Thursday, May 30, 2013

US Defense Cyber Strategy: To Elevate CYBERCOM as a Combatant Command or to Not Elevate

Over the past year, the news media has reported on the possible elevation of US CYBERCOM, the arm of the US Department of Defense in charge of cybersecurity for the military, from under STRATCOM to a full combatant command. Recently, an article was published by Reuters concerning GEN Alexander who is the current commanding General of CYBERCOM and also the director of the NSA (Shalal-Esa 1). In this article it not only provided a brief biography of the general, but also his take on the strategy to elevate the command to a higher status. 

So what does this mean? If CYBERCOM were to become its own combatant command, it would be on equal footing with the other military combatant commands. These include the regional commands as well as the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and other commands established to oversee other military operations such as nuclear deterrence and global transportation (Carroll 1). The commanding general of CYBERCOM would no longer be subordinate to the STRATCOM commanding general, but instead a peer and on equal terms. He would be able to make the same decisions as a commander of the other major military commands. He would be directly below and take orders from the Secretary of Defense, not another combatant commander. 

Gen Alexander as the head of both CYBERCOM and the NSA has a unique dual-hatted role. He can leverage the arm of the military in cyberoperations as well as the role of the NSA in anti-espionage roles and in intelligence gathering (Shalal-Esa 1). He can perform necessary operations without having to reach to other combatant commanders or government organizations in order to accomplish the nation’s cyber goals and to defend the nation’s networks from outside threats. Many critics believe this gives one man too much power. Other critics are fearful of the NSA being used to spy on American citizens in the name of tracking down terrorists (Shalal-Esa 1). This is not necessarily the case. A single command with both the power of the intelligence community and the arm of the military in order to defend the nation’s networks is an incredible asset. The dual-hatted role allows for the detection of the threat and then the immediate action to stop the threat. There are no bureaucratic loop holes to jump through that take time in a domain where everything happens at the speed of an electron. He can react and prevent or stop a threat in a relevant amount of time, which would not be possible without the dual hats. 

Gen Alexander is pushing for the elevation of CYBERCOM to a combatant command and to keep the dual-hatted role. He hopes to see this by the time he retires next year (Shalal-Esa 1). Another option would be to elevate CYBERCOM, but separate the director of the NSA from the combatant command. The option always exists to do nothing and to leave the command as it is, but is that a real viable option in the era of increasing cyber threat to the nation? With these options, what would really be the best route?  These are options to a long term strategy for the nation and its military that will have lasting effects. 

Carroll, Chris. “Should Cyber Warfare Be Elevated to Highest Command Structure?” Stars and Stripes. Stars and Stripes. 30 Apr. 2013. Web. 30 May 2013.
Shalal-Esa, Andrea. “Four-star General in Eye of U.S. Cyber Storm | Reuters.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters. 26 May 2013. Web. 30 May 2013.

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