WASHINGTON - U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) hosted 10 military officers from nine African nations during a senior leader familiarization event July 19-24, 2015.
Leaders in their countries’ cyber security programs, the participants visited several government agencies and academic institutions in the national capital region to learn about America’s approach to cyber security.
“The idea of this week was to expose everyone to the various training opportunities the U.S. has in regards to cyber, to give (participants) an idea of how different portions of our government deal with cyber, and give (participants) a representation of what we call the ‘whole of government approach’ to cyber security,” said Frank Gonzalez, AFRICOM cyber engagements program manager and event organizer.
The week began with a visit to the National Defense University and the Africa Center for Strategic Studies at Ft. McNair, D.C. During the visit, attendees learned about training opportunities and other academic resources available through the university and the center. They also participated in a cyber-hacking demonstration at the university’s iCollege cyber lab.
The group went on to visit George Mason University’s International Cyber Center in Fairfax, Va, where they were briefed by both university faculty and external consultants on a variety of cyber security topics and training opportunities.
The week was packed with visits to multiple federal agencies to include the Departments of Homeland Security, Defense, and State.
“We have a ‘whole of government approach’ to cyber security,” said Jordana Siegel, director for international affairs at Homeland Security’s Office of Cybersecurity and Communications. “That means we are responsible for bringing all the capabilities of the U.S. government together to work on a range of cyber security issues.”
While the Department of Energy may focus on the energy sector and the Treasury Department may focus on the financial sector, Siegel said that Homeland Security brings all of those together when it comes to cyber security.
At the State Department, participants learned about the policy aspects of cyber security, how the U.S. promotes a free and open Internet, and how terrorist organizations use social media and the Internet.
It was important to expose participants to both the academic and governmental aspects of cyber security, said U.S. Army Col. Patrick Dedham, AFRICOM’s command, control, communications and computer systems director, also known as J6.
“We wanted to present a wide range of ideas and views on cyber security issues,” he said. “We had academia and all areas of government represented so they could hear different views and get different opinions on how to develop cyber security programs.”
Later in the week, participants had an opportunity to tour the U.S. Capitol and meet with Rep. John B. Larson (D-CT), who emphasized both teamwork and global understanding in achieving national and regional goals for cyber security.
“We live in a time that demands a global understanding, whether it be issues of the economy or cyber security,” he said. “It’s important, especially in developing nations, to help fortify their programs so that they can aspire to the greatness they so richly deserve.”
The visit concluded in a mini-conference on cyber security featuring a diverse group of participants, including speakers from Carnegie Melon University and the Federal Bureau of Investigations.
Cameroonian Defence Forces’ director of communications and information systems, Col. Mvogo Gabriel, said he found a lot of value in the familiarization event.
“Cyber security is very important because now all the systems are connected and it is a global challenge,” he said. “There is a need for us to learn and address this issue because we are not alone in the world and we need to have our cyberspace safe and protected.”
“I hope the attendees take with them the different tools and information bases that were presented to them this week,” Dedham said. “Resources that they can now reach into when they get back to their home nations to help improve their cyber security programs.”
Gabriel added that meeting counterparts from other countries and working with AFRICOM allows participants to “know who to go to when they have a problem.”
“We all need to work together to confront issues,” he said. “For us it is interesting because we are underdeveloped countries and we are working with AFRICOM, which has experience in many operations and exercises. We are taking the lessons (from this conference) and building our own capacities to confront our communications problems.”