U.S. re­vamp­ing Cyber Com­mand

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Lolita C. Bal­dor

WASH­ING­TON» Af­ter months of de­lay, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is fi­nal­iz­ing plans to revamp the na­tion’s military com­mand for de­fen­sive and of­fen­sive cyber operations in hopes of in­ten­si­fy­ing Amer­ica’s abil­ity to wage cy­ber­war against the Is­lamic State group and other foes, ac­cord­ing to U.S. of­fi­cials.

Un­der the plans, U.S. Cyber Com­mand would even­tu­ally be split off from the in­tel­li­gence-fo­cused Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency.

De­tails are still be­ing worked out, but of­fi­cials say they ex­pect a de­ci­sion and an­nounce­ment in the com­ing weeks.

The of­fi­cials weren’t au­tho­rized to speak pub­licly on the mat­ter so they re­quested anonymity.

The goal, they said, is to give U.S. Cyber Com­mand more au­ton­omy, free­ing it from any con­straints that stem from work­ing along­side the NSA, which is re­spon­si­ble for mon­i­tor­ing and col­lect­ing tele­phone, in­ter­net and other in­tel­li­gence data from around the world — a re­spon­si­bil­ity that can some­times clash with military operations against en­emy forces.

Mak­ing cyber an in­de­pen­dent military com­mand will put the fight in dig­i­tal space on the same foot­ing as more tra­di­tional realms of battle on land, in the air, at sea and in space. The move re­flects the es­ca­lat­ing threat of cy­ber­at­tacks and in­tru­sions from other na­tion states, ter­ror­ist groups and hack­ers, and comes as the U.S. faces ever-widen­ing fears about Rus­sian hack­ing fol­low­ing Moscow’s ef­forts to med­dle in the 2016 Amer­i­can elec­tion.

The U.S. has long op­er­ated qui­etly in cy­berspace, us­ing it to col­lect in­for­ma­tion, dis­rupt en­emy net­works and aid con­ven­tional military mis­sions. But as other na­tions and foes ex­pand their use of cy­ber­spy­ing and at­tacks, the U.S. is de­ter­mined to im­prove its abil­ity to in­cor­po­rate cyber operations into its every­day warfight­ing.

Ex­perts said the com­mand will need time to find its foot­ing.

“Right now I think it’s in­evitable, but it’s on a very slow glide path,” said Jim Lewis, a cy­ber­se­cu­rity ex­pert with the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies. But, he added, “A new en­tity is not go­ing to be able to du­pli­cate NSA’S ca­pa­bil­i­ties.”

The NSA, for ex­am­ple, has 300 of the coun­try’s lead­ing math­e­ma­ti­cians “and a gi­gan­tic su­per com­puter,” Lewis said. “Things like this are hard to du­pli­cate.”

He added, how­ever, that over time, the U.S. has in­creas­ingly used cyber as a tac­ti­cal weapon, bol­ster­ing the ar­gu­ment for sep­a­rat­ing it from the NSA.

The two highly se­cre­tive or­ga­ni­za­tions, based at Fort Meade, Md., have been un­der the same four-star com­man­der since Cyber Com­mand’s cre­ation in 2009.

But the De­fense Depart­ment has been ag­i­tat­ing for a sepa­ra­tion, per­ceiv­ing the NSA and in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity as re­sis­tant to more ag­gres­sive cy­ber­war­fare, par­tic­u­larly af­ter the Is­lamic State’s trans­for­ma­tion in re­cent years from an ob­scure in­sur­gent force into an or­ga­ni­za­tion hold­ing sig­nif­i­cant ter­ri­tory across Iraq and Syria and with a world­wide re­cruit­ing net­work.

While the military wanted to at­tack IS net­works, in­tel­li­gence ob­jec­tives pri­or­i­tized gath­er­ing in­for­ma­tion from them, ac­cord­ing to U.S. of­fi­cials fa­mil­iar with the de­bate. They weren’t au­tho­rized to dis­cuss in­ter­nal de­lib­er­a­tions pub­licly and re­quested anonymity.

Then-de­fense Sec­re­tary Ash Carter sent a plan to for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama last year to make Cyber Com­mand an in­de­pen­dent military head­quar­ters and break it away from the NSA, be­liev­ing that the agency’s de­sire to col­lect in­tel­li­gence was at times pre­vent­ing the military from elim­i­nat­ing IS’S abil­ity to raise money, in­spire at­tacks and com­mand its widely dis­persed net­work of fight­ers.

Carter, at the time, also pushed for the ouster of Adm. Mike Rogers, who still heads both bod­ies.

The Pen­tagon, he warned, was los­ing the war in the cyber do­main, fo­cus­ing on cy­berthreats from na­tions such as Iran, Rus­sia and China, rather than on coun­ter­ing the com­mu­ni­ca­tions and pro­pa­ganda cam­paigns of in­ter­net-savvy in­sur­gents.

Of­fi­cials also grew alarmed by the grow­ing num­ber of cy­ber­at­tacks against the U.S. gov­ern­ment, in­clud­ing sev­eral se­ri­ous, high-level De­fense Depart­ment breaches that oc­curred un­der Rogers’ watch.

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