The AI Column: Why Marine Corps Commandant Gen Neller Really Needs to Read ‘LikeWar’

The Long March
Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert B. Neller speaks to guests at the Atlantic Council, Washington, D.C., March 29, 2018.
U.S. Marine Corps/Sgt. Olivia G. Ortiz

While critics might scoff at the notion of social media as a vital national security issue, LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media, is chock full of sobering reminders that what happens online doesn’t always stay there. 


The topic is one that senior leaders should be paying attention to—in particular, Gen. Robert Neller, the commandant of the Marine Corps, who has folded his arms and refused to engage with social media, like some 19th-century cavalryman who refuses to ride on the railroad. Headlines aside, both Russia and China have invested heavily in social media influence operations and begun weaponizing that capability. The authors explain how both governments and usurpers have used this new medium to advance their agendas.

The message is particularly relevant to the Marine Corps. John Kelly, the White House Chief of Staff and retired Marine general, stubbornly refuses to use Twitter, choosing to find out about Presidential tweets from his aides. The Corps’ belated and tone-deaf response to the Marines United scandal showed how out of touch its senior leadership is with the rank and file as well as their digital existence. On the occasion of the recent centennial anniversary of women entering the Corps, one female Marine remarked on Twitter that, “If you want to know why I’m not reenlisting, read the comments on the USMC Instagram page.”

The commandant, in particular, would benefit from the book, as well as Singer’s primer on cybersecurity. Two years ago, at a think tank speech, Neller punctuated sensible remarks about cybersecurity and the need for troops in the field to manage their electromagnetic profile with this comment.

"We realized that we didn't have the right solution because, you know, Seaman Hicks decided she wanted to check her Facebook page, and so she walked out on the weather deck at night with her phone, and what's that phone got?" Neller said. "It's got GPS. So anybody in the world is going to know there's some GPS somewhere out floating across the ocean, most probably on a ship."

Some of us listening in the audience were dumbfounded because his comments reflected a lack of understanding of the domain that at his level of leadership is stunning.

Without connecting to network towers, cell phones can’t be tracked in the middle of the ocean. The GPS on the fictional Seaman Hicks’ phone receives signals, it does not transmit them. And ship’s captains can and do limit internet access and block access to social media sites like Facebook, mitigating that threat.

It appears that the Commandant doesn’t understand how Facebook, GPS or cell phones work. He might want to add LikeWar to his reading list.

“Mal Ware” is a veteran of the AI racket who is so salty, he is still posting to his MySpace page. He writes a monthly column here on AI, as you can plainly see.

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