The History & Future of the U.S. Cyber Command

The U.S. Cyber Command or USCYBERCOM is part of the U. S military located at Fort Meade (Md) whose primary objective is to monitor and manage the existing cyberspace operations. Alongside, it is charged with ensuring the security, integrity, and governance of government and military IT infrastructure and assets (including Internet operations).

The way U.S. Cyber Command makes sure all the above is achieved is through continuous monitoring and maintenance, along with analyzing, building, and implementing extremely strict information security policies. At the moment, U.S Cyber Command is fully capable of performing full scale cyberspace operations to combat any attempt to attack specified Department of Defense Information Networks (DoDIN) and cyberspace while also protecting the entire nation against cyber attacks and providing support to commanders so that they can securely execute their missions around the world. In executing such critical missions, the command collaborates with international and interagency partners.

Facts About USCYBERCOM

You may also hear it referred to as U. S. Army Cyber Command or U.S Second Army Command and was initiated in 2009, although its FOC (Full Operational Capability) was achieved later in 2010. It has several service elements, such as Air Force Cyber Command (AFCYBER), Fleet Cyber Command (FLTCYBER), and Army Cyber Command (ARCYBER), among others. Right now, USCYBERCOM has more than 700 employees (military and civilian) and also has its own cyber units (the goal is to have around 6,000 personnel and 133 fully operational teams).

An Autonomous USCYBERCOM: How Possible is it?

During the past few months, there have been efforts to split USCYBERCOM from the National Security Agency (NSA) so that it is a warfighting command rather than an organization subservient to the intelligence community. In fact, President Trump is now finalized plans to revamp the command in hopes of strengthening the county’s ability to wage cyberwar against terrorist groups, hackers, and other nation states.

The idea behind making USCYBERCOM an independent military command is to give it more autonomy as working with the highly-secretive NSA comes with significant constraints considering that the NSA’s responsibility to monitor and collect intelligence data (i.e. internet and telephone information) sometimes comes into conflict with the military operations against foe forces. That aside, an independent cyber military command is believed to be able to equal battles conducted in digital space with the ones given at sea, in the air, on land, and in space.

However, the separation from the NSA is not as easy as it may sound given that the National Security Agency has unique and important capabilities. For example, it not only has a gigantic so-called super computer, but also 300 of the country’s leading mathematicians; both of which are extremely difficult to duplicate. Also, the fact that USCYBERCOM is housed at the spy agency’s headquarters at Fort Meade, Md., makes the command dependent on the NSA for intelligence and capabilities. For that reason, it will probably take some time before USCYBERCOM can find its footing and operate as an independent entity.

On the other side, the use of cyber as a tactical weapon is not new to the U.S.A. In fact, the U.S has been operating in cyberspace for quite some time now, collecting information, assisting conventional military missions, and disrupting enemy networks, although in stealth mode.

But, the Defense Department appears rather troubled with the idea of such a separation, and believes that the intelligence community and the NSA are more powerful against aggressive forms of cyber warfare, especially after the Islamic State* has become an organization with a global recruiting network, and holder of key territories across Syria and Iraq.

*In 2015, then-Defense Secretary suggested the command undertook a campaign against the digital networks of the Islamic State. The command also carried out a campaign to sabotage the Islamic State’s online propaganda and videos, in late 2016. The results from these two campaigns were mixed.

Breaking Away from NSA: What to Expect

According to Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Global Security, a new leader will be nominated and confirmed before USCYBERCOM can become a unified command. For the time being, and for the next 12 months or so, the NSA director and head of the command is the same person, Navy Adm. Michael S. Rogers.

President Trump’s elevation of USCYBERCOM to the status of a Unified Combatant Command cyber warfighting is believed to bring cyber to the front lines, making the capability usable and scalable by the soldier. In other words, soldiers of the front lines should be able to be trained to use cyber weapons systems. This is perceived as an important step towards turning USCYBERCOM into a mainstream tactical military capability.

However, nothing can be finalized until the Pentagon studies the separation from NSA and decides that it will not pose unacceptable risk, according to the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (Sec.1642).

What Needs to Be Done

It seems that the undertaking to prepare the nation and the US military to meet cybersecurity challenges still has lots of obstacles before its successful completion. Clear policies and strategies for responding to and deterring cyber threats must be developed. It is also critical to be able to protect and defend the country from cyberattacks efficiently, which makes the development of a whole-of-government approach more than necessary. Plus, it is also paramount to clarify the roles of the rest of the US government in a cyber war.

As one can easily understand, the separation of responsibilities between the command and the NSA should be done successfully so that each agency can emerge more capable and effective as a result. This is proposed to be doable through a close collaboration between the administration and the Congress.

Nevertheless, one of the biggest problems is to manage to split the agencies’ overlapping Title 50 and Title 10 responsibilities which are handled by a single person, considering that most of the best technology and talent is in NSA. If we also take into account the fact that the NSA cannot wage war while USCYBERCOM can, it becomes apparent that having a single person juggling two jobs with very different responsibilities can only complicate things and should be properly addressed.

Photo credits: defense.gov

 

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