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Ernst presses intelligence officials on utilization of National Guard units in U.S. cyber defense

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Last week, at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on “Foreign Cyber Threats to the United States”, Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) pressed the Commander of the U.S. Cyber Command and Director of the National Security Agency, Admiral Michael Rogers, on the use of National Guard units’ cyber capabilities.

During her questioning, Senator Ernst followed up with Admiral Rogers from a previous hearing where he was unable to answer why the Department of Defense (DOD) was not tracking National Guard Cyber Capabilities in a new system, as required by law and highlighted by a recent Government Accountability Office report. Today, Senator Ernst reiterated her question about whether DOD is able to track these capabilities, and Admiral Rogers responded, “…I am the first to acknowledge that after talking to OSD and the services, that I don’t have a good answer for you and I will get you something in writing in the next week or so.” “OSD” refers to the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Senator Ernst responded: I do appreciate that because – how long have the United States been experiencing [cyber]attacks from entities outside of the United States?

Admiral Rogers: You could argue that we’ve been experiencing these attacks in the cyber domain for about over a decade. It’s gotten worse.

Senator Ernst: A decade. But we have taken the steps of developing Cyber Command and the capabilities that exist in both our reserves, National Guard, and active component units to become faster and more agile. We need to know what those capabilities are. So – if you have a solution to that on how we can track those capabilities, we need to figure that out. Many of these units have the capability of defending our networks and yet we’re not utilizing those capabilities and we don’t know where they exist.

Admiral Rogers: Please don’t take from my comment that we don’t think the role of the Guard and Reserve is important. If you look at the last 12 months, we’ve got two cyber protection teams from the Guard that have been mobilized, we’ve brought online, in the Guard and Reserve, national mission teams for the first time in the last year. It’s great to see how the Guard and Reserve are developing more and more capability. That’s a real strength for us.

Senator Ernst: Absolutely. And we will continue to see those develop even more in the future, but you need to be able to utilize those capabilities that exist out there. You know that many of our best soldiers in the National Guard and Reserve come from the private sector – I know this from some of my own Guardsmen that worked full time in computer technology and cyber technology. You stated in September that you were trying to figure out how better to leverage the National Guard. Do you have a response for that now? Have you thought of ways that we might be able to use those Guard units more readily?

Admiral Rogers: This is a topic I was just talking to General Lengyel, the Director of the Guard Bureau, a few weeks ago. Saying ‘Hey look, this something in 2017 I want us to sit down on.’ I think there are a couple specific mission areas where the capabilities of the Guard and Reserve are really well optimized. I’d be the first to admit the answer can’t be, every time we just throw the active component at this. I don’t think that’s an optimal approach for us to do in business. You will see this play out for us in 2017. We got to work throughout the title 32 versus title 10 issue. What role, what’s the right way to do this? Do we put it within the defense support to civil authority construct? I like that because it’s a framework that we already have. I am a big fan of let’s not reinvent the wheel when it comes to cyber. How do we take advantage of structures we already have and authorities that are already in place? That’s one thing you’ll see some specific changes on within the department, we are working through right now that you’ll see on the policy side.

Senator Ernst: I appreciate it. I look forward to working with you on that, Admiral Rogers.

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