Strategic Trump Plan Elevates Military Command to Oversee Cyberoperations

The decision to create a separate cyber command “demonstrates our increased resolve against cyberspace threats and will help reassure our allies and partners and deter our adversaries,” Trump said in a statement.

by W.J. Hennigan, Tribune Washington Bureau / August 21, 2017
The National Security Agency is located at Fort Meade, Md. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

(TNS) -- WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump announced plans Friday to elevate the Pentagon’s Cyber Command to the status of a unified combatant command next year, part of a strategic shift to emphasize cyberoffense for future combat and counterterrorism operations.

The move will place cyberoperations on the same level as the Pentagon’s nine other combatant commands, which are all led by four-star generals or admirals.

It represents a historic expansion of America’s war-fighting strategy and power projection. No other nation has publicly acknowledged using cyber for operations, although U.S. officials say it is part of the military doctrine for Russia, China, Iran and North Korea.

The decision to create a separate cyber command “demonstrates our increased resolve against cyberspace threats and will help reassure our allies and partners and deter our adversaries,” Trump said in a statement.

It “will also ensure that critical cyberspace operations are adequately funded” by Congress, he said.

Other unified combatant commands are assigned to senior officers who oversee operations in a specific geographical area, such the Middle East, or a military function, such as special operations.

Cyber Command, known as Cybercom at the Pentagon, falls in the latter category. Defense Secretary James N. Mattis has not yet named a commander to head it.

Cybercom has operated since 2009 under U.S. Strategic Command, which oversees the nuclear arsenal. It operates closely with the National Security Agency, which is both a Department of Defense and an Intelligence agency.

Trump’s announcement said the shift to a separate command should be complete by October 2018.

Mattis will review whether to separate the new command from the NSA. His predecessor, Ashton Carter, as well as James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, both favored breaking them apart.

Adm. Michael S. Rogers currently serves as head of both the NSA and Cybercom. Both are headquartered at Fort Meade in Maryland.

Lt. Gen. William C. Mayville, who now serves as director of operations for the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, is likely to lead the new command, according to U.S. officials who weren’t authorized to speak publicly.

Kenneth P. Rapuano, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and global security, emphasized that elevating Cybercom to a separate command is a “natural next step.”

Military-led digital assaults are regularly integrated in large battlefield operations. The Pentagon admitted for the first time last year that U.S. commanders had mounted cyberoffensives against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, praised the decision, but he cautioned that more effort is needed to confront the cybersecurity threat posed by foreign adversaries.

“We must develop a clear policy and strategy for deterring and responding to cyberthreats,” McCain said in a statement. “We must also develop an integrated, whole-of-government approach to protect and defend the United States from cyberattacks.”

©2017 Los Angeles Times Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.