Talk of separating the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command continues to pop up, as officials discuss the best path forward for agencies with different but related missions.
NBC News Sept. 9 reported Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper both support a proposal to separate NSA from CYBERCOM, but both declined to comment for the record.
The agencies currently share the same leader, Adm. Mike Rogers, and headquarters space at Fort Meade, Maryland. But their missions differ: NSA focuses on intelligence while CYBERCOM conducts military cyberspace operations.
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“While USCYBERCOM resides with NSA, the two organizations are distinct entities with separate missions, authorities and resource streams," said Rogers in written testimony for an April 5 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. "Neither is an arm of the other, and both perform vital tasks on behalf of our nation.”
Rogers at the hearing said he supported elevating CYBERCOM to a unified combatant command, which “would allow us to be faster, which would generate better mission outcomes.” He, however, warned against taking control of CYBERCOM away from the NSA chief at this time, in part because of the command’s reliance on NSA systems.
Senior military leaders have served as NSA director since the agency’s founding in 1952. According to NBC News, future directors would be four-star generals or the equivalent, a higher rank than currently leads the agency. An earlier Reuters report said future directors could be civilians to show NSA doesn’t report to CYBERCOM.
This isn’t the first time officials have considered dividing the agencies’ leadership nor considered civilian leadership. The White House in 2013 opted to keep the role as-is after an interagency review in the wake of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s leaked information.
“Following a thorough interagency review, the administration has decided that keeping the positions of NSA director and Cyber Command commander together as one, dual-hatted position is the most effective approach to accomplishing both agencies’ missions,” White House’s National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said.