The Air Force is about to suspend its controversial effort to reorganize its forces to "dominate" cyberspace. The provisional, 8,000-man Cyber Command has been ordered to stop all activities, just weeks before it was supposed to be declared operational.
“Transfers of manpower and resources, including activation and reassignment of units, shall be halted,” according to an internal e-mail obtained by Nextgov's Bob Brewin -- and confirmed by Air Force sources. Instead, the Air Force's new leadership -- including incoming Chief of Staff Norton Schwartz -- will be given time to rethink how big the command will be, and what exactly it will do.
The suspension is yet another body blow to a service already reeling from a series of hits in recent months. Nuclear weapons have been mishandled; major contracts -- including one for a fleet of new tanker planes -- have been botched; the Air Force's civilian and military leaders have been ousted by the Secretary of Defense; a top general apparently committed suicide.
"I am surprised, but not that surprised, given the turmoil in the Air Force," cybersecurity specialist (and former Air Force Captain) Richard Bejtlich tells Danger Room. "It makes sense for new leadership to want to pause and evaluate major projects like Cyber Command before moving forward. The Air Force is facing severe challenges right now, so leadership may want to consolidate its resources before expanding the AF cybermission."
But even if everything all was calm at the Air Force, Cyber Command's path was far from clear. At a June conference , the command's emerging leaders couldn't agree on what exactly the new unit would do. Some said the command's mission would be the "protection and defense of the Air Force's command and control abilities." Others argued that the "mission is to control cyberspace both for attacks and defense." (The service even changed its mission statement to read, "As Airmen, it is our calling to dominate Air, Space, and Cyberspace.") Some believed the Cyber Command would only be responsible for computer networks. Others thought it'd be responsbile for every system that had anything to do with the electromagnetic spectrum -- up to and including laser weapons.
Heavy-breathing television ads, hyping the nascent command's abilities and scope, only added to the confusion. And within the military, the command was blasted for being duplicative -- and maybe even a cheap internal power grab. As Brewin notes, "The hard sell may have been the undoing of the Cyber Command, which seemed to be a grab by the Air Force to take the lead role in cyberspace."
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