Hagel Thanks Alexander, Cyber Community for Defense Efforts
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 28, 2014 Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has paid tribute to retiring Army Gen. Keith B. Alexander, who is stepping down as head of U.S. Cyber Command and the National Security Agency, crediting him with leading key assets in the intelligence community through one of the most challenging periods in history.
Army Gen. Keith Alexander, who is stepping down as head of U.S. Cyber Command and the National Security Agency, delivers remarks at his retirement ceremony at the National Security Agency headquarters on Fort George Meade, Md., March 28, 2014. DOD photo by U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Aaron Hostutler
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“Thanks to General Alexander’s visionary leadership as the first commander of U.S. Cyber Command, the Department of Defense is on its way to building an elite, modern cyber force,” the secretary told military and civilian NSA employees at the agency’s Fort Meade, Md. Headquarters.
Hagel credited Alexander with working to protect the nation at a time when the NSA has faced controversy for its surveillance programs leaked by former contractor Edward Snowden.
“He did so with a fierce, but necessary, determination to develop and protect tools vital to our national security,” the secretary said. “President Obama’s reforms, including his announcement yesterday on government retention of telephone metadata, reflect both the importance of signals intelligence, and the importance of honoring our nation’s tradition of privacy rights.”
The United States will maintain the investment in intelligence, one of America’s most important national assets, Hagel said. “We also are protecting critical investments in our military’s cyber capabilities.”
Hagel noted how often Pentagon computers are targeted. “During the course of my remarks today, DOD systems will have been scanned by adversaries around 50,000 times,” Hagel said. “Our nation confronts the proliferation of destructive malware and a new reality of steady, ongoing, and aggressive efforts to probe, access, or disrupt public and private networks, and the industrial control systems that manage our water, energy, and food supplies.”
America has always adapted to new threats, the secretary said.
“But today, a networked world -- a world in which oceans are crossed at the speed of light -- presents challenges to American security that our nation has never before confronted,” Hagel said. “Our responsibility, whatever the revolutions in technology, is to guard not only our nation, but also the fundamental character of our open society.”
Alexander is stepping down after a 40 year military career, and Hagel noted how technology has changed during his years in uniform.
“Today, more than 40 trillion emails are sent each year,” Hagel said. “There are 60 trillion web pages. The internet accounts for one-fifth of GDP growth among developed countries. And it continues to connect, improve and transform the lives of billions of people.”
Alexander has helped leaders across DOD recognize that cyberspace will be a part of all future conflicts.
“The United States does not seek to ‘militarize’ cyberspace,” Hagel said. “Instead, our government is promoting the very qualities of the internet -- integrity, reliability, and openness -- that have made it a catalyst for freedom and prosperity in the United States and around the world.”
DOD will maintain an approach of restraint to any cyber operations outside of U.S. government networks.
“We will continue to take steps to be open and transparent about our cyber capabilities, doctrine, and forces -- with the American people, our allies and partners, and even competitors,” he said.
This capability requires dedicated professionals, Hagel said, and Alexander has assiduously been recruiting and training these computer warriors.
“In 2016, that force should number 6,000 professionals who, with the close support of National Security Agency, will be integrated with our combatant commands around the world,” the secretary said. “Continuing General Alexander’s work to build this cyber force will remain one of DOD’s top priorities.”
Hagel also credited the NSA’s rank and file for protecting Americans in ways most will never know. “Your contributions have been decisive,” Hagel said. “You enabled the military to dramatically reduce casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan by helping disable improvised explosive devices, and provided critical intelligence that helped hunt down the world’s most notorious terrorists.”
The agency also worked with U.S. and Mexican authorities to combat the violence associated with the ongoing struggle against drug cartels.
“There is much more we simply can’t discuss in public,” Hagel said. “But we can say that, from the Battle of Midway to the age of terror, our nation’s history would read differently were it not for the NSA and its predecessors.”
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneAFPS)