New Cyber COCOM Likely

UPDATED: With resignation of leader of the National Cybersecurity Center. The Pentagon is likely to take the rare action of adding a new combatant commander, this one for cyber warfare. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been considering the idea of a cyber COCOM for months and he is likely to move on this soon after the White House finishes a 60-day cyber security study.

UPDATED: With resignation of leader of the National Cybersecurity Center.

The Pentagon is likely to take the rare action of adding a new combatant commander, this one for cyber warfare. COCOMs, as they are known, are the four-star generals who actually plan and fight the nation’s wars.

And in a sign of just how turbulent the battle over who will control cyber warfare has become, the head of the National Cybersecurity Center — in effect the top cyber official at DHS — has resigned. Rod Beckström has spoken out against the idea of having the NSA lead cyber issues. A close observer of the cyber world told me over the weekend that Beckström’s resignation appeared to come in reaction to recent statements by Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair supporting NSA as the lead federal agency on cyber warfare and security issues.

“Given Beckstrom’s words against NSA and the statement that Adm. Blair made about 10 days ago strongly advocating NSA having a leading role, he probably felt that he couldn’t move this where he wanted it to go,” our observer noted. The crux of the matter, as so often in Washington, was money. “ODNI controls the money that goes to DHS in this area,” the source said. Click here to read Blair’s comments before the House Permanent Select Intelligence Committee.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been considering the idea of a cyber COCOMs for months and several senior cyberwarfare officials said he is likely to move on this soon after the White House finishes a 60-day study underway on the major policy, strategic, organizational and operational issues facing the country when it comes to cyber war and cyber security.

The Joint Chiefs, comprised of the service heads, have no combat authority. They train, prepare and equip the nation’s warriors.

The one conventional capability that spans the globe, cyber warfare currently is the responsibility of Strategic Command, which hands off most of the day-today duties to the National Security Agency. And StratCom, which has the command lead, lacks funding for the mission.

“StratCom has the UCP [Unified Command Plan] authority, but the services have the money and that is not the right structure for a warfighting system,” Vice Adm. Nancy Brown, the Joint Staff’s director for C4 systems, told the conference.

The 60-day study is led by Melissa Hathaway, acting senior director for cyberspace for the National Security and Homeland Security councils. This is all part of a final effort to resolve a major stumbling block to effective cooperation and policymaking — stubborn battles between the NSA, Strategic Command, services and the Defense Information Systems Agency over just who has the biggest cyber muscles on the block.

The frustrations about this battle were addressed head-on during a cyber conference held Friday by the National Defense Industrial Association.

“I think we have the sense that we are stuck,” Rear Adm. William Leigher, director of information operations at Naval intelligence. He said “numerous tank sessions” about the issue had been held which did not always yield results.

“We need to figure out what are our priorities and I don’t think we have done that very well yet,” said Rosemary Wenchel, director of information operations and strategic studies for the undersecretary of defense for intelligence.

But Leigher and his fellow panelists at the NDIA conference believe senior policymakers have gradually absorbed the truth that cyber operations are crucial to the US military and intelligence and must be effectively managed in terms of war fighting, not as an administrative or commercial operation.

“I would sure like to get past the idea of who is going to do this and get on with the business of doing it,” Air Force Brig. Gen. Susan Helms, StratCom’s director of plans and policy, said to vigorous “hear hears” from her fellow panelists..

Once a decision is made about who will lead the federal government’s efforts, the panelists agreed that the “public face” must be a civilian entity, either the Department of Homeland Security or a senior White House position.