Cyber Command: Observers worry about unintended consequences

DOD, NSA offer formidable pairing, experts say

The Defense Department’s new U.S. Cyber Command is now the cybersecurity heavyweight in the government division, according to numerous media accounts.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other Defense Department officials have emphasized that the new organization, which will be commanded by the director of the National Security Agency (NSA), would have a clearly defined role: Protecting military networks and conducting offensive cyber operations against hostile forces (read GCN’s news story here).

But the sheer size and importance of DOD’s military operations have caused some observers to wonder about how big an effect the Cyber Command might have outside its own domain.

The Washington Post quotes analysts who say Gates announced the command in a memo, rather than in a speech, in an “effort to tamp down concerns that the Defense Department and the NSA will dominate efforts to protect the nation's computer networks.”

The Post also offers up this tidbit:

"Is it going to be the dominant player by default because the Department of Homeland Security is weak and this new unit will be strong?" said James Lewis, a cybersecurity expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "That's a legitimate question, and I think DOD will resist having that happen. But there are issues of authorities that haven't been cleared up. What authorities does DOD have to do things outside the dot-mil space?"

Meanwhile, in Computerworld, Alan Paller, director of research at SANS Institute, wonders if the partnership between DOD and NSA could hamper other cybersecurity initiatives.

It is possible that the new command will "so militarize the Information Assurance Division of NSA" that it could harm the public-private partnerships that are important for security, he says. But otherwise, Paller considers the new command a "spectacular idea."

Other observers are concerned about the diplomatic ramifications of the taking military operations into cyberspace, according to the New York Times.

“I can’t reiterate enough that this is not about the militarization of cyber,” said Bryan Whitman, a DOD spokesman, in discussing Gates’ order on Tuesday.

“This is an internal Department of Defense reorganization,” Whitman said. “It is focused only on military networks to better consolidate and streamline Department of Defense capabilities into a single command.”

About the Author

John Monroe is Senior Events Editor for the 1105 Public Sector Media Group, where he is responsible for overseeing the development of content for print and online content, as well as events. John has more than 20 years of experience covering the information technology field. Most recently he served as Editor-in-Chief of Federal Computer Week. Previously, he served as editor of three sister publications: civic.com, which covered the state and local government IT market, Government Health IT, and Defense Systems.

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