BYON 08/18/17 AT 1:43 PM
President Donald Trump just announced he is elevating U.S. Cyber Command to a full combat command, which means more military resources will go towards developing both offensive and defensive cyber weapons. The National Security Agency and CYBERCOM, which now has the same authorities as U.S. Central Command, are stationed in Fort Meade, Maryland. Both are currently led by the four-star commander Adm. Mike Rogers.
A White House press release also said Defense Secretary James Mattis might separate the NSA from CYBERCOM in the near future. This announcement comes after months of widespread discord within the intelligence community. Earlier this summer, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, White House Homeland and Counterterrorism adviser Thomas Bossert and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly all said intelligence findings proved Russia carried out a campaign of cyberattacks and fake news to sway the election in Trump’s favor.
Several high-ranking cybersecurity experts recently announced their resignation, including former Secret Service agent Richard Staropoli, who served as chief information officer of the Department of Homeland Security. The Trump administration’s top cyber diplomat, Chris Painter, already left at the end of July. Many key technology-oriented roles throughout different government agencies remain vacant since Trump took office, due to a combination of controversy and a federal hiring freeze.
“The loss of these senior officials is not promising, of course. But they’re generally only looking after their own agencies, not the larger federal enterprise or national cybersecurity,” cybersecurity expert Jason Healey, a senior research scholar at Columbia University’s School for International and Public Affairs, told The Hill. “I’m most concerned that two of them had only recently joined will send danger signals for talented people looking who might want to serve in government.”
This new executive move could split cybersecurity leadership into separate domains, civilian and military. The president’s aim is to streamline military cyberspace operations. ABC News reported the White House is calling for the nomination of Army Lt. Gen. William Mayville to lead Cyber Command and pondering the idea of appointing a civilian leader to head the NSA. However, there hasn’t been an official announcement so far.
Although the brief White House statement focused on global threats, lately there has been more controversy about the Trump administration’s approach to cybersecurity and internet freedom at home. In July, Trump talked to Russian President Vladimir Putin about the possibility of a joint cybersecurity initiative with Russia. CNN reported Rogers discouraged this idea. Trump himself also tweeted that just because he discussed the prospect “doesn’t mean I think it can happen.” These conflicting messages on cybersecurity mirror patterns from the election campaign, when Trump was lambasted for incoherent and sometimes inconsistent statements about “the cyber.”
Since then, the Department of Justice has issued a warrant demanding IP addresses and files identifying people who visited an inauguration protest website called disruptj-20.org. Some experts are concerned about what this patterns could imply about the future of American internet freedoms. Former Justice Department national security expert Jennifer Daskal, who now works as an associate professor at American University Washington College of Law, told NBC News the recent DOJ warrant “borders on a fishing expedition” to map of “everyone who might have been” at the inauguration protest.
The Trump administration’s approach to cyberspace may be riddled with scandals, but the president is not entirely without allies. White House homeland security adviser Tom Bossert is widely respected in the intelligence community. He has often spoken out to defend the president. In June, Bossert disclosed a cybersecurity pact with Israel, an ally renowned for its skilled military cyberspace operations. It remains to be seen how this new elevation of Cyber Command will impact Americans at large.