U.S. Cyber Command nominee to testify on Thursday

The Senate Armed Forces Committee on Thursday will consider the nomination of Army Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander as head of the new U.S. Cyber Command.

Military leaders once hoped to confirm Alexander, who also leads the National Security Agency, in time for the command's envisioned October 2009 launch. However, some members of Congress have instead stalled the top general's confirmation vote, citing his proposed dual role as NSA director and Cyber Command chief as troubling.

While Cyber Command supporters stress the new effort is merely a way for the military to safeguard its network and track its cyberattackers, skeptics say its relationship with the NSA would afford the command exceptional leverage and power.

The NSA handles a considerable amount of electronic surveillance -- a role that once earned former President George Bush ample scorn -- and will continue monitoring federal networks as part of the White House's cybersecurity framework. It is unclear how those duties may change, though, as a result of its director taking on a military role that's also tasked to confront so-called "cyberwars."

"We are obviously concerned about the nomination of Lt. Gen. Alexander," Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center, told The Associated Press this week. "The NSA has broad authority to conduct electronic surveillance against U.S. citizens and the oversight system simply does not work."

However, the Pentagon has long sought to downplay those concerns, citing they do not intend to "militarize" cyberspace. Alexander, too, has tried to deflect those criticisms, noting repeatedly that "the creation and maintenance of a cyber force" would best help the military respond to cyber threats."

"Maintaining freedom of action in cyberspace in the 21st Century is as inherent to U.S. interests as freedom of the seas was in the 19th Century, and access to air and space in the 20th Century," he told House lawmakers at a hearing last May.