Transcript

Defense Department CIO and Joint Staff CIO Brief Reporters on DOD Communication Efforts Regarding COVID-19

April 13, 2020
Dana Deasy, Defense Department CIO, and Air Force Lt. Gen. Bradford Shwedo, Joint Staff CIO

STAFF:  Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.  Thank you for joining us.  I realize most of you are on the telephone due to our current circumstances.

Today, the Honorable Dana Deasy, the Department of Defense chief information officer, and Air Force Lieutenant General B.J. Shwedo, director for command, control, communications and computers/cyber and chief information officer, Joint Staff J6, will speak to you about the COVID-19 [Coronavirus Disease-19] Telework Readiness Task Force.  This is a 30-minute, on-the-record, on-camera briefing.  Mr. Deasy and General Shwedo have some opening remarks, and then we'll open the floor to your questions.

And with that, we'll turn it over to Mr. Deasy.  Sir?

DANA DEASY, DEFENSE DEPARTMENT CIO:  Thank you, sir.  Good morning.  Thank you for being here today.  Also, thank you to everyone who's dialed in on the lines this morning.

We are truly in unprecedented times in our nation.  The national emergency due to the coronavirus, COVID-19, global pandemic has no doubt brought new changes to the ways Americans go about their daily jobs.  Specifically, the way we work has changed dramatically within the last month.

As Secretary Esper has stated on numerous occasions, protecting the health of the DOD workforce is paramount.  We are committed to the health and safety of not only our service members, but our civilians, our contractors, and their families.  Therefore, as you know, the department has offered maximum telework flexibility to the DOD workforce consistent with the operational needs of the department.

Due to the expanded need for massive telework capabilities across the force, I stood up the COVID-19 Telework Readiness Task Force.  This task force is comprised of the United States Cyber Command, Joint Force Headquarters DODIN [Department of Defense Information Network] information networks, the National Security Agency, the Defense Information Systems Agency, the Joint Staff and of course, military services as well as senior leaders from my own organization.

As a task force, we meet daily for about two hours to review and address various technical issues and requests as they arise.  We have a very structured approach to these meetings.  We discuss seven key areas, to include equipment needs, network capacity, including operational readiness, IT [Information Technology] personnel contracting readiness, supply chain, financial requirements, cyber-security, intel and high-interest items.

With the majority of the workforce teleworking, we have seen unprecedented demand for new equipment ranging from tablets, laptops and network equipment to secure devices.  Additionally, our networks have seen significant increase in traffic, as well.  The task force has successfully navigated this increase in demand, and we are rolling out equipment and increasing network capacity where needed.

For example, in the Pentagon alone, 2,000 personnel have been provided with additional devices.  In the Navy, 65,000 additional users are now able to work remotely with mobile and desktop services.  Regarding network capacity, DISA [Defense Information Systems Agency] and the Joint Service Provider has increased virtual internet service provider connections by 30 percent.  Additionally, our telecom provider has increased our current call volume capacity in the Pentagon by over 50 percent.

Since the beginning of March, DISA has onboarded additional end points, increasing capability by over 300 percent.  The Air Force has upgraded 12 key sites resulting in 130-plus percent increase in their bandwidth.  Finally, the U.S. Army has implemented a number of measures that have led to a 400 percent increase in network access for data and voice capacity.  We have seen upwards of 10 times growth in global video services, Outlook Web Access, and enterprise audio conferencing.

I could go -- I could continue to go on, but clearly, as you can see how the speed and magnitude of what the department has implemented in such a short amount of time is truly extraordinary has been accomplished while ensuring mission operational needs are not impacted.

The department has always been telework-ready long before the pandemic.  However, as you may expect, most of our workforce did not work remotely the majority of the time, therefore leaving our workforce with many questions about the tools and platforms that were readily available for them to do their jobs outside the office.  To effectively educate our workforce we have created a menu of the top telework tools for both classified and unclassified networks.  The menu is located on our website, public.cyber.mil, and highlights tools available for e-mail, collaboration, voice, antivirus, and file-sharing capabilities.  As always, we require that the workforce only use DOD-approved platforms for security reasons.

One important tool I would like to point out is the new Commercial Virtual Remote Environment, known as CVR.  CVR was created to support the department during the current large-scale teleworking environment due to the COVID-19 national emergency.  The tool is just one of several tools available to the workforce and provide remote workers with enhanced collaboration capabilities.  The CVR rollout to the force began on March 27th, and as of this morning, we have already activated over 900,000 user accounts and have active logins of 78,000 users this morning.  At one point last week, we added over 250,000 accounts in a single day.  This is the largest rollout ever implemented in this short amount of time.

