ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. - The Missouri National Guard is in the process of establishing a cyber threat response team that will operate out of historic Jefferson Barracks in south St. Louis County.
According to Guard officials, Missouri will be the first state to fully staff a National Guard computer network defense team that will respond to cyber threats or attacks, whether physical or Internet-related, at both the state and possibly national level.
Similar units exist in such states as Maryland, Delaware, Utah, Rhode Island and Washington state, according to a 2011 article on the Homeland Security News Wire website.
"The Missouri National Guard recognizes cyber security as a priority at both the state and national level," said Maj. Gen. Steve Danner, adjutant general of the Missouri National Guard. "I have every confidence that the Missouri team will lead the way in protecting our state and country against threats to vital computer networks."
Danner approved funding for the computer network defense team last February, a decision that was validated when a Missouri Guard cyber team earned high praise during a national defense cyberspace operations exercise at Fort Meade last summer.
"Gen. Danner gets it," said Lt. Col. Tony Kirtley, of Wildwood, commanding officer of the Missouri National Guard Computer Network Defense Team. "He recognizes that a cyber attack is not a matter of if, but when, and we need to be ready for it. We're establishing the capability before the requirement, so I applaud his decision to embrace cyber security."
The Computer Network Defense Team will eventually consist of more than 25 personnel, mostly from the Army National Guard, and will work out of Building 27, a former barracks for cavalry Soldiers built in 1898. The historic structure is slated for renovation to accommodate a recently announced National Guard intelligence program operated by the 35th Infantry Division.
Kirtley said Jefferson Barracks is an ideal location for the Computer Network Defense Team.
"Jefferson Barracks is strategic in that it is home to the Region 7 Homeland Response Force and in the future we may closely interact with them in the event of a terrorist attack," he said. "The St. Louis area is also a better place to recruit the type of talent we are looking for and there are other secure facilities at JB we might use that don't exist elsewhere. We have also started talks with the 35th Infantry Division to share intelligence and to cross-level personnel who might want to work in cyber security."
Jefferson Barracks base commander Col. Richard Chapman, who also commands the Air National Guard's 157th Air Operations Group, is equally pleased.
"I'm excited about this visionary move by Gen. Danner," he said. "This new cyber unit at Jefferson Barracks and its tasks play to a growing strength in this state's National Guard by drawing on the skill sets of our high-tech Citizen-Soldiers who work for civilian companies day-to-day, and who leverage that special expertise performing the cyber defense mission in their role as Missouri Guardsmen."
While the nation's cyber security is probably not on the minds of most Americans, Kirtley said protecting the state and country's computer networks from attack could avert disaster.
"The public doesn't hear a lot about cyber attacks because they simply don't happen that often," Kirtley said. "But the failure of the Tom Sauk Reservoir at Johnson Shut-Ins a few years ago was caused by a computer glitch. It was not a cyber attack, but it could have been. Likewise, a computer malware virus in Iran created a failure in their nuclear program by making centrifuges spin faster than they were designed for. It's our job to make sure that doesn't happen here."
So far, the Missouri National Guard Computer Network Defense Team consists of about a dozen personnel working to set up shop at the barracks. Staff Sgt. Katie Herrell, of Oakville, is the team's readiness sergeant, in charge of making sure each team member is fully "cyber qualified."
"Cyber attacks are now a domain of war and Missouri is taking the lead in cyber security," she said. "We want to be the unit others think of when it comes to cyber security response and threat prevention. This is the future of warfare; it's something that is going to happen and I am very excited to be a part of this team."
Kirtley hopes to have the cyber security unit fully staffed and operational no later than October.
"This is the highlight of my 20-year Guard career," he said. "It's both fun and exciting and I'm honored to be a part of it."
In addition to his duties with the National Guard, Kirtley is the head of information security for Monsanto.