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Trump administration proposes splitting Cyber Command from the NSA

Whether or not the division is ready for a split is another matter.
National Security Agency (NSA) Director Paul Nakasone departs following a classified national security briefing for members of the U.S. Senate about how Russia has been using social media to stoke racial and social differences ahead of this year's general election, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 10, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Jon Fingas
Jon Fingas|@jonfingas|December 20, 2020 11:52 AM

The Trump administration elevated the role of Cyber Command in 2018, and now it’s apparently ready to give the division its own berth. Defense One reports that officials have proposed splitting Cyber Command leadership from the NSA. It’s not certain why there’s a split in the works, although DO sources claimed it might reflect Trump’s frustration with NSA and Cyber Command head Gen. Paul Nakasone (shown above) over the handling of a string of cyberattacks against federal agencies.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo characterized the hacks as serious and said Russia was “pretty clearly” behind them. Trump, however, downplayed the attacks and tried to shift the potential blame to China without providing evidence. Reports have largely linked the attacks to Russia’s Cozy Bear, a state-sponsored group that has attacked US infrastructure in the past.

It’s uncertain if the proposed split will move forward. Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley said through a spokesperson that he had yet to review or back the split. There’s certainly pressure for him to do so — Trump has dismissed multiple officials since the November election, and defying the outgoing President’s proposal could cost Gen. Milley his position. The Biden administration might soften or reverse the decision, though.

Whether or not it’s a good idea isn’t clear. Split supporters have long argued that Cyber Command is draining NSA resources and creates inefficiencies with unified leadership. Opponents, however, have argued that the two are closely integrated. A separation could damage national security, House Armed Services Committee chairman Rep. Adam Smith said in a letter to Milley.

The timing might be less than ideal. Cyber Command is one of the key agencies grappling with the wave of cyberattacks, and a change in leadership might complicate efforts to secure systems and respond. It won’t be surprising if any potential split is delayed or phased in.

Trump administration proposes splitting Cyber Command from the NSA