As I mentioned earlier, we are moving at incredible pace, showing a significant amount of innovation.  For example, the DOD Joint Artificial Intelligence Center was able to move quickly to develop a prototype data aggregation and predictive analytics capability to support the U.S. Northern Command and the National Guard Bureau.  The JAIC's Project Salus team was able to move from concept to fielded prototype in just two weeks.

Not only are we providing tools for our workforce, but we are supporting the front line as well.  As you know, New Orleans has had a high number of people diagnosed with COVID-19.  Within downtown New Orleans, the department set up two field hospital tents in parking lots with over 500 beds.  This site was in need of a one-gigabyte internet connection, IP [Internet Protocol] phones, connectivity between locations, and then switches to connect it all together.

A request such as this generally requires months of planning, procuring equipment, and of course hiring the teams to install.  Due to our strong partnership with industry, the job was completed in just one day.  The support staff was truly remarkable, allowing the teams to successfully communicate and execute their missions.

As more of the workforce is teleworking, we continue to prioritize and stress the importance of cyber-security.  We already have a DOD workforce that is well trained on best practices for cyber-security.

To further augment this, however, we have recently put out a dos and don'ts for teleworking across the workforce.  Our task force receives a daily update from U.S. Cyber Command and JFHQ-DODIN [Joint Force Headquarters-Department of Defense Information Network] on what they are seeing and how they are successfully adjusting to the significant teleworking environment.  Defending the DODIN is a 24-by-7 mission and will never cease, regardless of the national emergency.

The top priority of the DOD will always be the protection and the welfare of our people.  Prioritizing teleworking allows us the flexibility to keep the force healthy, and I could not be more proud of the collective actions of the services, the Joint Staff, combatant commands and the whole of the Department of Defense.

I would like to turn it over now to Lieutenant General B.J. Shwedo who will provide more details about specific accomplishments we've achieved across the department, and how our military is supporting the fight against COVID-19.

As always, thank you for coming today to hear more about the COVID-19 Telework Readiness Task Force.  I look forward to your questions.

LIEUTENANT GENERAL BRADFORD J. "B.J." SHWEDO:  Thank you, Mr. Deasy. And thank you to everyone here and everyone else who's teleconferenced in. 

For as long as I've been in the military, I've always been proud to be a part of this team.  But I'm particularly humbled today to represent the efforts of this task force.

Of course, COVID-19 is a serious issue, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Milley, recognizes it as such.  The chairman said earlier, we're at war.  It's a different type of war, but it's war nonetheless.

And I can assure you, this topic has the undivided attention of the chairman and the entire Joint Chiefs of Staff.  The support I've received from the leadership is unparalleled, and they've removed any impediments in our way as we attack this invisible enemy.

As Mr. Deasy described, there are many positive developments in this COVID battle, but we're also enabling the Department of Defense's worldwide mission to defend this country from anyone who would mistakenly try to exploit this current situation.

There's no light between the Joint Staff and Mr. Deasy's office as we work with combatant commands and services to support our troops and civilian personnel across the Department of Defense.  You'll also find our solution sets incorporate considerations for a larger U.S. population who is also in the midst of telework, distance learning for our children and the overall greater demands on the net associated with these current stay-at-home orders.

To appreciate the scope and scale of our task, our work is to enable productive collaboration for over four million military and civilian worldwide teleworkers with innovative tools that are both cutting-edge and secure, often with overnight demands.  The Army alone roughly has 800,000 telework-enabled members on the Department of Defense networks, and the overall demands there are increasing daily.

The Navy, for instance, which just had 100,000 remote workers on its networks before the pandemic, currently have 250,000 workers.  Planned improvements in the next two to three weeks will bring the total to 500,000 remote users.  The Navy's Outlook Web Access, OWA, went from 10,000 users before the pandemic to 80,000 users within weeks, with a target of 300,000 users by the end of the month.

Staying on OWA, the U.S. Marine Corps' capacity has increased from 70,000 to over 105,000 in a couple weeks.  Within just three days in March, the Marines increased their VPN [Virtual Private Network] capability from 12,500 to 60,000 simultaneous users.

Of course, Mr. Deasy's already highlighted the Army's 400 percent increase, and they've been very supportive of the CVR capabilities.  And of course, with the sharing of products and also meetings in real time, the Army's G6, my counterpart, has lauded the VTC [Video Teleconference] capability, saying there's no substitute for the ability to look in the eyes of those whom you lead.

