Alexander: Promote Cyber Command to full unified command status

The Pentagon’s cyberwarfare organization should be elevated to a full command akin to the U.S. Central Command over the next year, said its outgoing head, Gen. Keith Alexander.

Testifying on Wednesday before the House Armed Services Committee panel on emerging threats, Alexander said that as U.S. Cyber Command has begun to establish teams to defend the nation and the military services, “over the next year we’re going to reach a tipping point to move to” a full unified command.

Cyber Command, launched in 2009, now has 900 personnel in cyber mission forces, including some to defend against attacks against the nation. By year’s end, there will be 1,800 personnel on these teams, Alexander said. By 2016, there will be 6,000, Pentagon officials said. Cyber Command headquarters, which shares space with the National Security Agency at Fort Meade, Md., currently has about 1,000 personnel.

Right now, Cyber Command falls under U.S. Strategic Command, which is headquartered at Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha.

Two years ago, senior military leaders were set to recommend that the unit be elevated to full combatant command status. But the effort faltered, in part because of concerns it would make the organization too powerful.

Alexander said that given the command’s growing capabilities, it will be important to have a “seamless” line of command from the president to the secretary of defense to the head of the command. He also said that having special authorities, such as those enjoyed by Special Operations Command, would be appropriate. SoCom has independent budget authority and control over curriculum and training.

Also, advocates say, the elevation of Cyber Command to a level on a par with commands protecting entire regions and continents would project military force as a deterrent, even as efforts are ongoing in the diplomatic realm to reduce tensions with adversaries.

But the concerns about Cyber Command’s growing power are not going away soon. That is especially because the head of Cyber Command also serves as the director of the National Security Agency.

That issue – the dual-hatting of NSA and Cyber Command — arose again recently in the wake of disclosures about NSA surveillance by former contractor Edward Snowden. A White House review board on NSA surveillance recommended that the dual-position policy be ended, as did senior members of the administration, but President Obama in December opted to keep the policy for now.

Still, a number of former military officials believe that the current policy concentrates too much power in one position, and that the two organizations are both sufficiently challenging that each should have its own head.
Alexander is retiring later this month, and Vice Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the head of the Navy’s Fleet Cyber Command, has been nominated to succeed him.

Ellen Nakashima is a national security reporter for The Washington Post. She focuses on issues relating to intelligence, technology and civil liberties.
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