05:57 PM

Air Force Suspends 'Cyber Command' Program

The delay in the program does not necessarily mean the Cyber Command at Barksdale Air Force Base will not be created, but that could be one option, officials said.

Inside The U.S. Air Force's Server Room

Inside the U.S. Air Force's server room
(click for larger image)

Putting on hold a major cyberwarfare initiative less than two months before it was scheduled to become operational, the Pentagon this week said it is delaying and reviewing the future of the Air Force's controversial "Cyber Command" program.

The move was originally reported Monday on the Nextgov Web site, which quoted an internal Air Force e-mail as saying "Transfers of manpower and resources, including activation and reassignment of units, shall be halted."

A Pentagon spokesman, Ed Gulick, confirmed the hiatus in a telephone interview with InformationWeek.

Noting that the Secretary of the Air Force and the newly appointed Chief of Staff, Norton Schwartz, have several "key issues and initiatives" to review, Gulick said, "We are taking a pause on standing up the command so we can insure we're going about it the right way."

The delay in the program does not necessarily mean the Cyber Command will not be created, Gulick added, but "that could be one option."

Provisionally created last year to coordinate and initiate the defense of U.S. military computer networks and to launch offensive attacks on enemy IT systems, the Cyber Command has been based at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. The command's Web site says its mission is "To secure our nation by employing world-class cyberspace capabilities to control cyberspace, create integrated global effects, and deliver sovereign options."

The Army, Navy, and Air Force have been engaged in a tug-of-war over the leadership role in the U.S. military's cyberwarfare initiatives. The Navy has created both the Network Warfare Command and the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center to develop technology and policies for confronting adversaries in cyberspace.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, has also announced plans to develop a "National Cyber Range," a virtual network environment for cyberwar simulation.

In March, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security hosted Cyber Storm II, a networking war game involving about 40 private-sector companies including Cisco, Juniper Networks, and Dow Chemical. The exercise came shortly after the Pentagon reported that China's People's Liberation Army was intent on expanding its capabilities for cyberwarfare.

Reports from the Caucasus indicate that the Russian began its assault on neighboring Georgia with a cyberattack intended to disable the smaller country's computer networks.

"A cyber warfare campaign by Russia is seriously disrupting many Georgian websites, including that of the Foreign Affairs Ministry," the Georgian Foreign Ministry said in a statement quoted in a Reuters report.

The stand-down of the Cyber Command comes at a difficult time for the Air Force. Defense Secretary Robert Gates in June demanded the resignations of Air Force Chief of Staff T. Michael "Buzz" Moseley and Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne, because of the mishandling of nuclear weapons. In August 2007, USAF B-52 bomber mistakenly carrying five nuclear warheads flew from Minot Air Force Base, in North Dakota, to the air base at Barksdale.

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