1 June 2018

Senators look to emphasize U.S. cyber prowess

By: Mark Pomerleau 
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Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee want to ensure Cyber Command can conduct global cyber ops. A Senate committee’s version of the annual defense policy bill emphasizes the Department of Defense’s cyber prowess, particularly against Russia. Following the passage of the House’s version by the full body Thursday, the Senate Armed Services Committee began its process this week, releasing a summary of the measure late this week.

Cyber, hypersonic weapons and AI are among the technologies emphasized in the Senate's version of the annual defense policy bill.

According to a summary, one provision “affirms” the secretary of defense’s authority to “conduct military activities and operations in cyberspace, including clandestine military activities and operations, by designating these as traditional military activities.”

That action follows recent developments with DoD’s primary cyber warfighting organization, U.S. Cyber Command, and its new status as a fully unified command.

Top leaders, including the secretary of defense, have indicated this elevation signals the seriousness and veracity with which the U.S. government takes cyber writ large and bestows new authorities upon the command to enable greater operational flexibility.

With the elevation of Cyber Command comes additional authorities for its commander, such as the ability to synchronize forces globally.

The former head of Cyber Command, Adm. Michael Rogers, told House lawmakers in April that DoD needs more speed and agility in employing these capabilities “outside the designated areas of hostility, adding that this possibility is currently under review.”

The head of U.S. Cyber Command said the government is currently working through how to use cyber capabilities in areas where U.S. forces are not engaged in active combat.

Separately, the Senate panel suggested giving the executive branch the authority to direct Cyber Command to “take appropriate and proportional action through cyberspace to disrupt, defeat, and deter systematic and ongoing attacks by Russia in cyberspace.”

This provision comes after lawmakers have expressed increasing frustration over the past year in a number of hearings with the appearance, of lack of coordination among government witness from the Department of Homeland Security, DoD and the intelligence agencies regarding responsibilities in thwarting cyber enabled influence operations.

Senators pressed Cyber Command on how they can use their national mission force to combat Russian cyber intrusions.

Rogers previously told lawmakers that he had directed forces on the cyber national mission force, one of CYBERCOM’s teams whose mission is to protect the homeland from significant threats, to begin some specific work related to combating such attacks. He declined to offer more specifics.

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