Trump's Pentagon is making a lame-duck bid to split U.S. Cyber Command from the NSA

NSA headquarters
(Image credit: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller and other top acting appointees President Trump installed at the Pentagon following a post-election purge are pushing to separate U.S. Cyber Command from the National Security Agency, both currently overseen by Army Gen. Paul Nakasone, Defense One first reported. The last-minute overhaul of the U.S. national security structure is being pursued in the last month of Trump's presidency, as the U.S. government tries to assess the extent of a massive cyber-espionage breach by Russia, and Congress isn't thrilled.

There's been discussion for years about when U.S. Cyber Command, the military's digital war-fighting branch launched in 2009, will be uncoupled from the NSA, the nation's largest spy agency, in charge of collecting foreign signals intelligence. Nakasone — a four-star general "beloved by both Democrats and Republicans," Politico notes — leads both agencies under a "dual hat" arrangement.

"Our government is currently responding to a cyberincident where a sophisticated adversary had access to thousands of U.S. networks," Sens. Angus King (I-Maine) and Ben Sasses (R-Neb.) said in a joint statement Sunday with fellow cybersecurity panelists Reps. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) and Jim Langevin (D-R.I.). "Regardless of whether it's better to keep or end the dual-hat arrangement between NSA and CYBERCOM, now is not the time to do it."

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The two agencies cannot legally be split apart until the defense secretary and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff — currently Gen. Mark Milley — certify that separation wouldn't diminish the effectiveness of Cyber Command. One U.S. official told The Wall Street Journal the proposal is "very preliminary" and a meeting on it is scheduled for this week. But "with Miller expected to sign off on the move, the fate of the proposal ultimately falls to Milley, who told Congress in 2019 that the dual-hat leadership structure was working and should be maintained," Defense One reports.

"Chairman Milley has not reviewed nor endorsed any recommendation to split CYBERCOM and NSA," a spokesman said. Milley reportedly received the proposal last week. "A defense official cautioned that even if the leadership change should go through, President-elect Joe Biden and his defense team could simply reverse the decision and rejoin the offensive digital unit and the intelligence gathering organization," Politico reports.

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