Jun 6, 2023 - Technology

Cyber Command, NSA prepare for a new set of leaders

Illustration of a pair of dog tags with binary on them.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The U.S. Cyber Command is set to get a new group of leaders as the threat landscape becomes more complex and difficult to navigate.

Why it matters: Cyber Command has become one of the Pentagon's most broadly engaged forces in recent years, leading the U.S.'s cyber fights during the war in Ukraine and international fights against ransomware.

  • The leader of the command has a dual-hatted role running the National Security Agency, which provides a significant amount of the intelligence included in the president's daily briefings and to senior policymakers.

Driving the news: President Joe Biden nominated Air Force Lt. Gen. Timothy Haugh last week to replace Gen. Paul Nakasone as leader of Cyber Command and the NSA.

  • Biden is also reportedly expected to nominate Army Maj. Gen. William Hartman, the current leader of the command's Cyber National Mission Force, to replace Haugh as the No. 2 at the command.
  • At the NSA, George Barnes, the agency's longtime deputy director, is expected to retire by the end of the year, as The Record reported earlier this year.

The big picture: Cyber and national security experts have been anticipating these leadership shake-ups at Cyber Command and the NSA for weeks as news trickled out that the current leader, Nakasone, was planning to step down later this year.

  • Last year, the Biden administration also reportedly asked Nakasone to remain in his post for one more year as he approached the end of his four-year term.

Between the lines: Haugh has worked alongside Nakasone for years, and as the deputy commander, Haugh has often run day-to-day life back at the Cyber Command base while Nakasone traveled to visit overseas offices, Jonathan Reiber, vice president for cybersecurity strategy and policy at AttackIQ, told Axios.

  • Haugh has also likely been a key driver in much of the command's operations and initiatives in his last few months as the deputy commander, Reiber, who is also a former Pentagon cyber official, added.
  • "I would expect, if nothing else, just getting his feet underneath him as the new director and commander is going to take several months, so I wouldn’t expect any big, immediate changes," retired Lt. Gen. Charles "Tuna" Moore, adviser to defense contractor Shift5, told Axios.

What they're saying: "Their styles are very similar," Moore, who stepped down as deputy commander at Cyber Command last summer, told Axios.

  • "They’re both very smart, thoughtful, calm and respectful to everybody they come into contact with, and people gravitate towards that kind of leadership," he added.

The intrigue: If confirmed by the Senate, Haugh and the other reported nominees will step into agencies that are facing a unique set of challenges.

  • The NSA is involved in an ongoing congressional battle to renew a controversial surveillance power, Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, before it expires at the end of the year.
  • The command is also continuing to embrace the "defend forward" approach adopted under Nakasone, which will matter even more as the threat landscape gets more complicated, Moore said.

Yes, but: Training under a predecessor doesn't necessarily guarantee that the new leader will operate the same way, Reiber said.

What's next: Haugh's nomination — and any others Biden makes related to Cyber Command and the NSA — will likely be delayed on Capitol Hill as Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) continues to place legislative holds on military appointments.

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