ational Security Agency director Adm. Mike Rogers speaks during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing about the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, on Capitol Hill in June.

ational Security Agency director Adm. Mike Rogers speaks during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing about the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, on Capitol Hill in June. Alex Brandon/AP

What the Announced NSA / Cyber Command Split Means

Cyberwar and cyber intelligence are diverging, as are Cyber Command and the NSA. Here’s what that means for the man who leads both entities, the future of signals intelligence collection, and cyberwarfare.

The move to elevate Cyber Command to a full Unified Combatant Command and split it off from the National Security Agency shows that cyber intelligence collection and information war are rapidly diverging fields. The future leadership of both entities is now in question, but the Pentagon has set out a conditions-based approach to the breakup. That represents a partial victory for the man who directs both Cyber Command and the NSA.

The move would mean that the head of Cyber Command would answer directly to the Defense Secretary and the National Security Agency would get its own head. It’s a move that many have said is long overdue, and its exact timing remains unknown. So what does the split mean for the Pentagon, for Cyber Command, and for the future of U.S. cyber security?

The split will give the commander of Cyber Command central authority over resource allocation, training, operational planning and mission execution. The commander will answer to the Defense secretary directly, not the head of Strategic Command. “The decision means that Cyber Command will play an even more strategic role in synchronizing cyber forces and training, conducting and coordinating military cyberforce operations and advocating for and prioritizing cyber investments within the department,” said Kenneth Rapuano, assistant defense secretary for Homeland Defense and Global Security.

The Start of a Process

The move announced on Friday fulfills a mandate in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017. Former Defense Secretary Ash Carter hinted at the split back in May 2016. But it won’t happen immediately.

Instead, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joe Dunford will nominate a flag officer to take over the new Cyber Command as well as the NSA. That person could be Adm. Michael Rogers, who currently heads both, or someone else. Trump has reportedly asked Mattis to give him the name of a nominee. Speculation has focused on Army Lt. Gen. William Mayville as the nominee to head Cyber Command.

Once that new person is nominated and confirmed and once Mattis and Dunford are satisfied that splitting the two entities will not hamper the ability of either Cyber Command or the NSA to conduct their missions independently, only then will Cyber Command and the NSA actually split.

What Does it Mean for Leadership?

Read one way, the announcement means Rogers will lose power. Even were he to become the nominee to the new elevated Cyber Command, he would still wind up losing the NSA eventually. If he were to stay on as head of NSA after the confirmation of a new Cyber Command head, as expected, he would briefly serve under Mayville until the formal split.

Read another way, the lack of a concrete timetable for the split, despite such a requirement in the authorization bill, represents a partial win for Rogers.

Rogers took over the NSA and Cyber Command in the spring of 2014. He has been resistant to the idea of a split, telling lawmakers in September that U.S. national security benefitted from the dual-hat arrangement. This view was not shared by then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper nor then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter. Rogers’ resistance was one of many issues that rubbed them the wrong way.

It got so bad that in November, unnamed sources told The Washington Post that Clapper and Carter were urging President Barack Obama to fire Rogers.

The truth is a bit more nuanced. Clapper’s goal was “to split the NSA from CyberCom. He was not a strong advocate of removal, but was willing to defer to [the Secretary of Defense] if Carter felt strongly about selecting new leadership at Cyber Command,” a source inside the intelligence community said. “There were other concerns unrelated to the potential split.”

Rogers outlasted both Clapper, who had long planned to retire at the end of the Obama administration; and Carter, a political appointee. Rogers’ attitude toward an NSA-Cyber Command split evolved. In May, he testified that he would support a split was done in a way that did not hamper either the NSA or Cyber Command.

The manner in which the split was announced is in keeping with what Rogers has said he wanted.

The move toward a conditions-based split also met with the approval of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz, a longtime Rogers ally. “I appreciate the administration’s commitment today to ensuring that a future separation of the so-called ‘dual hat’ relationship between Cyber Command and the National Security Agency will be based on conditions, rather than arbitrary political timelines,” McCain said in a statement. “While Cyber Command and the National Security Agency should eventually be able to operate independent of one another, the administration must work closely with the Congress to take the necessary steps that will make this separation of responsibilities successful, and to ensure that each agency will emerge more effective and more capable as a result.”

What It Means for Cyber Command, the NSA, and Cyber Operations

The elevation of Cyber Command represents a big step forward for the military’s cyber ability, but it has yet to be catch up to the NSA in terms of collecting signals intelligence or creating network accesses, according to Bill Leigher, who as a rear admiral helped stand up Navy Fleet Cyber Command. Leigher, who now directs government cyber solutions for Raytheon, applauds the split because the NSA, which collects foreign intelligence, and Cyber Command, a warfighting outfit, have fundamentally different missions.This caused tension between the two organizations under one roof. Information collected for intelligence gathering may be useful in a way that’s fundamentally different from intelligence for military purposes, he says. “If you collecting intelligence, it’s foreign espionage. You don’t want to get caught. The measure of success is: ‘collect intelligence and don’t get caught.’ If you’re going to war, I would argue that the measure of performance is’ what we do has to have the characteristics of a legal weapon in the context of war and the commander has to know what he or she uses it.”

This puts the agencies in disagreement about how to use intel and tools that they share. “From an NSA perspective, cyber really is about gaining access to networks. From a Cyber Command point of view, I would argue, it’s about every piece of software on the battlefield and having the means to prevent that software from working the way it was intended to work [for the adversary],” he said.

The split will allow the agencies to pursue the very different tools, operations, and rules each of their missions requires, he said.  Expect NSA to intensify its focus on developing access for intelligence, and Cyber Command to prepare to rapidly deploy massive cyber effects at scale during military operations and shut down the enemy. Both of this will likely leverage next-generation artificial intelligence but in very different ways said Leigher.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.