NSA director to retain cyber war powers

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The White House has decided to preserve the cyber war powers held by the director of the National Security Agency (NSA).

The decision to maintain NSA control over U.S. Cyber Command, a team of military hackers, means that the agency's next director will be a military officer and not a civilian, as privacy advocates had hoped.

"Following a thorough interagency review, the Administration has decided that keeping the positions of NSA director and Cyber Command commander together as one, dual-hatted position is the most effective approach to accomplishing both agencies’ missions," Caitlin Hayden, a White House spokeswoman, said in a statement. 

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The announcement comes as an advisory panel prepares to deliver a report to the president with recommended changes to the NSA. According to The Wall Street Journal, a draft version of the report recommends splitting the NSA and Cyber Command and naming a civilian director of the NSA.

Cyber Command, which was created in 2009, is the military's main agency for attacking enemy computer systems and defending U.S. networks. 

Advocates of splitting the two commands argue that the current arrangement centralizes too much power in the hands of one official. Some civil liberties advocates also argue that a civilian head of the NSA could be more sensitive to privacy concerns. 

Hayden said that it was a "natural time" to review the arrangement because Keith Alexander, a four star Army general who leads both the NSA and Cyber Command, plans to step down in the spring.

But she said the NSA plays a "unique role" in supporting Cyber Command, "providing critical support for target access and development, including linguists, analysts, cryptanalytic capabilities, and sophisticated technological infrastructure."

"These capabilities are essential in enabling DOD cyberspace operations planning and execution," she said.

She argued that Cyber Command is able to rely on the NSA's code-cracking expertise to defend military computer networks and quickly counter cyber threats.

"Without the dual-hat arrangement, elaborate procedures would have to be put in place to ensure that effective coordination continued and avoid creating duplicative capabilities in each organization," she said.

Alexander had lobbied policymakers to keep the positions united for his successor.