Congress plans on elevating the status of the U.S. Cyber Command, the cyberspace division of the armed forces, by making it its own fully unified department — a move signaling the U.S. military officially considers the internet a battle space, like air, land, space and sea.
After the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) passed the House and Senate committees Friday, the bill mandated that the secretary of defense create a separate military-ready contingent for cyber-operations, according to C4ISRNET.
The Pentagon now seems poised to intensify cyber initiatives not only to defend the country’s military networks and electronic infrastructure, but also to join forces with other kinds of attacks on the enemy.
Military operations in the future, for example, are likely to encompass more than just a confluence of air and land, or a trifecta of air, land and sea. Offensive campaigns could include tetramerous action with cyber capabilities as a critical weapon.
The Cyber Command would still fall under the umbrella of the National Security Agency (NSA).
In general, the NSA is a spying agency that eavesdrops on electronic communications in order to collect intelligence on enemies and their potentially nefarious cyber activities.
The Cyber Command’s overarching purpose is to defend America’s highly inter-connected infrastructure from cyberattacks.
Sen. John McCain, who is the original sponsor of the NDAA and the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, promised to block the official appointment of a cybersecurity official if President Barack Obama’s administration partitioned the Cyber Command from the NSA.
“I do not believe rushing to separate the ‘dual hat’ in the final months of an administration is appropriate, given the very serious challenges we face in cyberspace,” McCain said at a hearing in September, according to Reuters.
The former Navy captain worries that getting rid of the “dual hat,” the leadership of one person over two entities, will cause jurisdictional squabbles between the NSA and the Cyber Command when the two institutions should be working together.
The head of both organizations, Admiral Michael Rogers, voiced his opposition to severing the dual hat, but did concede that it will happen at some point down the line.
“I’ve been very public about saying I believe in the long run the right thing is to keep these two aligned, but to separate them,” Rogers said at the Intelligence & National Security Summit in September, according to C4ISRNET.
“As Cyber Command, particularly, gains more capacity and more capability, the demand on Cyber Command’s time, resources and capabilities just continue to grow. I just think you need two people, full time, focused on this, but even as we do that, you’re going need to keep these closely aligned.”
The question of when or if the Cyber Command will come out of the purview of the NSA is the next step for internal military organization.
But by elevating the Cyber Command out of the U.S. Strategic Command’s scope and into its (almost) own authority, the U.S. military is now indicating that it is ready for cyber-operations to be used for the offensive.
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