McCain vows to block breakup of NSA leadership

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Tuesday vowed to oppose a reported proposal that would split up the leadership of the National Security Agency (NSA) and the U.S Cyber Command in a preview of what could be a brutal fight later this year.

Currently, the NSA’s and Pentagon’s Cyber Command are led by the same individual, even though the two agencies operate under different missions.

{mosads}The White House has rejected efforts to break up the “dual-hatted” role in the past, but it is reportedly facing pressure from Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to change course before Obama leaves office early next year.

If he tries, however, President Obama appears likely to run into heated opposition from Capitol Hill.

“Let me be very clear: I do not believe rushing to separate the dual hat in the final months of an administration is appropriate, given the very serious challenges we face in cyberspace and the failure of this administration to develop an effective deterrence policy,” McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said during a hearing with the head of the NSA and Cyber Command, Adm. Michael Rogers.

“Therefore, if a decision is prematurely made to separate NSA and Cyber Command, I will object to the confirmation of any individual nominated by the president to replace the director of the National Security Agency if that person is not also nominated to be the commander of Cyber Command.”

McCain’s threat ups the ante in what appears to be a looming fight over the position.

Civil liberties advocates had previously pushed the White House to split the two positions in 2013, on the heels of revelations by Edward Snowden showing the breadth of the U.S. government’s digital spying powers. Critics worried that the NSA’s intelligence-driven mission was getting muddied by the offensive-minded efforts at U.S. Cyber Command.

But the White House rejected the plan at the time.

Now, Carter and Clapper are pressing Obama to make the move before he leaves office, according to NBC News and The Washington Post.

On Tuesday, Rogers reiterated that he supported the dual-hat role of having one person lead both the NSA and Cyber Command.

Tags Director of the National Security Agency John McCain United States Cyber Command

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