President Donald Trump has approved a long-delayed Pentagon plan to create an independent cyber command to beef up cyberwar operations against the Islamic State and other foes.
The announcement Friday means that the U.S. Cyber Command, created in 2009 at Fort Meade, Maryland, will no longer fall under the chain of command of the U.S. Strategic Command at Offutt Air Force Base south of Bellevue.
Instead, Cyber Command will be elevated to the status of a full “unified combatant command” alongside six regional commands (including the U.S. Central Command and the U.S. Pacific Command) and three mission-oriented commands (including StratCom).
“CyberCom will now be equal to StratCom,” said Maj. Brian Maguire, a spokesman for the Offutt-based command. “For StratCom, it’s definitely a large thing.”
The decision raises the stature of Cyber Command within the military and gives it more autonomy.
“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,” Trump said Friday.
CyberCom also may eventually be split off from the intelligence-focused National Security Agency, with which it shares offices and some overlapping missions at Fort Meade. CyberCom’s leader, Adm. Mike Rogers, also heads the NSA.
In an interview last February, Gen. John Hyten, StratCom’s commander, told The World-Herald he supports the move.
“I believe it’s time to elevate it, primarily because of the importance of Cyber,” Hyten said. “My desire is to do it sooner rather than later.”
The plan has been discussed for at least five years. Nearly a year ago, then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter sent a proposal to President Barack Obama to make CyberCom an independent headquarters and break it away from the NSA. Congress signaled support for the move in the 2017 authorization bill.
Making CyberCom an independent command will put the fight in digital space on the same footing as more traditional realms on land, air and sea. The move reflects the escalating threat of cyberattacks and intrusions from other nation-states, terrorist groups and hackers — including Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
The goal is to give Cyber Command more autonomy, freeing it from any constraints that stem from working alongside the NSA, which is responsible for monitoring and collecting telephone, Internet and other intelligence data from around the world — a responsibility that can sometimes clash with military operations against enemy forces.
Cyber Command was created by the Obama administration as a sub-unit under StratCom. Since then the command has grown to more than 700 military and civilian employees. The military services also have their own cyber units.
Offutt’s Maguire said the change won’t happen immediately. It’s not yet clear how long it will take.
“The announcement today starts the process to elevate U.S. Cyber Command to a combatant command,” he said in a statement. “There are several more milestones before that process is complete.”
This report includes material from the Associated Press and Washington Post.