Defense authorization bill would elevate Cyber Command

Defense authorization bill would elevate Cyber Command
© Getty

A defense authorization bill that cleared a House committee early Thursday would elevate U.S. Cyber Command and launch a review into whether the agency should still be run by the National Security Agency (NSA) head.

As of now, Cyber Command is subordinate to U.S. Strategic Command. But the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which passed the House Armed Services Committee by a 60-2 vote, would spin the rapidly developing command out into its own fully unified military command.

ADVERTISEMENT

The move is a nod to the realization that the cyber war is playing an expanding role in all international conflicts. The Pentagon has increased its focus on offensive cyber tactics in recent years, and recently acknowledged it had lauched its first full-scale cyber offensive against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Cyber Command is working to meet these needs by standing up 133 offensive and defensive cyber teams by 2018 — a total of 6,200 personnel.

As of this month, the command has 27 fully operational teams, 68 teams that have “initial operational capacity” and nearly 100 that are conducting some form of cyberspace operations.

Cyber Command head Adm. Michael Rogers supports designating his unit as a “unified combatant command,” as do military-focused lawmakers in both the House and Senate.

Rogers, who also heads the NSA, stumped for the move during a recent Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. He said the change would help prioritize cyber during the budgeting process, while making Cyber Command more nimble.

“A combatant commander designation would allow us to be faster, which would generate better mission outcomes,” he told the committee.

But Rogers pushed back against taking Cyber Command control away from the NSA chief just yet, noting that the unit was established six years ago to take advantage of NSA infrastructure.

“I agree in the long run,” Rogers said. “But the reality is we’re just not ready to do that today.”

Lawmakers have been more skeptical of the dual-hat position, however, which was reflected in the NDAA. The bill would direct the Government Accountability Office to study whether the NSA head should continue to run Cyber Command.

Away from Cyber Command, the NDAA would also authorize funds for a new security clearance process that is designed and secured by the Defense Department.

The move comes after catastrophic hacks at the Office of Personnel Management — which currently oversees the process — exposed the millions of background check forms the government has processed in recent years.

The Obama administration in January said it would establish a new government-wide office, the National Background Investigations Bureau (NBIB), to handle background investigations for almost the entire federal government. The NBIB would rely on Defense to design, build, secure and operate its entire information technology system, the administration said.

“As we saw with the hack of the Office of Personnel Management records, our enemies are increasingly using cyber capabilities to threaten American families,” said Rep. Joe WilsonAddison (Joe) Graves WilsonThe Hill Interview: Sanford says Trump GOP doing 'serious brand destruction' GOP lawmaker: 'Dangerous' abuse of Interpol by Russia, China, Venezuela Washington Post fact-checker gives Plame three Pinocchios for Libby claim MORE (R-S.C.), who chairs the Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities, after the markup.

“By fully resourcing our cyber initiatives, we can ensure our military has the technical capabilities to respond and protect our citizens.”