Debate Brewing Over U.S. Cyber Command Status
PORTSMOUTH, Va. – U.S. Cyber Command could soon be elevated to a full-fledged combatant command, according to a recently retired flag officer.
Rear Adm. Sinclair Harris, whose retirement ceremony took place earlier this month, painted a dark picture of what is happening in the digital domain.
“We can have a discussion about whether we are at war in cyber space if you want, but while we’re intellectually twiddling our thumbs, [hostile] people are taking ground,” he said Oct. 28 at a National Defense Industrial Association conference. “It’s a battle; it’s a battle we’re not doing well in.”
But all is not lost, said the former vice director for operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“The good news is I believe we’ll be making [CYBERCOM] into a full-fledged combatant command … here pretty soon,” Harris said, without providing a more specific timetable.
The bureaucratic move would put the organization on par with war fighting commands like U.S. Central Command, which is leading the air campaign against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.
CYBERCOM is currently a sub-unified command under the umbrella of U.S. Strategic Command. Breaking it off into an independent outfit could potentially enable the institution to get additional resources and boost its influence over acquisitions. The idea has gained supporters in recent years as foreign nations and non-state actors have launched countless cyber attacks against the Defense Department, other U.S. government agencies and the private sector.
Adm. Cecil Haney, whose position as commander of STRATCOM currently gives him authority over CYBERCOM, has not been a strong advocate of a reorganization.
“I’m not opposed to having Cyber Command as its own unified command, based upon the threats coming our way,” he said at a breakfast with reporters in Washington, D.C. earlier this month. “I’m concerned that we make sure the investments that we make get at the capability that we need first and foremost, though, as we work our way through that journey.”
The Defense Department’s cyber forces are responsible for protecting DoD networks, systems and information; defending the United States and its interests against cyber attacks of “significant consequence” and providing capabilities to support military operations, according to the Pentagon’s latest cyber strategy. Senior military officials have said that cyber is as important a domain as air, sea, land and space.
But the Defense Department has more to do as it tries to beef up its capabilities in the digital realm, Haney said.
“My priority right now has been to build up our cyber workforce,” he said. “We are not there yet and we’ve been working on this for a couple of years now.”