WASHINGTON Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, pushing for openness ahead of a trip to China, said on Friday in an unusual live broadcast from a secretive base the Pentagon would exercise restraint in using the military in cyberspace and urged other nations to do so as well.
In his first remarks on cyber security since becoming defense secretary last year, Hagel told a retirement ceremony for Cyber Command chief General Keith Alexander that the Pentagon sought to be "open and transparent" about its cyber capabilities and intentions with both allies and competitors.
"The United States does not seek to militarize cyberspace," Hagel he told an audience at Fort Meade, Maryland, the home of Cyber Command and the NSA signals spy service. He said the United States wanted to promote the qualities of the Internet that have made it a "catalyst for freedom and prosperity."
"Consistent with these efforts, DoD (the Department of Defense) will maintain an approach of restraint to any cyber operations outside of U.S. government networks. We are urging other nations to do the same," he said.
The speech was seen as an effort to ease strains and shape the dialogue over cyber issues ahead of Hagel's China trip, which follows recent reports that the NSA for years accessed the networks of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei.
Hagel travels to China after next week visiting Hawaii, where he will host defense ministers from ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. He then heads to Japan, China and Mongolia. The stop in Beijing will be his first as defense secretary.
Defense officials say that while all nations spy on each other for security purposes, behavior over the Internet has become increasingly problematic, with some governments snooping for commercial gain and engaging in other worrisome behavior.
"It's exactly one of the reasons that we're trying to be more transparent about everything we do in cyberspace," a senior defense official said.
"We want the Chinese, just like we want our allies and others around the world, to understand what it is we're doing in building a cyber force at CyberCom, understand how we operate, understand the policies we use, like the policy of restraint," the official said.
Hagel's remarks come as the Pentagon is in the process of beefing up its force dealing with cyber security, expanding it from about 1,800 people today to more about 6,000 by the end of 2016.
The so-called Cyber Mission Force is divided into a large number of teams working in three primary focus areas: major national threats to the nation, defending Defense Department information networks and supporting combat missions.
Officials say about 13 teams will help protect the nation from major cyber threats, a job that is primarily handled by the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI. Another 68 teams will protect Defense Department information networks and 27 teams will work supporting the combat commanders.
(Reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Dan Grebler)