“There’s no intent to have the military crawl inside industry or private networks and provide that type of security,” the official said.
He stressed that the military would act only in cases in which there was a threat of an attack that could “really hurt,” adding: “We’re not talking about doing something to make sure that Mrs. Smith’s bank account didn’t get hijacked by somebody.”
The plan to expand the Cyber Command comes at a time when the military’s services are being ordered to cut spending, a reflection of how important senior military officials consider the need to improve the nation’s cybersecurity footing. Some military officials have grudgingly accepted the need to contribute personnel to an expanded cybersecurity force. There are also differences over how much control the combatant commands will have over cyber teams.
The “combat mission” teams may help commanders in operations such as a cyber component to disable an enemy’s command-and-control system before a conventional attack. Each region will have teams that focus on particular threats — say, from China or Iran.
“You get the resource guys sucking a lot of air through their teeth because they know their service chiefs have backed it,” one Navy official said. “So they have to find the resources to pay for the people.”
Alignment with NSA
Some military and defense officials question whether the Cyber Command can reach its full potential as a military command as long as it is so dependent on the NSA and is led by the NSA’s director. The close relationship between the two has had its advantages, officials say: The agency can peer into foreign networks and provide the command with intelligence, including in cases in which an adversary is suspected of planning a computer attack or developing a potent virus.
“That gives you an advantage of being able to plan for and be prepared to react,” the defense official said.
But the NSA is so intertwined with the Cyber Command — the two operations centers are located side by side, and, until recently, some Cyber Command personnel had nsa.gov e-mail addresses — that some current and former officials wonder whether the military command can create an independent, strategic doctrine. The concern is that the intelligence agency’s priorities will dominate, with an emphasis on the development of tools that are useful for surveillance but not necessarily for disrupting adversaries.
There’s a “cogent argument” to be made that for the Cyber Command to become a true military command, “you sever that” relationship, one military official said.
But, in fact, said one former intelligence official, the NSA uses military personnel to do much of its work and pays for a good portion of the services’ cyber operators. “That’s been the plan all along,” the former official said. “Take the talent resident in NSA, turn it into [cyber] attack talent.”
With the decision to expand the Cyber Command, Alexander, who has been asked to stay on until summer 2014, is seeing some of his vision fulfilled. He has sought independent budget authority for the Cyber Command to hire and control forces, similar to the way Special Operations Command can. He has not won that authority, though officials agreed to give him the additional forces. He also has the support of senior Pentagon officials to elevate the Cyber Command to full command status, out from under the aegis of Strategic Command. But that move, which requires consulting with Congress, is not happening just yet, officials say.