The Air Force, for instance, has increased their VPN capability from 10,000 in pre-COVID capabilities to over 100,000 today.  They're on track for 200,000 in the coming weeks, and they're now using a tool that is going to bring this capability to over 400,000 users.  To give you a sense of the urgency, the previous pace was once two years from planning to implementation.  Now, these upgrades are happening and completing in one to -- from days to weeks.

The overnight increase in capability also demanded a rapid retooling to enable combatant commands to battle COVID.  Of course, in this building, when we talk about war planning, we like to talk about supported and supporting commanders.  And in this fight, Northern Command and the National Guard Bureau are definitely our focus.

In more traditional military scenarios, we like to deploy as a unit.  And within those scenarios, usually those units have their supporting elements like command and control.  Unfortunately, within this scenario, there are often requests for individual augmentees and first responders that are not confined to a unit or a location.

In my past, with these individual augmentee scenarios, as these heroes often run to the sound of the guns, we sometimes run the risk of lost patrols.  To counter this problem, NORTHCOM [Northern Command] has launched a pilot program to field an iPad, iPhone that actually gives you a common operational picture, personal tracking system and also collaboration and communication tools.  I've already seen it work as the common operational picture was set for people working in the Javits Center and throughout New York City.

This is just one focus area for our funding as we're increasing the capacity for tools we also need to get out for the needs of the workforce made possible by the CARES Act, which allocates $10.5 billion to the Department of Defense to respond to COVID.

When it comes to support for NORTHCOM, I'd also like to highlight some support DISA is providing to facilitate all of these alternate medical facilities.  DISA has worked with telecom service providers, and is leveraging the FCC's [Federal Communications Commission] National Security and Emergency Preparedness process to deliver nearly 100 critical communications lines supporting the Department of Defense to rapidly installing pier-side circuits delivering services to the USNS Mercy and Comfort, and to support the field officers in New Orleans, Dallas and other proposed locations.

As NORTHCOM is obviously the priority, bad guys are not taking any time off.  And we need to ensure all the other combatant commands are always ready to fulfill their roles.

As an example, one command that's responsible for an interesting neighborhood is United States Central Command.  CENTCOM's [United States Central Command] needs to often expand beyond unclassified telework and they needed their capabilities increased for at-home handling of classified information, and they rapidly increased their staff capabilities from 261 to 404 and then went forward with a -- a pilot program that resulted in the scaling from just one capability to 492.

Of course, with all of this speed and introduction of new tools, the immediate question becomes one of security, and the answer really is yin and yang: With great opportunities comes great challenges.  But with that knowledge, you can shape your campaign plan to maximize your mitigations and attempt to exploit the exploiters, the bad guys.

Throughout all our activities, we're aligned with United States Cyber Command and the National Security Agency mitigating attack accesses from the bad guys and learning a lot about them along the way.  Risk is mitigated by providing overwatch of our IT and cyber environment and reducing attack vectors from entering the Department of Defense information networks.

Joint Force Headquarters DODIN is closely monitoring cyber-security threats in this increased telework environment.  There has been a surge of spear phishing related to COVID-19.  Of course, that's not surprising because most spear-phishing campaigns tend to exploit current events to produce convincing products.  DISA continues to update our IT systems to block new malware and threat products.

Although we've heard all these bad stories about price gouging, poor behavior, in these tough times, that has not been my experience.  I've had patriotic people offer I.T. tools for free in order to protect our first responders and attack this COVID crisis.  The IT and cyber-related efforts happening across the department Mr. Deasy and I have outlighted for you represents increased innovation and positive partnerships between the U.S. government and American companies.  These partnerships are vital as the U.S. military works every day to provide cutting -- cutting-edge innovation to improve our national defense capabilities.  The teamwork and collective efforts to run to the sound of the guns represents the best in America.  These partnerships and actions are exactly the right solution for these tough times.

Once again, I'm proud to be a part of this team, and I'm humbled to represent their efforts.  More importantly, I look forward to answering any of your questions.  Thank you.

STAFF:  Gentlemen, thank you.  Let's first go to Phil Stewart, Reuters.

Q:  Hey there.  Thanks.  Just a quick follow-up.  What is the increase in spear phishing you've seen, and who exactly in the Pentagon is being targeted most, senior officials or -- whose names are really well-known?  Is it people throughout the -- throughout the military leadership who are being targeted, irrespective of how well-known they are?  And then secondly, if you could both speak to the -- whether there's any thought to more compartmentalization of -- of sensitive information during this telework.  Thanks.

GEN. SHWEDO:  So sir, I'll take that if you want.

MR. DEASY:  Sure.

