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Changes are expected in the US military cybersecurity infrastructure. After months of delay, the Trump administration is finalizing plans to revamp US military command for defensive and offensive cyber operations in hopes of intensifying America’s ability to wage cyberwar against the Islamic State group and other foes.
Under the plans, U.S. Cyber Command would eventually be split off from the intelligence-focused National Security Agency. According to newsinfo.inquirer.net, officials said the goal is to give U.S. Cyber Command more autonomy, freeing it from any constraints that stem from working alongside the NSA, which is responsible for monitoring and collecting telephone, internet and other intelligence data from around the world — a responsibility that can sometimes clash with military operations against enemy forces.
Making cyber an independent military command will put the fight in digital space on the same footing as more traditional realms of battle on land, in the air, at sea and in space.
The move reflects the escalating threat of cyberattacks and intrusions from other nation states, terrorist groups and hackers, and comes as the U.S. faces ever-widening fears about Russian hacking following Moscow’s efforts to meddle in the 2016 American election.
During Obama’s presidency, the Defense Department has been agitating for a separation, perceiving the NSA and intelligence community as resistant to more aggressive cyberwarfare, particularly after the Islamic State’s transformation in recent years from an obscure insurgent force into an organization holding significant territory across Iraq and Syria and with a worldwide recruiting network.
While the military wanted to attack IS networks, intelligence objectives prioritized gathering information from them, according to U.S. officials familiar with the debate.
Then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter sent a plan to Obama last year to make Cyber Command an independent military headquarters and break it away from the NSA. After President Donald Trump’s inauguration, officials said Defense Secretary Jim Mattis endorsed much of the plan. But debate over details has dragged on for months.
It’s unclear how fast the Cyber Command will break off on its own. Some officials believe the new command isn’t battle-ready, given its current reliance on the NSA’s expertise, staff and equipment. That effort will require the department to continue to attract and retain cyber experts.
Cyber Command was created in 2009 by the Obama administration to address threats of cyber espionage and other attacks. It was set up as a sub-unit under U.S. Strategic Command to coordinate the Pentagon’s ability to conduct cyberwarfare and to defend its own networks, including those that are used by combat forces in battle.
Since then, the command has grown to more than 700 military and civilian employees. The military services also have their own cyber units, with a goal of having 133 fully operational teams with as many as 6,200 personnel. Its proposed budget for next year is $647 million.