Even though a far-reaching cyber-security bill failed in the last Congress, the U.S. Pentagon will likely soon get over five times more personnel in an elite cyber-command.
The Defense Department’s Cyber Command will have about 4,900 civilians or military personnel compared to the 900 now assigned there via a reported multi-year expansion proposal. The plan is still being developed, according to The Washington Post.
It will be a challenge for the military to find and retain qualified personnel, news reports said – especially given that the private sector is seeking employees with the same skills and would likely pay higher salaries. The Pentagon is already the target of budget cuts for other operations.
The beefed-up Cyber Command will focus on protecting the power grid and critical infrastructure; planning and deploying attacks on foreign adversaries; and securing the computers operated by the military.
In October, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta – who is stepping down – cautioned that a “cyber-Pearl Harbor” could take place against the United States, and warned how hackers could attack the U.S. power grid, transportation system, financial networks or government offices.
Earlier last year, in August, a computer attack took place at Saudi Aramco, involving some 30,000 computers. It is possible the attack came from Iran, according to The New York Times, and similar attacks could take place again. Suspected attacks by the U.S. and Israeli military against Iran’s nuclear facility, led to the creation of a “cyber corps” in Iran during 2011.China and Russia are likely to be the sources of other cyber-attacks on U.S. businesses and government agencies.
The Cyber Command was set up three years ago, but government officials have encouraged that it be expanded.
“Given the malicious actors that are out there and the development of the technology, in my mind, there’s little doubt that some adversary is going to attempt a significant cyberattack on the United States at some point,” William J. Lynn III, a former deputy defense secretary, told The Post. “The only question is whether we’re going to take the necessary steps like this one to deflect the impact of the attack in advance or ... read about the steps we should have taken in some post-attack commission report.”
Not everyone supports the move. The UK Guardian newspaper claimed the growth of the Cyber Command is not related to defense, and claims the activities “pose a wide array of serious threats to internet freedom, privacy, and international law that, as usual, will be conducted with full-scale secrecy and with little to no oversight and accountability. And, as usual, there is a small army of private-sector corporations who will benefit most from this expansion.”
“The US itself is the world's leading cyber-aggressor. A major purpose of this expansion is to strengthen the US's ability to destroy other nations with cyber-attacks,” The Guardian added in a report. “Beyond the aggressive threat to other nations posed by the Pentagon's cyber-threat programs, there is the profound threat to privacy, internet freedom, and the ability to communicate freely for US citizens and foreign nationals alike. The US government has long viewed these ‘cyber-security’ programs as a means of monitoring and controlling the internet and disseminating propaganda. The fact that this is all being done under the auspices of the NSA and the Pentagon means, by definition, that there will be no transparency and no meaningful oversight.”
Meanwhile, several Democratic Senators have introduced a bill related to cyber-security, after the 2012 defeat of a bill proposed by then Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine.)
Edited by Brooke Neuman