Lawmakers push to elevate Cyber Command in Senate defense bill

Lawmakers push to elevate Cyber Command in Senate defense bill
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A bipartisan group of senators wants to bring the Senate version of a national defense bill in line with its House counterpart on a change in authority for the U.S. military’s cyber unit.

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An amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) would direct the president to elevate U.S. Cyber Command to a standalone warfighting entity, pulling it out from under the authority of Strategic Command.

The House version of the legislation, passed 277-147 last week, already includes a similar provision.

The move appears to have widespread support from lawmakers, as well as Adm. Michael Rogers, the unit's head. He said last month that elevating the unit to a full combatant command would make it more nimble and “generate better mission outcomes.”

But the White House opposes a statutory requirement that the unit be elevated.

The administration, which is threatening a veto on the House version of the bill, argues that the secretary of Defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff “should retain the flexibility to recommend to the President changes to the unified command plan that they believe would most effectively organize the military to address an ever-evolving threat environment.”

Supporters see the move as a logical evolution as cyber actions play an increasingly important role in U.S. defense operations.

For example, Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work said recently that the U.S. is “dropping cyber bombs” on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

“As ISIS is recruiting more and more followers online, CYBERCOM needs the ability to react quickly and engage the enemy effectively. Elevating Cyber Command will ensure that our military is always one step ahead of our adversaries in light of the increased global threats today,” Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) said in a Wednesday statement.

Even supporters of the move, however, are skeptical that the unit should remain under the National Security Agency (NSA), where it currently shares a commander with the spy agency.

“If we move in the direction, which I think we are, of setting up Cyber Command as its own independent combatant command, to have the same person trying to run those two agencies I just think is impractical and almost impossible,” Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) said during a recent hearing on the matter.

But the Senate version of the bill hews to the administration position, placing a limitation on ending Rogers’s “dual-hat” role.

According to the language of the bill, the secretary of Defense may not end the arrangement until the secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff “jointly determine and certify to the appropriate committees of Congress that the end of that arrangement will not pose risks to the military effectiveness of the United States Cyber Command that are unacceptable in the national security interests of the United States.”

Rogers has said that while he supports elevating Cyber Command to a fully combatant command, he does not believe that the unit is ready to come out from under the umbrella of the NSA.

“I agree in the long run. But the reality is we’re just not ready to do that today,” Rogers said in April, noting that the unit’s structure was established six years ago to take advantage of NSA resources.

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