Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III got a firsthand look into the offensive and defensive cyberspace operations in an eventful afternoon at NSA-Washington’s East Campus on April 27. It was the retired four-star Army general’s first official visit to U.S. Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM) and NSA as Secretary of Defense.
In addition to interacting with Cyber National Mission Force (CNMF) at Lasswell Hall, he spent several hours across the street inside the Battle Bridge at the Integrated Cyber Center (ICC) receiving insight into Command and Agency leadership missions and capabilities, discussing strategic competition with China and Russia, and focusing on the planned withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan.
“Thanks to the entire team for hosting this today,” Mr. Austin said in opening. “I know that you are very busy and I know that as we speak, there are ongoing operations that you’re trying to stay abreast of. [I also know] that you’re trying to stay in front of our adversaries who do incredible things each and every day … We have to stay 10 steps ahead [of the adversary], and we have to keep up with not only what they’re thinking, but what their intent is going forward.”
GEN Paul M. Nakasone, Commander, U.S. Cyber Command, Director, NSA/Chief, CSS, alongside USCYBERCOM Deputy Commander LT GEN Charles L. Moore Jr., and NSA Deputy Director George Barnes, delivered an overview of the Command and Agency’s unique missions and competitive advantages.
“I think that’s a big contributor to make sure that the right environment is here, and that if you come to a place like NSA or Cyber Command, you’re contributing to the security of the Nation and you’re going to do things that are very unique here,” GEN Nakasone said.
Mr. Austin, the former head of U.S. Central Command, the military combat command responsible for the Middle East, including Iraq and Afghanistan, agreed.
“I distinctly remember back in 2003 in Afghanistan we were huddled in a small tent with a couple of your guys giving us great information and providing a great service,” he told GEN Nakasone. “[NSA] is right there on the cutting edge [of technology], and in those days it was the wild, Wild West in Afghanistan.”
Command and Agency China and Russia subject matter experts provided short briefings into the actions and activities the organizations are taking to posture the Department of Defense to win in strategic competition.
NSA Cybersecurity Director Rob Joyce closed the ICC portion of the visit with a hands-on look at the Agency’s effort of making the keys and codes to ensure national security. “Code making is key to our ability to ensure force lethality,” Mr. Joyce said. “When we get it wrong we put our forces at risk.”
Mr. Austin’s trip to NSA marked the latest in a series of official visits to NSA’s new East Campus by high-level national security officials over the past several months, including the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence.
“My job as Secretary of Defense is to defend this Nation and protect our interests,” Mr. Austin said in closing to a large group assembled inside Lasswell Hall. “You play a critical role in that effort … and it has tremendous effects on our operations. I‘ve been on the other end of this, I’ve asked for your capabilities to help enhance what we’re doing on the ground and it does have effects, it does have meaning, and I just want to say thanks for what you’re doing.”