In his first significant move to do something about “the cyber” since intelligence reports claimed that Russia “hacked our election,” President Obama has declared his intent to give the U.S. Cyber Command its own separate leadership.
Currently, Cybercom works in tandem with the National Security Agency and both units answer to the head of the NSA. This “dual-hat” structure was put in place to allow the recently founded Cybercom to ease into its role of defense and share the NSA’s resources.
On Friday, President Obama signed the 2017 defense authorization bill and in a statement wrote that he wants to split the current power structure and allow Cybercom to have its own director. “The two organizations should have separate leaders who are able to devote themselves to each organization’s respective mission and responsibilities, but should continue to leverage the shared capabilities and synergies developed under the dual-hat arrangement,” the statement reads.
In 2013, Obama considered making this restructuring official but senior officials worried that the NSA would withhold crucial resources from Cybercom. One of those concerned officials was Army Gen. Keith B. Alexander, the NSA director at the time.
The President says that a phased transition has been planned by the Pentagon and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
But the process of making this official will face at least two hurdles. The defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff must both agree that such a move would not harm the effectiveness of Cybercom.
The second hurdle is what Donald Trump will be thinking at any given moment. An anonymous source on Trump’s transition team told the Washington Post, “cybersecurity has been and will be a central focus of the transition effort.” In fact, the President-elect has avoided intelligence briefings and refused to accept the unanimous conclusions of intelligence agencies that Russia was involved in a targeted hack against the DNC.
And if his pattern of appointing people who want to destroy the agencies they lead continues, he might as well name Julian Assange as the head of Cybercom.