Plans To Divide US Cyber Command And The NSA

A Pentagon proposal to put the US’s top cyber spy agency under civilian leadership has generated complaints from lawmakers who say the idea is badly timed and against the law.

Outgoing Pentagon officials appointed by President Trump have sent a proposal to the Joint Chiefs of Staff to divide the leadership of the National Security Agency and US Cyber Command.  This would reshape defense policy by a handful of key political officials who are in acting roles in the Pentagon after Donald Trump lost his re-election bid.

A US official has confirmed that Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley and Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller have received the proposal.  With Miller expected to sign off on the move, the fate of the proposal ultimately falls to Milley, who said to Congress in 2019 that the combined leadership structure was working and should be kept in place. The post of NSA director and Cybercom commander are held by one person, currently, Gen. Paul Nakasone, in a "dual-hat" arrangement.

Cyber security and national security policy leaders have debated how and when to split that job into two positions for several years. 

The Cyber Command proposal arrives at the same time as enormous cyber hacking attacks have hit a number of federal agencies. Investigators are still working to understand what data may have been taken or compromised. Although Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has publicly linked the attack to Russia, Trump said the attacks came from China. 

White House officials had drafted a statement assigning blame to Russia for the attack and were preparing to release it but were told to stand down, according to people familiar with the plans. 

Many current and former officials say the partnership between the two spy entities is vital to sharing intelligence and resources, but critics have said the arrangement can lead to bureaucratic headaches. Some officials also say the two agencies have dueling missions that are in conflict with one another because Cyber Command focuses on offensive operations while the NSA’s chief goal is intelligence collection. Some supporters of separation think that the two agencies are simply too critical and vast for one leader to manage.

The move may be a signal that Trump might remove Nakasone as the leader of one or either agency amid frustration over the handling of the recent cyber attack, according to some officials speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak publicly. 

An administration official defended the recent spate of changes during the transition. Supporters of the split argue that keeping the two organisations under dual-leadership creates inefficiencies. Should Milley and Miller make the necessary certifications to Congress, the practical implications of the move are thought to be neither immediate nor irreversible. 

CNN:          Defense One:       Wall Street Journal

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