White House seeks to split Pentagon cybersecurity functions from signals intelligence

NSATHE WHITE HOUSE IS reportedly trying to implement what could be one of the most important changes in the United States Department of Defense in recent years, by separating the cybersecurity functions from its signals intelligence functions. Until 2009, the US National Security Agency (NSA) was in charge of protecting America’s cyber networks and combating online threats. But in 2009 the administration of US President Barack Obama determined that the online environment represented a new theater of war and established a brand new Cyber Command (CYBERCOM).

Since that time, these two agencies, NSA and CYBERCOM, have been operated in parallel and have been led by the same director, who is always a four-star military officer. Moreover, CYBERCOM has historically relied on NSA’s impressive technical infrastructure and cyber arsenal. But there are some in government, especially those who support a more offensive US cyber posture, who have championed the view that CYBERCOM should be removed from the NSA’s command structure, and should operate as a completely separate agency. The administration of US President Donald Trump pushed this idea in 2017, but strong resistance from the NSA prevented it from materializing.

Now, however, the Trump administration appears determined to implement this proposed split, despite strong resistance from NSA’s leadership. Citing anonymous US officials, Defense One reported last week that the White House had sent Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley and Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller documents detailing the proposed split. The two men are required to consent to the proposal before its implementation is officially authorized.

Acting Secretary Miller is believed to be in support of the move, according to several sources. However, General Milley has previously voiced support for the logic behind the existing close operational relationship between NSA and CYBERCOM. Therefore, some believe he may decide to stall on the proposal, thus waiting for the Trump administration to transition out of power. On Sunday a spokesman for Milley said that the General had “not reviewed, nor endorsed, any proposal to split CYBERCOM and NSA”.

According to reports, there are some at the Pentagon who feel strongly that the decision to split CYBERCOM from NSA should be left to the incoming administration. Nevertheless, the Trump administration seems determined to demonstrate that it can enact sweeping changes in the Department of Defense, as demonstrated by its recent decision to scale down significantly America’s military footprint in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 December 2020 | Permalink

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