Senators push committee leaders to elevate military cyber force

Senators push committee leaders to elevate military cyber force
© Greg Nash

Two senators are pushing leaders from both the Senate and House Armed Services committees to include a provision in the final version of the national defense policy bill elevating the military’s cyber unit to a full-fledged combatant command.

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“Cyber is truly one of the fastest growing threats facing our nation; we cannot stand by as the Department of Defense fails to act on this urgent national security priority,” Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerDems reject Barr's offer to view Mueller report with fewer redactions GOP senators divided on Trump trade pushback Hillicon Valley: Trump unveils initiatives to boost 5G | What to know about the Assange case | Pelosi warns tech of 'new era' in regulation | Dem eyes online hate speech bill MORE (D-Va.) wrote in a Tuesday letter to the chairmen and ranking members of both committees.

Citing “large bipartisan support in the Senate,” they urged committee leaders to include language elevating the unit — present in the House-passed version of the bill — in the conferenced version.

The Senate on Tuesday passed its version of the $602 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on an 85-13 vote.

Daines and Warner tried to get the provision into the Senate version in an amendment, offered with six other senators from both sides of the aisle but were unable to get a vote in a packed and contentious vote schedule.  

The House passed its version of the NDAA, 277-147, last month, but the annual bill still has to overcome a number of hurdles before it gets signed into law. The White House is threatening to veto the Senate version over several of its policy provisions.

Complicating Daines and Warner’s effort is the fact that the administration opposes a statutory change in authority for U.S. Cyber Command, which currently sits under the auspices of Strategic Command.

The White House 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 argue the move is a logical evolution as cyber actions play an increasingly important role in U.S. defense operations.

Adm. Michael Rogers, the unit's head, said in April that elevating the unit to a full combatant command would make it more nimble and “generate better mission outcomes.”

“It is clear Cyber Command requires the ability to engage the enemy effectively, and by allowing them to report through the Secretary of Defense directly to the president as a Combatant Command, America will be safer in this newly established form of warfare,” Daines and Warner wrote Tuesday.