Hagel: US not seeking to ‘militarize’ the Internet

Defense Secretary Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelOvernight Defense: Latest on historic Korea summit | Trump says 'many people' interested in VA job | Pompeo thinks Trump likely to leave Iran deal Should Mike Pompeo be confirmed? Intel chief: Federal debt poses 'dire threat' to national security MORE on Friday said the Pentagon is working to build an elite force to protect the nation from cyberattacks that he said threaten both military networks and national security.

Speaking at the retirement ceremony of Gen. Keith Alexander, now the head of Cyber Command and the National Security Agency, Hagel said the Defense Department plans to have 6,000 people working on a cybersecurity team by 2016.

The new force would expand the president’s options with “full-spectrum cyber capabilities that can complement other military assets” he said.

Hagel insisted that the United States has no plans to “militarize” the Internet, but said the threats facing the nation are unrelenting. Illustrating his point, he said the Pentagon’s systems would have been scanned by adversaries around 50,000 times by the end of his 15-minute address at Fort Meade.

“Our nation confronts the proliferation of destructive malware and a new reality of steady, ongoing, and aggressive efforts to probe, access, or disrupt public and private networks, and the industrial control systems that manage our water, energy, and food supplies,” he said. 

The Pentagon is planning to protect is $5.1 billion in spending on cyber assets next year despite an overall drop in defense spending, Hagel said.

“America has always adapted to new threats. But today, a networked world — a world in which oceans are crossed at the speed of light — presents challenges to American security that our nation has never before confronted,” Hagel said.

“Our responsibility, whatever the revolutions in technology, is to guard not only our nation, but also the fundamental character of our open society," he said.

The Pentagon chief was among a slew of military and administration officials to speak at Friday’s ceremony for Alexander, who is leaving the NSA amid the firestorm over its surveillance activities.

To underscore the administration’s efforts to increase transparency at the NSA, Hagel’s remarks were shown in the first-ever live broadcast from the NSA and Cyber Command headquarters.

Hagel acknowledged American's concerns over privacy raised by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s disclosure of the agency’s surveillance programs, which included phone and Internet communications by U.S. citizens.

“We will continue to take steps to be open and transparent about our cyber capabilities, doctrine, and forces — with the American people, our allies and partners, and even competitors,” he said.

Snowden's leaks to the media created huge controversy during Alexander’s tenure, and has prompted calls of major changes to how the NSA collects and retains data.

“As the longest-serving director of NSA, General Alexander has led this agency through countless intelligence breakthroughs and successes. He’s also led NSA through one of the most challenging periods in its history,” Hagel said.

“And he did so with a fierce, but necessary, determination to develop and protect tools vital to our national security.”

White House chief of staff Denis McDonoughDenis Richard McDonoughEx-Obama chief of staff: Obama's Russia response was 'watered down' Former Obama officials launch advocacy group aimed at Trump's foreign policy Obama: Bannon, Breitbart shifted media narrative in 'powerful direction' MORE hailed Alexander's service to the country.

“Many citizens will not know just how much we have relied on his leadership. ... He's helped saved countless lives."