Cyber Command plans an intelligence center to call its own

Cyber Command moves to the next stage in developing a joint cyber intelligence center that assesses offensive capabilities.

Call it a coming of age moment for U.S. Cyber Command. After 13 years in business, it is ready to expand its intelligence gathering capabilities to an independent center to collect and disseminate international cyber intelligence.

The center will involve a joint effort between Cyber Command, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency.  While there are still a number of ambiguities over how the center will ultimately look, it took a step forward in February as it moved out of the sphere of DIA.

Col. Candice Frost, the commander of the Joint Intelligence Operations Center, said some of those questions may need to be resolved by Congress.

“I think our Department of Defense leaders are grappling with what this will look like. The shape and size, the workforce itself, the funding levels, the titles and authorities, all of those things need to be mapped out. It’s just that we have validated that the need exists, and it’s going forward,” she told Federal News Network in an interview following an event hosted bv Billington Cybersecurity this week.

There are existing science and technology intelligence centers — including Missile and Space Intelligence Center, National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC), the Office of Naval Intelligence, the National Ground Intelligence Center (NGIC) and the National Space Intelligence Center — which work with cyber intelligence, but none of them work specifically as a joint effort dialing in on foreign cyber intelligence.

“We really needed an all-source approach from the Department of Defense side. And so as each of the services have their own intelligence center, there was just a gaping hole. Space set up its own, but cyber didn’t have one. And so how this will unfold is still a work in progress, but the mission analysis portion is done,” Frost said.

The new center would in part be modeled on the NASIC. Its intelligence produces a foundational order of battle for the Air Force just as the new cyber intelligence center would provide a foundational order of battle in cyber space, according to statements from Cyber Command leadership.

NASIC has been operating since 1993 and is located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. According to its website, it provides tactical intelligence on air, space, missile and cyber threats. NASIC has about 4,100 military, civilian, reserve, guard and contract personnel. The center has four intelligence analysis groups, along with 18 squadrons and four support directorates.

The mission for the new center would have more focus on the offensive cyber capabilities of foreign adversaries.

“When we’re looking at nation state actors, if we look at the equipment, we’ve got to understand the different types of networks and the equipment that feeds into those networks,” Frost said. “And then the other side is the science and technology. If we look at an IP address, almost like a grid coordinate for the Army, and compare those two, we’ve got to be able to understand where they are out there for dangerous threat actors that are trying to harm our systems.”

The proposed cyber intelligence center would draw its personnel from other services in addition to a civilian workforce, with an emphasis on civilian employees.

“I think if you look at any of the structures that are already in existence, a great example is the National Ground Intelligence Center. They’re primarily comprised of civilians, with military leadership. So if it mirrors any of NGIC, and just even what space has set forward, primarily civilians,” Frost said.



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