Pentagon takes cyber war seriously

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WASHINGTON: Senior military leaders are recommending that the Pentagon's two-year-old cyber warfare unit be elevated to full combatant command status, sending a signal to adversaries that the US military is serious about protecting its ability to operate in cyberspace, officials said.

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will recommend the change to the Defence Secretary, Leon Panetta, said officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss classified matters. Final approval rests with the President, Barack Obama. Little opposition is expected, though the timeline is uncertain.

A Pentagon spokesman, Captain John Kirby, declined to discuss the pending move.

The elevation of Cyber Command to a level on a par with commands protecting entire regions and continents would give the nation's top cyber warriors more direct access to General Dempsey and Mr Panetta, allowing it more clout in the struggle for resources.

Created in 2010 at Fort Meade, Maryland, Cyber Command employs about 750 people - far fewer than most combatant commands - and now reports to Strategic Command, based in Omaha. The US military has nine combatant commands.

US officials say the establishment of a combatant command for cyber war fits the administration's multi-pronged cyber strategy by projecting military force as a deterrent, even as efforts are ongoing in the diplomatic realm to reduce tensions with adversaries.

The change in status would not resolve a host of more fundamental issues, such as the scope of its authority to defend the nation. Officials are still debating under what circumstances military commanders can respond on their own to hostile acts in cyberspace and how far notions of state sovereignty should apply in cyberspace.

Making Cyber Command a combatant command could exacerbate some issues, several experts said.

''I would caution rushing to have Cyber Command be a unified [combatant] command,'' which would mean it directs cyber operations globally, James Cartwright jnr, former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a cyber war symposium sponsored by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies

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