GEN. SHWEDO:  So of course, spear-phishing campaigns go across the gamut, and quite frankly, you'll -- you'll see lots on just the news there.  They all shotgun-blast across, you know, across America and everything else.  I will tell you when it comes to specifically who's being targeted inside the government, I'd prefer to stay away from that because that would give the bad guys insight on who we're tracking and -- and give them insight into our overwatch.  But I'll tell you that the insight that we're receiving, we're getting better and better at getting their TTPs [Tactics, Techniques and Procedures] and finding out where these threat vectors are coming from.  But once again, I -- I'd prefer not to give the bad guys any insight on where we're going.

MR. DEASY:  Yeah, in regards to classifications, since the beginning of creating the -- our task force, we have started with this basic principle of, how do we take the way we've always worked inside the Pentagon, or frankly, any of our command locations, and allow that work to take place appropriately and securely from a home environment?  So, I wouldn't say we have changed any of our classifications other than we've come up with some innovative ways to allow people to work within their classifications.

Q:  Okay, just a follow-up then on the spear phishing:  So is there any data you can give us at all?  You said there was an increase in spear phishing, but it's -- you know, which is interesting, but I don't know how to explain that to an intelligent reader if there's not more information.

GEN. SHWEDO:  I -- I would say, sir, when it -- when it comes to spear phishing, what we've seen is these -- these folks are very adept at capturing whatever is the current situation, and right now COVID -- COVID-19 is a current emphasis item when we go across the board.  FireEye and others have put out many products that show how they're manipulating people, and you see a lot of these things as an end result of a scam.  Of course, they get you to click -- click on either websites that redirect you to -- to compromise yourself.  And the bottom line is I really don't want to go too far into what we're learning about these guys, because I don't want to give them any insight into what we're learning right now about them.

STAFF:  Okay, let's go to Mary Walsh, CBS.

Q:  Thank you.  I -- I don't have a question.  Thank you.

STAFF:  All right, Mary, thank you.  Sydney Freedberg, Breaking Defense.

Q:  Hi.  Thank you gentlemen very much.  It will be very helpful -- you guys went through a lot of facts and figures very quickly, if we could get whatever, you know, cue cards or documents you were reading from for our reference.  We can copy -- get to read all those figures right.

Is there a -- and, you know, that's A; B, is there a way to wrap up, you know, in a few -- in -- there's a lot of figures, but it's hard to sort of get us into the overall.  Is it really characterize, you know, with the percent increase in telework across DOD as a whole by whatever means, not focused on one service or one provider, but actually, you know, a -- a wrap-up of, you know, how many more people in DOD are teleworking now than were pre-COVID and, you know, what the, you know, the -- the next phase of growth, but what you might be growing to in the next weeks and months.

MR. DEASY:  Yeah, first of all, we'd be happy to pass along the facts and figures here today.  Answering that question is a -- is somewhat complicated by the fact that we've always had a workforce that has been able to go home, whether it be in the evening, while they're out of the office for whatever reasons, and been able to do different forms of teleworking.

We break our teleworking kind of into three categories.  A tier one would be those people who just need access to an e-mail and a phone.  Tier two would be those people who need access to e-mail, a phone, and some form of collaboration.  And then tier three would be those people who need a like experience as if they were sitting in an -- their office doing their job, versus they're now setting at their home.  So for each of those we have different sorts of equipment, different sorts of networks and solutions that we're providing, so the numbers are going to vary depending on the type of teleworking we're talking about, but we will be happy to pass on what facts and figures we do have.

STAFF:  Let's go to Aaron Mehta, Defense News.

Q:  Hey, thanks, guys, for doing this.

For Mr. Deasy, I've actually got a non-COVID question for you.  The FCC's currently considering application from a company called Ligado for the use of L-band spectrum.  You wrote a note on March 12th along with Undersecretary Griffin, asking that they, the FCC not move forward with the application given potential damage to GPS [Global Positioning System].

I want to know if you felt the department's concerns are being addressed, and if you see any way forward where Ligado could tweak its system to somehow be acceptable to the department to meet those concerns.

MR. DEASY:  Yeah, what I would say about Ligado is that we have stated our view, we have put that view in writing.  We have very strong technical evidence that would suggest that moving forward with that proposal would cause harm to the adjacent GPS spectrum.  Therefore, we continue to believe it's in the best interest -- and I believe I can say this on behalf of all the agencies -- it's in the interest of the government not to pursue the Ligado licensing requirements -- request.

Q:  Do you feel your concerns are being heard throughout the administration?

MR. DEASY:  Yes, there have been active conversations that myself, General Shwedo -- as you mentioned, Dr. Griffin and others throughout the department including the secretary, the vice chairman, have all been actively involved in, in working with the administration, the FCC, NTIA [National Telecommunications and Information Administration], et cetera.

