit: Updated 5 March to change the second day of the Becoming Odysseus course to 19 April.