But one of the biggest behind-the-scenes digital counterterrorism efforts under way by the federal government is not getting much publicity: the Pentagon's effort to enlist the help of Silicon Valley to fight military cyberwarfare — including the flow of Islamic State communications across the Internet.
In October it set up a new organization, called Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, or DIUx, in Mountain View, California, a short distance from Google's corporate campus. DIUx represents the DoD's permanent presence in Silicon Valley — a staff of roughly a dozen individuals tasked with seeking out potentially useful technologies as well as reestablishing relationships between the Pentagon and the brightest minds in technology.
DIUx is not a technology incubator, nor is it a venture capital fund. It has no money to seed companies or technologies, and no mandate to purchase products or services on behalf of the Department of Defense. Rather, its primary function is to serve as a matchmaker, directing defense program offices toward companies that might be able to help solve their technology problems and directing companies toward government labs or technology programs that could be potential customers.
As a facilitator, there's little DIUx can do to alter DoD procurement processes or the speed at which the larger Pentagon moves. But it can more quickly connect military problems with potential technology solutions in an effort to get those technologies to the soldiers and security personnel that need them. It can also help connect those companies with billions in new federal dollars that the Obama administration is expected to funnel toward cybersecurity and other high-tech innovations in the next budget.
DIUx is not the military's first attempt at fostering this kind of military-tech sector interface. During the opening months of the Afghanistan war, the U.S. Army created a special unit known as the Rapid Equipping Force. When commanders saw a need for a new piece of technology — from robots to help clear roadside bombs to computer systems to help organize and sift through intelligence — the Rapid Equipping Force would seek out a solution and attempt to get it into the field quickly, often in weeks or months rather than years.