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Remarks by Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks at the U.S. Cyber Command and National Security Agency Change of Command (As Delivered)

Good afternoon to everyone. Director Haines, Admiral Grady, General Nakasone, General Haugh; distinguished guests in this audience — that was a pretty amazing roll call at the beginning — family, and friends of Fort Meade; and finally, to the people of U.S. Cyber Command, the National Security Agency, and the Central Security Service: Thank you all for joining us.

As we join together this afternoon, we're mindful that only about 80 miles away, the President is presiding over the dignified transfer of the three soldiers who were killed on Sunday by Iranian-backed militias in Jordan. We join their families and loved ones in mourning their loss.

Theirs was the ultimate sacrifice, and it's a reminder of whom we support: the warfighters standing the watch, all around the world. 

Warfighters like the people of Fort Meade. Thank you for all you do to defend our country. And I'd like to take a moment for us to give them a round of applause. (Applause.)

People at Fort Meade are tackling some of the most important missions in the Department of Defense. 

Day and night, CYBERCOM keeps the watch in cyberspace.

The internet is vital to our democracy and our way of life. And we rely on cyberspace to be free, open, and secure. 

So every day, CYBERCOM works hard to “own the domain.” 

As cyber threats evolve, CYBERCOM adapts, outpaces our adversaries, and keeps our democracy safe.

In the 21st-century security environment, you are the frontlines. Our competitors are looking to degrade our military advantage — to threaten our infrastructure, our information systems, and our industrial base.

It hasn't always been this way, even recently. In Iraq and Afghanistan, insurgents and terrorists weren't coming after our networks, our technologies, and our codes — let alone industry's. 

Meanwhile, our platforms and weapons systems became increasingly sophisticated computers that fly, float, sink, swim, and explode. Strengthening their cyber defenses is vital, and will be for the foreseeable future. 

Today, tomorrow, and beyond, the People's Republic of China is our pacing challenge. It's the only strategic competitor with the will and increasingly the wherewithal to remake the international order that has provided so much benefit to so many for so long.

And the PRC seeks to spread its brand of autocracy through digital means: like intrusive hardware and software, forcing tech to comply with political ideologies, stealing IP, and trying to dominate the telecom and cybersecurity industries.

Of course, Russia also poses an acute threat in cyberspace. They've launched troubling influence campaigns meant to interfere in our elections and undermine our democracy, while their cyber criminals have launched damaging ransomware attacks.

Russia's cyberattacks have tried to weaken Ukraine's military and damage civilian infrastructure there. And their global online-propaganda campaigns try to justify their unprovoked aggression.

Meanwhile, CYBERCOM faces other dangerous actors in cyberspace — including Iran, North Korea, terrorist organizations, and transnational criminal groups. 

So the stakes in cyberspace have never been higher.

But the men and women of this command are on the job. 

You defend America in cyberspace relentlessly — with agility, expertise, and resolve.

And at the helm for more than half a decade has been your outstanding leader, General Paul Nakasone. 

Now, today is Groundhog Day. And I heard that if the groundhog saw his shadow, it would be another six weeks before we let Paul retire. (Laughter.)

Lucky for Paul that didn't happen. (Laughter.)

The Secretary and I wouldn't have minded that — even if Paul would've. Truthfully, we hate to see him go.

Because he is one of America's leading cyberwarriors. He's led cyber operations to combat ISIS. And he's shaped our military's strategy in cyberspace for years to come.

His transformational leadership has strengthened our national security, bolstered our deterrence, and defended our democracy — including protecting U.S. elections from foreign attacks. 

Above all, he understands that cybersecurity is a team sport. That's why he's coordinated closely across the interagency: recognizing that our cyber capabilities must be used alongside other instruments of national power. 

And it's why he's driven hard to fortify our alliances and partnerships. Through CYBERCOM's Hunt Forward operations, we work shoulder-to-shoulder with our friends around the world to expose malicious cyber activity — allowing them to strengthen their cyber defenses, too. 

Now make no mistake: these operations save lives. 

Just ask Ukraine's leadership. They've thanked CYBERCOM for helping secure Ukraine's rail networks. Those trains helped get Ukrainian civilians out of harm's way at the start of Russia's latest invasion, nearly two years ago. And they still help Ukraine keep its economy running.

