Gen. Keith Alexander is director of the National Security Agency and the Pentagon's Cyber Command. (Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP)
Even if a recommendation by the White House panel on electronic surveillance to have separate directors for the National Security Agency and the military’s Cyber Command is approved, the two agencies must still work closely together, intelligence analysts said Wednesday.
Currently both organizations are under an Army general, Keith Alexander, and are located together at Fort Meade, Md. In military parlance, Alexander is “dual-hatted.”
The two have separate missions, but the capabilities they need to do their jobs are similar. “Neither one can be successful without the other,” said Dickie George, a former NSA official.
The proposal to have separate leaders for the two groups are among 46 recommendations set out by the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies that were delivered to President Obama last week and released by the White House on Wednesday.
The NSA is an intelligence operation designed to collect information outside the United States. Cyber Command is part of the Defense Department with a mission of defending the military’s computer networks and, when required, to attack an enemy network.
“The military can run attack operations that civilians can’t do,” George said.
The military’s Cyber Command was established only three years ago, reflecting a military consensus that cyber-operations will be an important part of any future war.
By contrast, the NSA’s roots go back nearly 100 years when the government set up secret agencies to crack codes during World War I. Today’s NSA has developed sophisticated computer capabilities that the military would need if it were to probe an enemy’s computer networks and attack it in time of war.
“The NSA has built up tools over the years,” George said.
The military, however, is starting to catch up. The services, particularly the Navy and the Air Force, are developing their own capabilities, reducing their dependence on the NSA, said James Lewis, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
That might make it easier to place the two organizations under different commanders in the future.
“You don’t want to blur the lines as much as you have, but that blurring was out of necessity,” Lewis said.