24.2.17

Pentagon Begins to Assess Split of NSA and Cyber Command

Lawmakers and Pentagon officials are looking into the possibility of separating the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command. Currently both organizations reside in Fort Meade, Maryland under a “dual-hat” arrangement with Admiral Mike Rogers at the helm of both. The announcement came in the form of a memo issued by Secretary of Defense James Mattis on Wednesday, asking for a plan to better support information management and cyber operations.

The Cipher Take: Since its establishment in 2009, Cyber Command has depended on the resources and expertise of the NSA to function. However, given the NSA’s focus on signals intelligence collection and information security, and Cyber Command’s lean toward cyber warfare capabilities, it is likely the two will split eventually. In December, Congress passed a bill elevating Cyber Command to a unified combatant command and no longer an operations unit under Strategic Command. The legislation, however, stopped short of separating the cyber warfare unit from the NSA. The fear is that by getting rid of the dual-hat arrangement, the sharing and cooperation that takes place between the two organizations will occur less and less – a form of operational stove piping. It could also cause professional turf wars, as the same tactics used for espionage are also used for military operations, and military operations could infringe on the ability to collect intelligence. There would need to be a comprehensive impact assessment before such a split takes place, but ultimately it is a matter of when, not if.

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