Cyber Command’s growth plan raises a lot of questions

For starters, where will the military find enough skilled computer experts?

Defense Department officials are planning a huge expansion of U.S. Cyber Command into three “teams” to protect privately owned and operated critical infrastructure such as the electricity grid and banking system; help commanders execute cyberattacks during military operations; and protect Pentagon networks, the Washington Post reported late Sunday.

According to the Post, Cyber Command would expand at least fivefold. Not surprisingly, key details of the plan have yet to be worked out. For starters, there’s the practical matter of hiring and training so many skilled workers when the private sector is competing for the same talent, often with higher pay and more flexible job requirements. With the threat of sequestration looming, the military services have announced hiring freezes and are taking other steps to limit spending.

In addition, the evolving role of Cyber Command has raised concerns among civil libertarians who worry the Pentagon could violate citizens' privacy rights. “The very idea of an Internet corps scares the people Cyber Command aims to protect: Americans who value free speech and free markets,” Nextgov reported in September.  

A senior Defense official told the Post that the “national mission” teams (the ones aiming to protect critical infrastructure) “would focus their efforts overseas and that any actions they took would be directed outside U.S. networks — unless the teams were asked to provide assistance to another agency with domestic authority, such as the FBI.”

The idea is not to protect consumers but rather national security. The ultimate trick for government, of course, will be protecting both.