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June 25, 2009
Notes from the Pentagon

New Cybercom
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates' directive ordering the creation of a new military cybercommand is expected to trigger a debate over whether U.S. military war fighters or the intelligence community will dominate computer warfare in the future.

Warning of a "growing array of cyber threats and vulnerabilities," Mr. Gates on Tuesday directed the U.S. Strategic Command to set up the military's first command devoted to waging computer warfare and protecting military and defense networks from electronic attack.

"To address this risk effectively and to secure freedom of action in cyberspace, the Department of Defense requires a command that possesses the required technical capability and remains focused on the integration of cyberspace operations," Mr. Gates said in a memorandum to top military and defense leaders.

"Further, this command must be capable of synchronizing warfighting effects across the global security environment, as well as providing support to civil authorities and international partners," Mr. Gates said.

Air Force Gen. Kevin P. Chilton, the current U.S. Strategic Command leader, was charged with setting up the new command by October. Also, in connection with recent White House cybersecurity efforts, Michele A. Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy, will lead a policy and strategy review "to develop a comprehensive approach to DoD cyberspace operations," he said.

Cyberwarfare specialists said the process of setting up the cybercommand is likely to trigger a vigorous debate over whether the command will be a war-fighting command or an intelligence-gathering command.

Currently, the U.S. intelligence community and the National Security Agency in particular dominate U.S. military cyberactivities and receive most of the nearly $18 billion spent annually on cyberoperations.

If the command ends up being dominated by the NSA and the intelligence community, it could damage U.S. cyberwar-fighting capabilities, some analysts warned.

John Wheeler, a specialist on cyberwarfare and former special assistant to former Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne, said setting up the new command is likely to trigger a debate over how to operate in the new war-fighting domain, a debate similar to earlier military debates about air power and underwater warfare.

However, Mr. Wheeler said the key will be the new commander, Lt. Gen. Keith B. Alexander, director of NSA.

"As long as the president provides an empowered commander like Eisenhower, Marshall and MacArthur, then it will work," Mr. Wheeler said. "The good news is Keith Alexander operates in both domains. He is a war fighter in his DNA."

However, Mr. Wheeler stated that placing the new command next to NSA is a bad idea. "Intel persons are not war fighters," he said. "Keith's headquarters should be in Texas or California or Colorado or North Carolina, for example."

Edward T. Timperlake, a former director of technology assessment in the office of the undersecretary of defense for technology, also said that cyberspace must remain "first and foremost" a war-fighting battle space, as well as a law enforcement domain.

"The intelligence community has an important role but should not be in command of all things cyber," Mr. Timperlake said.

Kenneth deGraffrenreid, a former intelligence official, said the new command must be able to do both -- security and intelligence-related work as well as military operations, depending on circumstances.

"The answer is not an either-or proposition, but lies in both functions, and the new command will only be effective if there is good leadership," Mr. deGraffenreid said.

A copy of Mr. Gates' memo was obtained by Inside the Ring and states that the new U.S. Cyber Command, dubbed USCYBERCOM in military parlance, will be a subordinate unified command under the Nebraska-based U.S. Strategic Command.

Mr. Gates said he is recommending that President Obama "re-designate" the director of the National Security Agency as both NSA director and the new four-star commander of the U.S. Cyber Command. The preferred location for the new command will be at Fort Meade, Md., where NSA headquarters is located, Mr. Gates said.

The recommendation means Gen. Alexander will likely become the first Cybercom commander and be promoted to four-star rank, a defense official said.

The computer warfare command will take the place of two units currently responsible for offensive and defense military cyber activities respectively, the Joint Task Force-Global Network Operations and the Joint Functional Component Command-Network Warfare. Both will be folded into the new command.

The military services are expected to provide "hundreds" of personnel to staff the command, said a defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the details have not been formalized.

According to Mr. Gates, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will issue planning orders for Cybercom that the secretary will approve by Sept. 1. The command will reach initial operating capability no later than October and be fully running by October 2010.

The implementation plan will outline Cybercom's roles and missions, command and control, reporting and support relations with combatant commands, the military services and U.S. government agencies.

Cybercom's war-fighting guidance will be provided under the military's Unified Command Plan.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said in an interview that "the mission of the command will be to lead, integrate and better coordinate the protection of DoD networks." Mr. Whitman said the command is part of an internal Pentagon reorganization and "is only focused on military networks." The Pentagon operates 15,000 networks and has 7 million computers, he said. "Cyber is not some sort of future threat," Mr. Whitman said. "It's a threat that is with us today. There are millions of scans on the global information grid, and there are attempts made every day to penetrate our computer systems that range from small groups and individuals, terrorists, organized crime groups, industrial spies and hackers. We also know that there are foreign governments out there trying to hack into our systems."

