New DoD Command to Elevate Cyber Protection

April 23, 2009

Tony Corwin, Jennifer Navarro

Government Relations Update - Defense

Fulfilling a campaign pledge to broaden national vigilance against cyber threats, the Obama administration is expected to announce within the next few weeks its plans to create a new Cyber Command within the Department of Defense (DoD), an ambitious effort that will seek to combat what has emerged as a preeminent national security threat.

According to DoD officials, the executive branch is currently evaluating the recommendations brought forth by a White House team that conducted a 60-day review of U.S. cyber security policies. Although the review’s details are not publicly available, sources close to the debate say the recommendations include the creation of a senior-level cyber security position within the White House and increased coordination with the private sector in order to bolster computer security.

The Obama administration’s new proposal will come in the wake of Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal report that online hackers have stolen sensitive data related to the Pentagon’s $300 billion Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Program. This week, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates attempted to downplay the security breach, but he didn’t stop short of emphasizing the gravity of cyber attacks—which many believe are spawned in countries such as China and Russia.

"This is going to be an enduring problem and it is going to be a challenge not just for the Department of Defense but for the entirety of the United States," said Gates, who noted that the President’s FY10 Defense budget seeks to significantly increase cyber-warfare funding, specifically by quadrupling the number of topic experts within the department.

Essentially merging the cyber security capabilities of a handful of federal agencies, the new command would consolidate military efforts now being led by the National Security Agency (NSA), the Defense Information Systems Agency and the U.S. Air Force to protect military computer systems and develop new cyber weapons. Many believe that NSA Director and Army LTG Keith Alexander is likely candidate to lead the new Cyber Command, which would initially be a part of the DoD’s Strategic Command—now responsible for computer-network security.

During a speech at an RSA security conference on Wednesday, Melissa Hathaway, the White House's top cyber official, stressed the all-encompassing nature of cyber threats and their ramifications outside the realm of national security.

"The globally-interconnected digital information and communications infrastructure known as cyberspace underpins almost every facet of modern society" said Hathaway, "and [it] provides critical support for the U.S. economy, civil infrastructure, public safety and national security."

Lawmakers Begin Hashing Out War Funding Proposal

Fresh off their two-week Easter recess, Congress began shifting its attention this week to the Fiscal Year (FY) 2009 war supplemental, an Obama administration request that totals $83.4 billion and is likely to spark significant debate related to the Pentagon’s long-term budget strategy and the President’s new strategy for Afghanistan.

On Wednesday, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense initiated the process by holding a closed-door hearing with the head of U.S. Central Command, Gen. David H. Petraeus to discuss supplemental priorities for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Reminiscent of the contentious Iraq debates in 2007, some lawmakers are considering the inclusion of "benchmarks" or other policy language that would enhance congressional oversight of President’s Obama’s Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy—a move that both sides are treading cautiously.

According to Subcommittee Chairman John Murtha (D-PA), his panel may also tack on an additional $10 billion, increasing the total to $93-$95 billion. Although Murtha said increasing F-22 purchases beyond Secretary Gates’ request for four additional planes is not likely—as part of a good faith effort to ensure that supplemental funding remains germane to operations in Iraq and Afghanistan—add-ons for C-17 and Stryker vehicles remain a likely possibility.

Additionally, both Murtha and Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-HI) have expressed a willingness to include policy language that would split the KC-X air refueling tanker program between Boeing Co. and the consortium of Northrop Grumman and EADS’s North American division.

Aiming to complete the legislation by the Memorial Day recess, the House is expected to move the military portion of the supplemental through committee by the first week of May.

Looking Ahead: DoD Acquisition Reform Legislation Awaits Senate Consideration

As early as next week, the full Senate may begin voting on S.454, the Weapon Systems Acquisition Reform Act of 2009, an initial step towards the Obama Administration’s goal of implementing comprehensive acquisition and procurement reform within the Pentagon.

Introduced by Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) and Ranking Member John McCain (R-AZ), the legislation will enhance restrictions on the Pentagon to ensure adequate competition and oversight to major weapons programs. Although S. 454 passed unanimously within SASC on April 2, several amendments are expected from Senate critics on both sides of the aisle who believe the provisions must be toughened to achieve the necessary oversight and accountability.

The Office of the Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) extended the floor timeline, stating that the bill may come up before Memorial Day, although they said delays could occur if the amendment process would appear to protract the floor debate.

Notice: The purpose of this newsletter is to identify select developments that may be of interest to readers. The information contained herein is abridged and summarized from various sources, the accuracy and completeness of which cannot be assured. This alert should not be construed as legal advice or opinion, and is not a substitute for the advice of counsel