Overnight Defense: New Army secretary highlights 'character and culture' in first message to service | Justice Dept. to give ransomware attacks same priority as terrorism

Overnight Defense: New Army secretary highlights 'character and culture' in first message to service | Justice Dept. to give ransomware attacks same priority as terrorism
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Happy Thursday and welcome to Overnight Defense.

I'm Ellen Mitchell, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.


THE TOPLINE: New Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said she would push initiatives meant to better “character and culture” in the force, according to her first message to the service.

“Our people are the priority effort and I intend to champion a full range of initiatives to better the force. Character and culture matter,” Wormuth said in the statement released Wednesday.

Confirmed last week as the first woman for the role, Wormuth added that she will work to “eliminate harmful behaviors that undermine readiness,” stressing, “There is no place in our Army for sexual harassment and assault, domestic violence, extremism or racism.”

Old problems: The Army’s new top civilian comes into the service as the Pentagon grapples with a range of personnel issues, most notably how to attract and retain talent with new, more inclusive policies, root out extremism and overhaul how it handles sexual assault and harassment. 

Conservative pressure:  But conservative lawmakers in recent weeks have knocked Army recruiting ad campaigns, claiming they portray the military as “too soft.”

An ad campaign titled “The Calling,” was launched earlier this month and features animated portrayals of the stories of five U.S. soldiers in an effort to appeal to Gen Z Americans and improve diversity and inclusion efforts among the military’s ranks.

New promises: Wormuth said she will continue that open mindset and “making sure the Army can recruit, develop, train and retain the diverse talent it needs to remain the world’s premiere land force.”



The Justice Department announced this week that it will begin elevating ransomware investigations to a similar level of priority as terrorist attacks.

John Carlin, the acting deputy attorney general at the Justice Department, told Reuters on Thursday that the federal government will prioritize ransomware cases through a new process.

"It's a specialized process to ensure we track all ransomware cases regardless of where it may be referred in this country, so you can make the connections between actors and work your way up to disrupt the whole chain," he said.

The new process: According to Reuters, guidance to U.S. attorney's offices nationwide on Thursday advised that all information regarding any ransomware cases be sent to a recently formed task force based in Washington, D.C.

Context: The move follows a ransomware attack against Colonial Pipeline and other entities in the U.S. in recent weeks.

Colonial Pipeline, which provides roughly 45 percent of the fuel consumed on the East Coast, faced a cyberattack last month that left many states in the southeast with gasoline shortages. 

A cyber criminal group that federal authorities traced to Russia was able to infiltrate Colonial Pipeline's systems and demand a ransom. The company paid the hackers $4.4 million in order to have control of the systems returned to them.

The guidance: "To ensure we can make necessary connections across national and global cases and investigations, and to allow us to develop a comprehensive picture of the national and economic security threats we face, we must enhance and centralize our internal tracking," read the federal guidance obtained by Reuters.

Carlin told the news outlet that officials have "used this model around terrorism before but never with ransomware," saying it reflected how the federal government is further prioritizing such attacks.



U.S. Air Force Materiel Command head Gen. Arnold Bunch will speak to the media as part of George Washington University’s Project for Media and National Security, at 2 p.m.



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