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The Obama administration is planning to elevate Cyber Command — a subordinate to the US Strategic Command — to a “unified command” equal to other military combat branches such as Pacific Command. It would be separated from the National Security Agency (NSA), which intercepts and decodes adversaries’ communications.
The move reflects the significance of cyber operations in modern warfare and different missions of Cyber Command and NSA, a former intelligence official with knowledge about the plan told Reuters. The plan is still under consideration and it is unclear when it would be presented to President Barack Obama for approval.
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The administration was “constantly reviewing if we have the appropriate organizational structures in place to counter evolving threats, in cyber space or elsewhere,” noted a senior official, adding, “While we have no changes to this structure to announce, the relationship between NSA and Cyber Command is critical to safeguarding our nation’s security.”
Earlier this year the Pentagon acknowledged it has conducted cyberattacks against Islamic State (Isis). “We are dropping cyberbombs. We have never done that before,” said Deputy Defence Secretary Robert Work.
Pentagon leaders recently expressed concern about the slow pace of Cyber Command’s electronic offensive against IS (Daesh). In his response, Admiral Michael Rogers created the Joint Task Force Ares to develop digital weapons against the IS and coordinate with the Central Command.
James Lewis, a cyber security expert at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said the plan suggests how Cyber Command is developing its own work force and digital tools. “It reflects the maturing of Cyber Command and its own capabilities,” added Lewis.
Defence Secretary Ash Carter, earlier in an April speech in Washington, hinted the Pentagon is planning to spend $35bn (£26.7bn) on cyber-related work over next five years. “Adapting to new functions will include changes in how we manage ourselves in cyberspace,” said Carter.
The NSA gathers intelligence, officials told Reuters, while the Cyber Command’s mission is to shut down cyberattacks and counter attack, upon receiving orders. The NSA was criticised after its contractor Edward Snowden revealed some of its surveillance programmes.