Trump taps Army cyber chief as next NSA head
By Martin Matishak
President Donald Trump on Tuesday nominated Lt. Gen. Paul Nakasone, the leader of the Army’s digital warfighting arm, to helm the National Security Agency.
The move, which was long expected, will also put Nakasone atop U.S. Cyber Command, the Defense Department’s digital warfighting unit, once he is confirmed by the Senate. The two organizations have shared a leader since the Pentagon launched Cyber Command in 2009.
Rob Joyce, Trump’s top cyber adviser, announced the pick on Twitter.
“An exceptional leader for two exceptional [organizations], he brings great experience and strong cyber background,” Joyce wrote.
Both the NSA and Cyber Command need a new head after current NSA Director Adm. Mike Rogers announcedhe would retire this spring after a nearly four-year term.
Nakasone, 54, has been the chief of Army Cyber Command since late 2016. In that role, he also directed Joint Task Force Ares, a special unit that develops digital weapons to attack and disrupt the Islamic State’s online operations.
Prior to that, Nakasone served at Cyber Command, where he oversaw the units tasked with defending the country’s digital networks and information systems, collectively known as the Cyber National Mission Force.
He also twice worked as a staff officer to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And, as a colonel, Nakasone served as a staff officer to Gen. Keith Alexander, who led the NSA from 2005 to 2014 and was the first head of Cyber Command.
Widely respected through the cybersecurity and military communities, Nakasone will have to draw on his breadth of experience to shepherd NSA and Cyber Command at a pivotal time.
Morale at the NSA has reportedly suffered in recent years amid a series of bombshell leaks of the clandestine agency’s most secret hacking tools.
The government has arrested three individuals for stealing classified materials in the last two years, but there has been no public indication that authorities know how all the high-profile thefts occurred, including one that led to the mysterious Shadow Brokers hacker group — a suspected Russian cutout — posting the agency’s cyber weapons online.
Numerous senior hackers and analysts have also left the NSA to cash in on their skills in the private sector.
Meanwhile, the Defense Department is working to slowly separate Cyber Command from the NSA.
Since the digital warfighting unit’s inception in 2009, Cyber Command and the NSA have shared resources, staff and leadership. The two organizations are even housed on the same campus at Fort Meade, Md.
But Cyber Command is expected to reach “full operational capacity” this fall, with 6,200 staffers spread across 133 teams. And the Trump administration recently decided to elevate Cyber Command, placing it on equal footing with long-standing military units like Central Command, which orchestrates the country’s campaign to eradicate ISIS.
It’s unclear when the Senate Armed Services Committee will take up Nakasone’s nomination.