WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama’s administration announced steps Wednesday to boost civil-military coordination against cyber threats said to be mounting against sensitive U.S. computer networks.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano spelled out fresh arrangements between their departments to synchronize their response to a wide range of threats.
A memorandum of agreement signed by the two secretaries and made public Wednesday puts Defense Department cyber analysts within the Department of Homeland Security-led National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center.
It also sends a full-time DHS leader to the Defense Department’s super-secretive National Security Agency, or NSA, along with a support team comprised of DHS privacy, civil liberties and legal personnel. NSA is responsible for protecting U.S. national security systems and intercepting communications overseas.
The agreement will facilitate the NSA’s intelligence-sharing with Homeland Security, which retains the lead responsibility for protecting vital systems like power grids, financial services and water purification, a senior Defense Department official said in a conference call.
The pact also will make sure that requests for support are “clearly communicated and met,” Gates and Napolitano said in a joint statement.
Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn has said more than 100 foreign intelligence organizations are attempting to break into U.S. networks. Some “already have the capacity to disrupt” U.S. information infrastructure, he wrote in the September/October issue of the journal Foreign Affairs.
The new structures are designed “to put the full weight of our combined capabilities and expertise behind every action taken to protect our vital cyber networks, without altering the authorities or oversight of our separate but complementary missions,” Gates and Napolitano said.
They said the agreement would further their “strong commitment to protecting civil liberties and privacy.”
Under the pact, DHS will assign, in coordination with the Defense Department, a DHS Director of Cybersecurity Coordination who will be located at the National Security Agency but who will not be in the NSA chain of command.
This person will act as the DHS senior representative to the military’s new Cyber Command, which is responsible for protecting the Defense Departments’ 15,000-plus computer networks.
To oversee the new arrangements, the deputy secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security are to conduct monthly oversight meetings under the agreement.