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Pentagon cybersecurity force to grow fivefold under multi-year expansion

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NSA Gen. Keith Alexander
NSA Gen. Keith Alexander

The Pentagon has just approved a major expansion for its cybersecurity force, increasing the headcount from 900 to 4,900 over the next several years, reports The Washington Post. While yet to be formally announced, the enlargement is said to come at the request of Gen. Keith B. Alexander, the Defense Department’s head of Cyber Command, and director of the NSA.

Alexander has previously been vocal about the threat posed by attacks from China, laying blame on the country for "a great deal" of theft of military-related intellectual property. According to The Post, the plan to expand Cyber Command is intended to protect national infrastructure like electrical grids and fortify the Defense Department’s own networks against attacks, as well as support "offensive operations" abroad. The US and Israel jointly developed the Flame malware to attack Iran's nuclear weapons program, and the expansion could indicate an increase in similar efforts in the future.

There is some doubt that Cyber Command will be able to achieve true independence under NSA director Alexander

Cyber Command’s connections to the NSA are also leading some officials to ask how much of the expansion will be focused domestically, especially considering the opening of the NSA’s new, $2 billion Utah Data Center, scheduled to go live later this year. An unnamed "senior defense official" said that the agency’s efforts would remain focused outside US networks, unless it were asked to assist "another agency with domestic authority, such as the FBI." There is significant overlap between Cyber Command and the NSA — until recently, some employees of the former had email addresses, for instance — and there is some doubt that the nascent offshoot of US Strategic Command will be able to achieve true independence under NSA Director Alexander.