The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics -

Since its cre­ation in 2009, the U.S. Cy­ber Com­mand has been in­ti­mately linked to the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency, the Fort Meade-based elec­tronic in­tel­li­gence and code-breaking agency with the most ad­vanced cy­ber­in­tel­li­gence-gath­er­ing skills of any Amer­i­can spy agency.

But NSA and Cybercom, as it’s called, may soon be part­ing ways un­der a Pen­tagon plan to el­e­vate Cybercom from a sup­port­ing com­mand to a front-line war fight­ing com­bat­ant com­mand.

One ma­jor prob­lem with the cur­rent close ar­range­ment is Cybercom and the NSA have two dif­fer­ent mis­sions. NSA is fo­cused solely on spy­ing, and Cybercom, a sub­com­mand of the U.S. Strate­gic Com­mand in charge of cy­berde­fense and war fight­ing, is a mil­i­tary or­ga­ni­za­tion that wants to do more op­er­a­tions, such as ac­tive de­fense against cy­ber­at­tacks and, when needed, wage of­fen­sive cy­ber­war­fare.

The cur­rent com­man­der, Adm. Mike Rogers, is also direc­tor of NSA and is in fa­vor of sep­a­rat­ing the two. Adm. Rogers also has pushed the ad­min­is­tra­tion to take a more proac­tive stance against the kind of cy­ber­at­tacks car­ried out in re­cent years by both China and Rus­sia.

Pres­i­dent Obama, how­ever, has re­peat­edly ob­jected to giv­ing Cybercom the author­ity to take ac­tion. Mr. Obama boasted in China last week that the United States has more cy­ber­ca­pa­bil­i­ties “than any­body both of­fen­sively and de­fen­sively.”

Mr. Obama then warned that he feared a cy­ber­war could break out: “What we can­not do is have a sit­u­a­tion in which sud­denly this be­comes the Wild, Wild West, where coun­tries that have sig­nif­i­cant cy­ber­ca­pac­ity start en­gag­ing in com­pe­ti­tion — un­healthy com­pe­ti­tion or con­flict through these means,” he said.

The idea of split­ting Cybercom from NSA trig­gered a vig­or­ous debate in govern­ment na­tional se­cu­rity cir­cles.

“The cur­rent com­man­der does feel like both en­ti­ties do dif­fer­ent things and should be dis­ag­gre­gated,” said a se­nior mil­i­tary of­fi­cer. “One gath­ers in­tel­li­gence and the other con­ducts of­fen­sive cy­ber­op­er­a­tions.”

For the mil­i­tary com­mand, many of Cybercom’s troops feel like they work for NSA, although they wear dif­fer­ent se­cu­rity badges and op­er­ate in dif­fer­ent parts of NSA head­quar­ters.

“The feel­ing is it would be bet­ter to get Cy­ber Com­mand out from un­der the thumb of NSA,” the of­fi­cer said.

Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee Chair­man Sen. John McCain crit­i­cized the na­ture of the debate over split­ting the two or­ga­ni­za­tions. “Here we go again,” the Ari­zona Repub­li­can said at a hear­ing Tues­day. “An­other ma­jor pol­icy mat­ter has ap­par­ently been de­cided with no con­sul­ta­tion what­so­ever be­tween the White House or the De­part­ment of De­fense with this com­mit­tee.”

De­fense Sec­re­tary Ash­ton Carter said Tues­day that no de­ci­sion has been made, but that, ul­ti­mately, the pres­i­dent would make the call.

“One is an in­tel­li­gence agency, one is a com­bat sup­port agency,” Mr. Carter said. “What­ever hap­pens in the fu­ture, and what­ever de­ci­sions are made with re­spect to the man­age­ment of it, they’re go­ing to be in­ter­re­lated be­cause they both deal with the tech­nol­ogy of cy­ber, espe­cially cy­berde­fense, cy­ber­pro­tec­tion, which is Cybercom’s first mil­i­tary mis­sion.”

NSA ad­vo­cates fear the split will be used by agency crit­ics to limit its ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

Rene­gade NSA con­trac­tor Edward Snow­den, who stole some 1.7 mil­lion highly clas­si­fied doc­u­ments and re­leased them to left­ist jour­nal­ists, sparked a back­lash against the agency, claim­ing the NSA was en­gaged in mas­sive il­le­gal spy­ing on Amer­i­cans — charges the agency has de­nied. The agency is re­stricted from spy­ing on Amer­i­cans and can do so only when there are in­di­ca­tions of for­eign es­pi­onage or ter­ror­ism links.

Still, crit­ics within the ad­min­is­tra­tion and on Capi­tol Hill want to limit the NSA, and one way would

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