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US spy boss pushes for unified cyber-command center

Partnership to protect civilian networks

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The US military wants to create a unified digital command center in Maryland as part of a push to reorganize its offensive and defensive cyber operations.

The center would be located at the Army's Fort Meade and would be a sub-unit of the US Strategic Command, Lieutenant General Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency, told a House Armed Services subcommittee on Tuesday. Its mission would be to protect the US military computers by blending offensive and defensive capabilities of the Pentagon and the NSA.

The ultra-secretive NSA has come under fire over the past few weeks for comments by the Obama administration's top intelligence official that the agency should become the lead agency in protecting the country's power grids and other critical infrastructure.

Alexander has since taken pains to assure critics that his agency doesn't want to run or operate civilian networks. On Tuesday, he renewed those efforts, saying the NSA wanted only to use its expertise to provide technical support to the Department of Homeland Security.

"So if we develop something we're going to use for the Defense Department, it makes no sense for [DHS] to develop the same thing," he told The Washington Post.

Perhaps, but as the article goes on to explain, such a partnership would be fraught with ethical and national security questions. What, for instance, should the NSA do if it discovers particularly malicious code in the wild? Sharing it with private industry would help protect US infrastructure, but it could also strengthen the hands of adversaries.

Alexander's larger point remains well taken: Cyber security training in the US forces is inadequate and needs to be improved. His comments come as the White House prepares to release results of a 60-day review of cybersecurity recommendations made to the Obama administration. Additional coverage of Alexander's remarks are here and here. ®

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