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“DHS is growing in capability, but it will never be the equal of” the National Security Agency and Cyber Command, said former senior DHS policy official Stewart Baker.

Mr. Baker said a “fear factor” over the role of the military and the NSA and concern about civil liberties led Congress to give Homeland Security the cybersecurity role, but civilian officials could call on the military.

“We are still discussing across the administration how to best defend against a ‘Cyber 9/11’ that affects our critical infrastructure,” Gen. Alexander said last year.

Mr. Baker said he was concerned that the administration was “over-lawyering” the issue. “They are putting the cart before the horse,” he said.

Mr. Baker said the military should answer the question: How do we defend our networks? Then lawyers could “approve or tweak a plan that can win a war.”

“Answer the strategic questions first, rather than the legal ones,” he said.