DHS Losing Lead Cyber Role

The Department of Homeland Security will lose its role as the US goverment's lead agency on cyber security and the current head of the National Security Agency is almost certain to win a fourth star and become the combatant commander responsible for cyber warfare. Also, a White House cyber czar will lead the nation's efforts on this front, leaving the job in the hands of a policy person instead of in the hands of an operator. Those are among the preliminary results of the so-called 60-day study led by Melissa Hathaway, acting senior director for cyberspace for the National Security and Homeland Security councils.

For those who wonder why the cyber policy battles within the Beltway are so vociferous, consider this: the pool of  money for military cyber is likely to be at least $50 billion in 2010.

Most of that money will be in the Military Intelligence Program, the money for intelligence controlled by the Pentagon. One source told me last week that the MIP money was likely to grow by magnitudes of order. Kevin Coleman, consultant to Strategic Command and contributor to Defense Tech, said he estimates the money for cyber will range between $50 billion and $70 billion.

The months-long policy fight between the National Security Agency, Department of Homeland Security, DISA, Air Force and OSD looks as if it lead to DHS  losing its role as the US government’s lead agency on cyber security. The current head of the National Security Agency is almost certain to win a fourth star and become the combatant commander responsible for cyber warfare. Instead of DHS leading the cyber way, a White House cyber czar will lead the nation’s efforts on this front, leaving the job in the hands of a policy person instead of in the hands of an operator.

Those are among the preliminary results of the so-called 60-day study led by Melissa Hathaway, acting senior director for cyberspace for the National Security and Homeland Security councils. This is all part of a final effort to resolve a major stumbling block to effective cooperation and policymaking — stubborn battles between the NSA, Strategic Command, services and the Defense Information Systems Agency over just who has the biggest cyber muscles on the block.

But Hathaway, who had been considered the shoo-in for new cyber czar at the White House appears to have lost her shot at the job. Her study was submitted and is being reworked because it was not strong enough, we hear from an intelligence community source.

Meanwhile, the moves at the Pentagon to boost cyber continue apace. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is likely to create the new four-star combatant commander in about 10 days. That will move Army Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander from NSA to Strategic Command and give him a fourth star. It will also mean that the majority of the cyber mission will be carried out by uniformed personnel at the NSA, which has some observers concerned, given the lack of transparency for which NSA is famous. However, a very experienced intelligence official told me he does not share these concerns because respect for law, regulations and policy is deeply embedded in NSA training and is absorbed by its personnel.

Then there is the question of effectiveness. As Coleman put it: “Just put yourselves in the commander’s place… Do you care about where that order is executed from or do you just care about the end result? I think this is the best possible solution.”