Cyber will grow as a priority at the Pentagon if former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel is confirmed as the next secretary of defense, according to government officials involved in supporting his nomination.
"Senator Hagel gets cyber, he's not a guy who thinks the Internet is a series of tubes, he's going to be a leader here," one Obama administration official told Killer Apps over the weekend.
If confirmed, one of Hagel's first moves as secretary will be tackling several key cyber-related issues that outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has taken initial steps to address.
"Secretary Panetta put enough things in place that there are pretty big decisions to be made," including about whether to elevate Cyber Command into an independent combatant command as well as ironing out the final details of the military's rules of engagement in cyber space, another U.S. official supporting Hagel's confirmation process told Killer Apps.
"I know within the first couple of months that Hagel, if confirmed, will decide what exactly he wants to do on those things and then will be pushing them on through," said the second official.
Cyber Command's leader, Army Gen. Keith Alexander, also heads the National Security Agency -- an arrangement that many in the Pentagon like because it supports close collaboration between the two organizations. However, some lawmakers are uncomfortable with Alexander's "dual-hatted" role and want more information about it (see Section 940 of the 2013 Defense Authorization Act) before allowing Cyber Command to become independent of its parent command, U.S. Strategic Command.
"The biggest question on the Hill is, if it's mature enough to be a unified command, does it still need to be dual-hatted," said the second official. "Within the Pentagon, there's universal consensus that the dual-hatting is very, very advantageous to the way we do [cyber] operations; it's very intelligence intensive and driven."
Hagel, a former tech entrepreneur who in the 1980s helped launch and then run Vanguard Cellular, an early cellphone provider that was later purchased by AT&T, will also make buying the right cyber technology and capabilities a priority, according to the officials.
"I think the biggest difference [between Hagel and DOD officials without a tech background] is that he is going to be quite demanding in terms of seeing a return on investment," said the second official. Scrutiny over purchases by a tech savvy leader is important given the fact that it can be difficult for many defense officials to judge whether a new set of software, for example, is critical to achieving a mission.
"It can be difficult to see whether the technical capability is going to bring you what you want as a policy option," said the second official. "I think he's going to be much more demanding and rigorous."
John Reed reports on the frontiers of cyber war and the latest in military technology for Killer Apps.