Annual defense bill elevates Cyber Command to combatant unit


House and Senate conferees have agreed to a final defense bill that will elevate the U.S. military cyber unit to a full combatant command, senior House and Senate Armed Services Committee staffers told reporters Tuesday.

{mosads}Currently, Cyber Command is under the authority of U.S. Strategic Command, although it shares an address — and resources — with the National Security Agency (NSA). The legislation will spin it out into its own fully fledged war-fighting unit.

But the bill will keep a more controversial element of Cyber Command’s structure, at least for now: Adm. Mike Rogers will maintain his dual role as the director of both the NSA and Cyber Command.

It is a controversial arrangement that most onlookers — including Rogers — expect will eventually end, but not immediately. The bill requires the Pentagon to establish conditions for what would need to happen if the positions are split.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper have reportedly pushed to break up the two roles before Obama leaves office early next year — but the proposal faced fierce pushback from senior lawmakers.

Armed Services chairman John McCain (R-Az.) vowed earlier in the year to block changes to the dual-hat role.

“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,” he said during a September hearing with Rogers.

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. 

The final draft of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) comes as Rogers is reportedly under consideration to replace Clapper as Director of National Intelligence under President-elect Donald Trump.

The Washington Post recently reported that Clapper and Carter are both pushing to have Rogers removed from his position at the NSA — Clapper because he believes the NSA should be headed by a civilian and Carter because of separate concerns associated with Rogers’s performance.

The NDAA is tentatively scheduled for a House vote Friday and a Senate vote next week. The text of the compromise measure is expected Wednesday. 

–Rebecca Kheel contributed.

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