Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Alexander said that because a third of Cyber Command's workforce is civilian, the organization could be hard hit by one-day-a-week civilian furloughs that military officials have said will begin in late April. Military personnel are exempt from the cuts.
"By singling out the civilian workforce for furloughs, we've done a great injustice," Alexander said. "We're trying to get people to leave industry to come work for us, but now that they're furloughed, they're asking if they made the right decision. That's a big impact across our workforce."
[ The Department of Defense faces big challenges in keeping the nation safe from cyber attack. Read U.S. Cybersecurity Status Weak, Reports Charge. ]
Sequestration isn't the only source of the pinch on Cyber Command. Congressional failure to pass a fiscal 2013 budget means that Cyber Command must operate under a continuing resolution that holds the organization to its fiscal 2012 budget. That holds up a quarter of Cyber Command's proposed budget, which, Alexander said, will hinder Cyber Command's continued development and negatively affect the organization's ability to do the technical training necessary to defend in cyberspace.
In particular, Alexander said that failure to pass the fiscal 2013 budget could delay the creation of a number of "cyber mission teams" of offensive and defensive cyber specialists that Alexander analogized to Army battalions and Navy squadrons, capable of acting on their own.
The budget woes come with Cyber Command a relatively new unit dependent on new funding to improve its capabilities, having just reached full operating capacity in late 2010. Cyber Command has plans to continue to develop its capabilities and to add thousands of new workers to its payroll.
The woes also come with cybersecurity an ever-increasing government priority. In separate remarks before the Senate Intelligence Committee, director of national intelligence James Clapper listed cyber attacks first in his annual threat assessment to Congress, a change of pace from the previous decade in which terrorism was regularly listed first.
Alexander said that Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is considering elevating Cyber Command to be a Unified Combatant Command, a move that would solidify cybersecurity as a priority of the highest order for the military. Cyber Command is currently part of U.S. Strategic Command, which holds responsibility for a mix of functional missions ranging from military space operations to missile defense.
Alexander said in his remarks that state-sponsored cyber hackers are exploiting critical infrastructure networks "on a scale amounting to the greatest unwilling transfer of wealth in history." In a speech Monday, President Obama's national security advisor, Tom Donilon, called cyber espionage coming from China "unprecedented" and said that "the international community cannot tolerate such activity from any country." China has since said that it is open to "dialogue" with the United States on cybersecurity.
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