STAFF:  Thanks, Aaron.

Let's go to Jared, Federal News Network?

Q:  Hey, good morning, thanks for doing this.  I wanted to ask you about commercial, virtual remote and some of the (inaudible) big numbers that Mr. Deasy mentioned.

I mean, as I understand it, the plan is to destroy all the data that people are storing in CVR once this is all over, which would seem to suggest the department's going to be creating potentially, like, months' worth of records that are beyond the reach of things like FOIA and e-Discovery, because they'll have been deleted.  So, how are you balancing the need to be responsive to this emergency against things like the Federal Records Act?

MR. DEASY:  Yeah, that's a really good question.  And I will tell you, even though we have stood this up in an extraordinary amount of time, we've also had a lot of very healthy discussions regarding what does this mean from a cyber-security implications, what does this mean to existing policies?  And to your very point, what does this mean with that data that we've created?

So, first of all, the whole task force exists specifically to address how do we handle COVID-19 teleworking requirements.  This was stood up specifically to allow people to collaborate in an unclassified manner, specifically for COVID-19.

We recognize that a lot of data's being created, it's going onto an unclassified environment.  I wouldn't say that we've concluded right now that we will, quote, "destroy"; we are looking at options on how do we take this data and preserve it and-or port it into other collaboration environments, going forward.  That decision has not been taken, but I would also not pre-conclude that we've taken the decision the data will just be flat-out destroyed.

Q:  Okay, can I follow real quickly?  The -- beyond CVR itself, has the task force started to think through how much of these other capabilities like added bandwidth and VPN you might just leave in place after the emergency to enable more telework on a steady-state basis?

MR. DEASY:  Yeah, I mean, obviously, we are creating a much more robust, enhanced teleworking capability.  We've obviously always had one, but what we've now done is we've just put a multiplier effect into the quantity, the types of services, the collaboration tools, et cetera.

So, there will be some permanency to what we have here.  Specifically, I think more on the network side, and we will also have to create a base of teleworking equipment that we'll be able to, in some cases, reuse for other purposes.  But, yes, you are correct that there is going to be an enhanced teleworking capability that will be sustained at the end of COVID-19.

GEN. SHWEDO:  I -- just to pitch in, what you'll find is, to enable all of these capabilities, we had to do a lot of back-end work, and we're not just procuring laptops and other devices, we also have to manipulate the individual combatant commands’ back end.  That doesn't go away, and this is going to be a force multiplier for the future case of another pandemic, but it also gives us additional capabilities with any other worldwide crisis.

MR. DEASY:  Yeah, there's one more thing I'll say about this.  There's not only the -- the facts and the figures on equipment we've provided today and on networking, but we've also just developed some new tactics and techniques that allow us to ramp up quite quickly.

I can't stress enough that this isn't just a DOD effort, we have had significant help from our industry partners on this, and I want to just take this opportunity to point out that much of what we've accomplished, we've accomplished through that - that we've gotten help from our industry partners.

GEN. SHWEDO:  I said it earlier in my comments, but we found some of these industry partners coming in, so concerned about the current crisis.  And they say, hey, you can have this IT for free, we're really, really concerned about where we're going.

One capability that comes to mind, prevents a first responder from having any contact with the individuals that they're doing.  It's a -- an iPhone capability that shoots messages back and forth, you never leave your car.  And the folks in Gauss basically said, you can have it.

So there's been lots of different capabilities out there that we may not have been aware of that's rapidly coming to the forefront, which is just a great opportunity to start going after these opportunities.

STAFF:  So we're right at 30 minutes, sir.  We can take one more.  We'll go to Sylvie on -- Sylvie from AFP?

Q:  Hello?  Thank you for doing that.  I would like to follow up on Phil's question.  You are speaking about the surge of spear phishing.  I understand you don't want to say who is targeted, but can you tell us where they come from?  Is it Russia, China or is it in U.S., white nationalists?  Can you tell us that?

MR. DEASY:  Yeah, you have to understand that part of having a very good active defense and being able to deploy some of the tactics and techniques that have allowed us to be able to keep our workforce working in a cyber-secure manner, is the fact that we don't publish where we get the attack vectors from.  Because that would just give insight to the adversary to know how to vector and pivot and change their tactics and techniques.

So, it's in the best interest that we actually don't go on public record and share specifically who are the actors and where the attack techniques are coming from.

Q:  Okay, thank you.

STAFF:  If you have any additional questions that we didn't get to this morning, please send them to me in e-mail and we'll get back to you just as quickly as we can.

Thank you very much.