Another player on the cybersecurity team is the private sector. Paul forged relationships there, too. By establishing the NSA Cybersecurity Collaboration Center, he's helped build a platform that lets DoD identify threats and provide technical assistance. It even offers free cybersecurity services to any company with a DoD contract, and helps major IT and cybersecurity firms defend and secure networks at scale — benefitting all of America.

Paul, you have led CYBERCOM, NSA, and CSS with a clear eye. Your calm, constant leadership not only strengthened them; it's defined your almost 40 years in uniform.

You've carried on the legacies of your mom, Mary, who worked as a librarian, and your dad, Colonel Edwin Nakasone, who served for over 40 years in U.S. Army intelligence. 

Like his father, Paul has had a distinguished career as an Army intelligence officer. 

He is the real deal. He has set a powerful example for the next generation of warfighters who will defend our country in cyberspace. 

Now, Paul is a proud son of Minnesota. And I know he's looking forward to having more time to root for the Twins — both the baseball team, and two of his sons, David and Joseph. (Laughter.)

As many of you know, David and Joseph are identical twins. The RUMINT is that they look so similar that through Face ID, they can unlock each other's phones. And Paul, I presume that you have talked to Apple already about that zero-day vulnerability. (Laughter.) If not, I think I know what your next job is.

In all seriousness, Paul, we're thrilled your family is here today. 

Susan, we're grateful to you for serving right alongside Paul, as the rock of this exceptional family. Your love and support made everything possible. Thank you for building community along and among our military families, and for supporting the next generation to pursue higher education.

And Paul and Susan, even with all you've given to the nation through your service, you've also raised a next generation of Nakasones dedicated to giving back:

  • Sarah serves at the State Department. 
  • Daniel is a management consultant. 
  • Joseph is a senior at Dartmouth. 
  • And David is following in the footsteps of two generations of soldiers; he's a Firstie at West Point. 

I am sure you've all been looking forward to this day. I know Paul has. And we deeply appreciate him — and all of Team Nakasone — for delaying his well-deserved retirement until his relief could get in place.

As I said at this morning's DIA change-of-director ceremony, last year's unnecessary hold on general and flag officer confirmations had a real impact on leaders in the department and their families — and DoD continues to repair the damage caused by its cascading effects. 

While we hope the worst is now behind us, make no mistake: that must never happen again.

Today, the colors pass to General Tim Haugh — the real one, not the life-size cardboard cutout that I'm told sometimes appears around campus? (Laughter.) We never know what goes on up here. (Laughter.)

For more than three decades, Tim has been supported by his wife Sherie. They've been together since 10th grade — so, Tim clearly began displaying sound judgment at an early age. (Laughter.)

And Sherie, you've been a stalwart advocate for our servicemembers and their families. Thank you for everything you've given, to them and to your own family. 

Because they're serving too. Michael is a captain and a company commander in the North Carolina National Guard. And Chandler is a commercial cybersecurity analyst. Both are carrying on the Haugh legacy of service. And both are making America more secure. 

It's wonderful to have Tim's proud mother Leona here today. Tim's father Bob is no longer with us, but I know you honor his memory every day. You see, Bob served in the Marine Corps, and Tim's parents instilled a deep sense of service in the entire Haugh family.

Now, Tim already knows his way around here. He's served as CYBERCOM J2, as commander of the Cyber National Mission Force, and, of course, as CYBERCOM's deputy commander.

Tim: this command, these agencies, and their people are fortunate to have you lead them into their next era. We look forward to everything you will do here to strengthen these institutions and their teams, and to make America even more secure. 

CYBERCOM, NSA, and CSS will always be innovation leaders.

But as the Vice suggested, their backbone isn't cutting-edge code and tech.

It's people. It's you. 

You're protecting our country, our allies, partners, and interests.

You're supporting military operations around the world. 

And you're helping keep cyberspace open, secure, and free. 

For that, we are eternally grateful. As Tim's hero Ted Lasso — another Ted Lasso reference — would say, we appreciate you.

So Tim, and Sherie: welcome to an exciting new adventure. Thank you for taking it on. 

And to Paul, and Susan: thank you for everything you've done — for this command, for the Army, and for America. We wish you both, and your family, all the best. 

Thank you. (Applause.)