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

US Pentagon’s top general says COVID-19 has natural origins, but questions remain

Mark MilleyThe United States Department of Defense’s top general has said that “the weight of evidence” gathered by Western spy agencies points to COVID-19 having “natural” origins, but this is not yet conclusive. Ever since the emergence of the novel coronavirus, prominent scientists have dismissed rumors that it could be a synthesized bioweapon. According to reports, this question is being carefully examined by Western intelligence agencies.

At a press conference on Tuesday, US Army General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was asked by a reporter whether the Pentagon had “any evidence that the [novel corona]virus began in a Chinese lab and maybe was released accidentally”. General Milley response was as follows: “There’s a lot of rumor and speculation in a wide variety of media, blog sites, etc. It should be no surprise to you that we’ve taken a keen interest in that and we’ve had a lot of intelligence [experts] take a hard look at that. At this point it’s inconclusive, although the weight of evidence seems to indicate natural. But”, added the general, “we don’t know for certain”.

On the same day General Milley made these comments, an extensive report on the subject by Yahoo News’ National Security and Investigations Reporter Jenna McLaughlin said that the US Intelligence Community continued to actively gather information on the outbreak. Citing “nine current and former intelligence and national security officials familiar with ongoing investigations” on the novel coronavirus, McLaughlin said that American intelligence agencies had been gathering information on the outbreak “as early as November” of last year. Scientists working for US spy agencies had quickly dismissed the theory that the virus had been deliberately weaponized. A consensus appears to be forming that the virus is “of natural origin”, according to the report.

However, American and other Western spy agencies are “still weighing the possibility” that the virus may have escaped from a government laboratory in Wuhan, where it was being studied by scientists. McLaughlin quotes one American intelligence official who says: “we are actively and vigorously tracking down every piece of information we get on this topic [and] are writing frequently to update policymakers”. At this point, adds the official, the US Intelligence Community “has not come down on any one theory”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 April 2020 | Permalink

Pentagon leaders see COVID-19 crisis lasting months, destabilizing regions

Mark Esper MilleyThe United States Department of Defense is working under the assumption that the COVID-19 epidemic will seriously affect the life of the country for “at least several months”, and might cause “political chaos” in parts of the world. This was stated during a virtual town hall for members of the US Armed Forces, which was hosted on Tuesday by Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley.

General Milley told participants that the Pentagon was planning “for this to be a few months at least”. He added that, according to all indications, the US was looking at “eight to 10, maybe 12 weeks —something like three months” of confronting serious disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. It could be “as late as July”, said Milley, and assured the audience that the Department of Defense was “taking all precautionary measures to be in it for the long-haul”.

Both speakers speculated that the pandemic could destabilize a number of countries around the world, and that the ensuing lack of security could pose threats to US interests. Milley pointed out that acute shortages of critical medical equipment, such as respirators, gloves, masks and ventilators, could cause certain countries to spiral into instability that will “go well beyond the immediate medical issues” and “lead to political chaos”.

On Wednesday, Brigadier General Dr. Paul Friedrichs, who serves as the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joint Staff Surgeon (the Pentagon’s most senior medical professional), said that COVID-19 was spreading too quickly for experts to determine how many troops would eventually end up contracting the disease. However, Dr. Friedrichs cautioned against lightening any restrictions on social distancing before sufficient time passes to “make a dent” on infection rates. Doing so “could be disastrous”, he warned.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 March 2020 | Permalink