Mr. Gates said cyberspace "is vital to our nation's security and by extension to all aspects of military operations."

"Yet our increasing dependency on cyberspace, alongside a growing array of cyber threats and vulnerabilities, add a new element of risk to our national security," Mr. Gates said.

Creation of the military cybercommand comes nearly 10 years after China's military announced it had established an entire branch of the military dedicated to waging cyberwarfare.

China, according to defense officials, remains among the most aggressive nation states engaged in cyberdefense and offense operations.

The Chinese military announced in its official newspaper in November 1999 that China had plans for "Internet warfare" against enemy finance, commerce, communications, telecommunications and military networks. The article raised alarms at the Defense Intelligence Agency, whose director at the time, Vice Adm. Thomas R. Wilson, stated in an interview that "we are clearly interested and concerned about this whole idea of information attack."

The Chinese article stated that "it is "essential to have an all-conquering offensive technology and to develop software and technology for Net offensives so as to be able to launch attacks and countermeasures on the Net, including information-paralyzing software, information-blocking software and information-deception software."

A Chinese Embassy spokeswoman had no immediate comment.

AfPak alliances
Defense intelligence officials recently outlined the often confusing picture of the nature of insurgent forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They revealed that one of the most dangerous aspects is a network of tacit alliances among terrorists who are currently engaged in a major suicide-bombing campaign in Pakistan.

"In terms of the suicide campaign inside Pakistan, what we're seeing is a convergence of FATA-based militants led by Baitullah Mehsud and his group, supplemented, financed, probably trained, inculcated, by al Qaeda elements as well, and then helped substantially by such traditionally Punjab-based Pakistani terrorist groups as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi or Harkat-ul-Jehad-al-Islami - HUJI," said one defense official who recently briefed reporters on condition he not be identified by name. FATA refers to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in Pakistan.

The official said the convergence of terrorists has made it difficult to determine whether a particular terrorist attack was the work of a single group. Instead, suicide attacks are part of "a system," the official said.

"It's the relationship between the three elements that is producing effective suicide bombers and sustaining a suicide-bomb campaign inside Pakistan," the official said.

The other two factions are headed by Afghan-based Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar and Siraj Haqqani. Haqqani is part of a younger generation of more violent Taliban militia, and he operates in eastern Afghanistan. He is the son of the former Taliban defense minister Jalaluddin Haqqani.

Regarding al Qaeda operations in the tribal areas of Pakistan, a second defense official said the terrorist group behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks continues to operate a "network that moves propaganda messages from senior al Qaeda leaders to media outlets."

"And that's a network that ... obviously, al Qaeda wants us to see," the official said. "We're concerned about the networks that al Qaeda doesn't want us to see that are continuing to operate in the FATA. Based on the fact that we see a propaganda network operating gives us reason to assume that their training, facilitation and other operational networks are working as well."

This official said there are "great concerns" that al Qaeda is moving operatives to Europe and, in particular, Britain.

The first official noted that some of the Punjabi-based terror groups have "taken on over the last decade a more international flavor, where it was tending to be more local, either Afghan or Kashmir-focused."

"They've adopted a lot of rhetoric and thought process related to international jihad," the official said. "If you tap into foreign fighters from outside Pakistan coming and going, it's one thing. But when you have Pakistani-based groups and they may be able to pull in individuals who have dual-citizenship, that's where our level of concern goes up. It makes it easier for them to move."

In southern Afghanistan, Mullah Omar has control of insurgent forces and "can give directives to shift forces from one place to another, and the commanders are going to respond to those things."

"You don't see that as well in the East and the Northeast because what you get with all the insurgent efforts is everybody is a tribal person first, and then they support some other larger effort as part of an insurgent coalition or a syndicate.

"For example, if one regional insurgent leader asks Haqqani to send fighters to Helmand, it's probably not going to happen because Haqqani is going to make sure he takes care of Haqqani first and then supports the greater insurgency," a third defense official said.

The Haqqani forces dominate the insurgency in eastern Afghanistan, and "one of the evolutions we've seen to a degree is the Haqqani network has probably become more aggressive in the sense that the father figure has stepped back and the younger generation is taking over," this official said.

Insurgent lines get crossed in the northeast, where there are Taliban forces, some Haqqani forces and some insurgents from the group led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, along with "elements that bleed across the border on both sides of Afghanistan and Pakistan," the official said.

The three officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the material.

  • Bill Gertz covers national security affairs. He can be reached at 202/636-3274, or at

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