The Complex

Cyber deterrence is working, Hagel tells senators

Expect the Pentagon to continue to flesh out a policy of cyber deterrence if Chuck Hagel becomes the next defense secretary.

Buried toward the end of the 112 pages of answers to questions that Hagel gave the Senate Armed Services Committee in advance of his confirmation hearing tomorrow are some insights into his views on cyber security.

Among his thoughts on the matter is that deterrence is working for the United States, so far anyway.

"At this time, it appears that the United States has successfully deterred major cyber attacks," reads Hagel's response to SASC's questions. "I expect that deterring and, if necessary, defeating such attacks will be a continued key challenge. If confirmed, I intend to ensure that the Department provides strong support to our national efforts in this area."

That last sentence is pretty telling. National efforts to defend against cyber attack mean that the rest of the U.S. government and private industry will need to play a role in deterring against cyber attacks, according to Hagel.

Here's what he said when asked specifically about DOD's role in protecting the U.S. from cyber attacks:

"My understanding is that the Department of Homeland Security has the lead for domestic cyber security," writes Hagel. "The Defense Department provides technical assistance to DHS when requested. The [DOD's] role is to provide military forces needed to deter the adversary and, if necessary, act to protect the security of the country. This includes planning against potential threats to our critical infrastructure, gathering foreign threat intelligence, and protecting classified [government] networks." [Emphasis ours.]

It sounds like Hagel envisions DOD using its expertise in cyber warfare to help protect other government networks and certain private industries from cyber attack; spy on foreign cyber actors; and be ready to go on the offensive should anyone start a cyber fight with the U.S.

Still, when asked explicitly about using offensive cyber operations to defend "the homeland" (after more than a decade that's still a creepy-sounding term, isn't it?) Hagel says:

"My current view is that defending the homeland from cyber attacks should involve the full range of tools at the disposal of the United States, including diplomacy and law enforcement as well as any authorized military operations."

As for looming decisions that need to be made about expanding U.S. cyber command, elevating it to a combatant command, and paying for increased cyber forces at a time of declining defense budgets, Hagel punted, saying he will "consult closely" with the White House, Congress, and DOD officials before doing anything.

Click here to read more about Hagel's plans for cyber.

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