Washingon's new U.S. Cyber Command is prepped and ready but is still waiting for Senate approval of its new commander before it can open for business.
The new command would unify and administer the U.S. Department of Defense's vast computer networks to better defend against cyberattacks. In June, Defense Secretary Robert Gates approved the creation of Cyber Command as a unified, sub-division of U.S. Strategic Command to operate the Defense Department's information resources of 15,000 computer networks across 4,000 military bases in 88 countries.
Cyber Command is seen within the Defense Department as a vital reorganization needed to integrate its vast network of computing resources, which are currently operated separately. Appearing last week before the House Armed Services Committee's subcommittee on strategic forces, Air Force Gen. Kevin Chilton, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, stressed the need to move away from the current segregation of resources.
"This segregation detracts from natural synergies and ignores our experience in organizing to operate in the air, land, sea, and space domains," said. "The establishment of U.S. CyberCom will remedy this problem in the cyber domain."
Army Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander, currently the director of the National Security Agency at Fort Meade, Md., has been nominated to run U.S. CyberCom. If confirmed, Alexander would be charged with commanding both the NSA and CyberCom and be promoted to a full general.
Since CyberCom is an internal reorganization, the Defense Department does not need approval from Congress to establish it. The defense secretary has the authority to do this on his own. However, the Defense Department has taken the effort to brief the appropriate congressional committees on its plans for CyberCom, according to a representative from the House Armed Services Committee.
But the nomination of Alexander to be promoted to a 4-star general and assigned the role of commander does need Senate confirmation, a process that's ongoing.
Further, most concerns over the initial operating capability of CyberCom have been addressed, according to the spokesperson. But questions remain about its future role and makeup. How will someone balance the dual roles of CyberCom commander and NSA director? And though the House Armed Services Committee may feel Alexander is up to the task of juggling both jobs, will the Defense Department have a source of future 4-star generals qualified to take on this challenge?
The Senate Armed Services Committee has posed a variety of questions to the Defense Department concerning its plans for CyberCom, according to a statement from Lt. Col. Eric Butterbaugh, a spokesman for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs. In particular, the committee has asked about its pending relationship with the NSA and has requested answers to all its questions before it can consider Alexander's nomination.
In response, Defense Department officials have met with staff from the committee, said Butterbaugh, and remains committed to answering any future questions. On its end, the Defense Department is hoping for a quick confirmation.
"The DOD looks forward to establishing this critical command as soon as the Senate confirms Lt. Gen. Alexander as its first commander," said Butterbaugh. "Improving the protection of military information networks in the 21st century is an urgent priority for the DOD."