- The Washington Times - Friday, August 18, 2017

President Trump said Friday he is elevating the U.S. Cyber Command to a full combatant command, and will likely split off cyber operations from the intelligence-focused National Security Agency.

Mr. Trump said the move, which had been expected, “will strengthen our cyberspace operations and create more opportunities to improve our nation’s defense.”

“The elevation of United States Cyber Command demonstrates our increased resolve against cyberspace threats and will help reassure our allies and partners and deter our adversaries,” the president said.

With the shift, U.S. Cyber Command will focus on developing cyber-weapons for warfare, and on preventing cyber attacks on U.S. infrastructure. It will have the same authorities as other combatant commands such as the U.S. Central Command and the U.S. European Command.

The president is expected to nominate Lt. Gen. William Mayville, a four-star general, to lead the U.S. Cyber Command. Currently, the cyber operations are led by Adm. Mike Rogers, head of the National Security Agency.

“Through United States Cyber Command, we will tackle our cyberspace challenges in coordination with like-minded allies and partners as we strive to respond rapidly to evolving cyberspace security threats and opportunities globally,” the president said.

The president’s announcement was only the first step in what could be a lengthy process, a senior Defense Department official said Monday. The next step will be for Defense Secretary James Mattis and Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to present possible nominations for the new four-star billet to lead the command, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Global Security Kenneth Rapuano told reporters at the Pentagon.

Mr. Rapuano declined Monday to comment on whether Gen. Mayfield will get the nod for the elevated Cyber Command slot. He noted that Adm. Rogers, the current command chief, could be renominated for the newly emboldened command, adding that talks among senior Pentagon staff are in the early stages.

Once a new commander has been nominated by the White House and confirmed by the Senate, only then will Cyber Command be raised to the ranks of Central Command, European Command and Pacific Command. He refused to provide details on what kind of timeline the Pentagon is working with to get that pending nomination to the President’s desk.

The White House’s decision was “not in response to any specific incident” such as Russian hacking efforts to interfere with last year’s presidential election that secured the White House for Mr. Trump, Mr. Rapuano said. Promoting Cyber Command to a full combat command status formally recognizes the cyber realm “as a new spear of warfare” on the digital battlefield, bringing the command to a “peer level with other combatant commands.”

The Pentagon is also renewing the debate over whether to split Cyber Command from the NSA, as part of the command’s changing status in the U.S. military’s hierarchy. Adm. Rogers currently oversees command operations and those carried out by the NSA.

Longtime opponents of the dual-hatted nature of the command and NSA leadership claim the agency’s primary role of intelligence gathering should be separate from the warfighting tasks of the command.

For his part, Mr. Rapuano said efforts to split the command off from NSA and its leadership are “a separate decision that has not been made yet” by Mr. Matts, Gen. Dunford and their staff.

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