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NSA head Rogers pushes to loosen reins on cyberweapons

NSA head Rogers pushes to loosen reins on cyberweapons
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Adm. Michael Rogers — both head of the National Security Agency (NSA) and Cyber Command — is pushing for widespread changes to the U.S.'s treatment of cyber weaponry, including contracting private sector firms to develop arms.

“In the application of kinetic functionality — weapons — we go to the private sector and say, ‘Build this thing we call a [joint directed-attack munition], a [Tomahawk land-attack munition].’ Fill in the blank,” he said at a conference in San Diego, as quoted by the Department of Defense. 

“On the offensive side, to date, we have done almost all of our weapons development internally,” Rogers said. “And part of me goes — five to 10 years from now is that a long-term sustainable model? Does that enable you to access fully the capabilities resident in the private sector? I'm still trying to work my way through that, intellectually.”

Though the U.S. has quietly been a leading purchaser of product-specific digital lock-picking tools so newly discovered that vendors are not aware of them, it combines them and weaponizes them on its own. 

The decision to do so is a reflection of the secrecy the U.S. holds the weapons to — the U.S. does not discuss information about their use or even existence — and the uncertain international outcome of acknowledging their use. 

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But at the West 17 Conference Friday, Rogers pitched creating a class of “tactical” weaponry the government could treat with less reverence.

He compared our current system to nuclear weapons, in that “their application outside a defined area of hostilities is controlled at the chief-executive level and is not delegated down.”

Rogers said his hope was to enable the military to be able to better integrate those weapons into operations, rather than treat cyber as all but off-limits. 

“We should view this as another toolkit that's available … as a commander is coming up with a broad schema of maneuver to achieve a desired outcome or end state.”

Rogers was interviewed at the conference by retired Adm. James G. Stavridis, now the Dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.