Gates Defines Military Cyber Command's Role

Military Stands Up CYBERCOM as Its Latest Command
Gates Defines Military Cyber Command's Role
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, at a ceremony giving Army Gen. Keith Alexander his fourth star, reemphasized the limits of a new cyber military command in helping safeguard civilian IT systems.

Alexander (at left, with Gates), who had been director of the National Security Agency since 2005, won Senate confirmation earlier this month for the additional job as the first military cyber commander.

"The purpose and jurisdiction of this command is clear: to defend the military's operational networks against attacks," Gates said Friday in prepared remarks. "Overcoming the wider cyber threat to America's economy and society will require a whole-of-government approach, with CYBERCOM in a supporting role. As such, Gen. Alexander will coordinate this command's efforts the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the NSA and other stakeholders."

Gates remarks were aimed, in part, to put at ease those who feel the military is becoming too influential over civilian aspects of IT security, especially considering that one individual oversees the military cyber defense as well as the NSA, the super-electronics spy agencies run by the Defense Department.

The Defense secretary praised Alexander's leadership in transforming the NSA from its Cold War posture to that of an organization capable of meeting diverse, unconventional and ever-changing threats. "Gen. Alexander has the experience, the expertise and the agility to lead CYBERCOM to success," Gates said. "And success in the coming years is critical. Our nation as a whole has become ever more dependent on computer systems and networks, and so has our military. The intelligence, logistics, weapons technologies and other capabilities we have gained are enormous, and critical to maintaining U.S. military supremacy."

The ceremony also marked the standup of the military cyber command, which will centralize the military's cyberspace operations. Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn said the cyber domain is as important as the land, sea, air and space domains to the military, and protecting military networks is crucial to the Defense Department's success on the battlefield.

In comments made before the ceremony, as reported by the American Forces Press Service, Lynn said America's military in more dependent on IT than any other military in the world. "We want to be able to maintain those advantages and protect the military missions, and that is the main mission of cyber command, to protect the military networks," Lynn said. "It will have a role, though, in protecting the government's networks and critical infrastructure."

By giving its leader a fourth star, Lynn said the cyber commander can deal with the combatant commands on an equal basis. A new law grants the flag officer who heads the NSA and CYBERCOM a fourth star, the military's highest rank in non-wartime. The officer heading the NSA, prior to the new law, had been granted a third star. The military limits the number of four-star generals and admirals, and the top rank is often reserved for specific assignments as outlined by federal statute, such as the chairman and members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Some 1,000 people will work at cyber command at Fort Meade, Md., where the NSA also is based, most shifting over from existing task forces.

Friday's ceremony marked the command's attainment of initial operations capability. "That didn't happen in isolation," Lynn said. "We've been training people up, we've had task forces, we've made investments - this is sort of a capping step." Full capability is set for Oct. 1.

About the Author

Eric Chabrow

Eric Chabrow

Retired Executive Editor, GovInfoSecurity

Chabrow, who retired at the end of 2017, hosted and produced the semi-weekly podcast ISMG Security Report and oversaw ISMG's GovInfoSecurity and InfoRiskToday. He's a veteran multimedia journalist who has covered information technology, government and business.

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