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Remarks by Secretary Carter to U.S. Cyber Command Workforce at Fort Meade, Maryland

March 13, 2015
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER: Thank you all. It's -- first of all, thank you, Admiral Rogers. We count ourselves very lucky to have you in charge here, and we count ourselves very, very lucky to have each and every one of you I see in front of me.

I've been learning some today about getting really updated on the development of CYBERCOM and also NSA, the two magnificent institutions represented here and that you all serve, and that we're so grateful that you serve.

This is, in fact, the first troop event I've done as secretary of defense in the United States. And there's a reason for that. And that is the importance of what you're doing to our department and our country. That should tell you something about how vital the mission is that you all have taken on, how important it is for the security of our country and, for that matter, the security of our economy and our people in their individual lives, because cyber touches all aspects of their lives.

So, if you do nothing else and get nothing else out of this encounter today, I want you to do one thing, which is to go home tonight or make a call or tweet at your family, or do whatever you people do -- (Laughter) -- but in whatever medium you use, please tell them that you were thanked today by the leadership of the department, and through us, the entire country, for what you do.

We don't take it for granted. You're what we wake up for every morning. Your service, your sacrifice, your professionalism and your welfare and that of your families is all we do. That's all we care about. And we're so, so grateful for it.

And with all that's going on in the world, from Iraq to Ukraine to the Asia-Pacific, the domain that you protect, cyberspace, is presenting us with some of the most profound challenges, both from a security perspective and from an economic perspective. The president had a cybersecurity summit a few weeks ago, in which you can see that our national leadership at every level is really seized with the need to get on top of this problem.

So cyber, which is what you do, is a marriage of the best people and the newest technology. And that being the case, and it being the case that there's a high demand for both of those things -- the best people and the newest technology across the country -- means that we, and I know this, we as a government and a department and a military need to be open to that -- those sources of good people and new technology. We need to be open in order to be good in this field.

And that means we need to build bridges to society, bridges that aren't as necessary in other fields of warfare that don't have a civilian or a commercial counterpart to the extent that this field does. So we have to build bridges and rebuild bridges to the rest of our society.

And that means we need to be open. And of course, we can't be open, given what you do, in the traditional sense. But we need to be open to new ideas. We need to be open to people we can't always tell them what we're doing, but we need to be open enough with our government so that it knows what it's doing, so that its officials can in turn turn to our people and say, "I'm sorry I can't tell you everything; you wouldn't want me to tell you everything that is being done to protect you because that would undermine our ability to protect you."

But you should trust that your senior officials and your elected officials and so forth are acting on your behalf. And I think we do have that trust and that people do understand that what you're doing for them is necessary and being done in an appropriate manner.

We need to be open generationally. We need to be open to a new generation because we need the young to be attracted to our mission. We need people who grew up with technology that was not available when I was growing up, and therefore have a sixth sense about it, which I can never have.

And that will be true when even those of you who are now the young people in front of me who are so smugly nodding your head. (Laughter) You, too, will be overcome by new technology at some point. And then also we'll need a new generation.

So our institution in general has to be an open one because we're an open society. But in order to be really good at anything, but especially good at what you do, we need to be open to a younger generation. That's incredibly (inaudible) your leaders know that. I've talked to them about that. And we know that that's the only way we're going to continue to have an elite core of people like the ones who are sitting in front of me right now.

And, you know, I actually think that in that regard, the development of the cyber workforce, which we are working on now, can be a model for other things we do in the department. The freshness of approach, the constant effort to stay up, reinvent, that your field demands is actually something we can use everywhere in the department.

So we're looking to you in a sense as a model and a trailblazer for many other things we need in the department. One of the things that I've said I'm determined to bring to our department is openness to new ideas. That's the only way that we're going to remain what we are today, which is the greatest fighting force the world has ever known. That's the way to do it going forward. And we -- we will.

For -- for the institutions that you join, be they military services or field agencies or new -- new commands, they are trying to figure out how to welcome this new breed of warrior to their ranks. What's the right way to do that? How do you fit in?

I had lunch with some of you earlier today. We were talking about how this skill set and this professional orientation fits into the traditional armed services. And of course, it doesn't fit into the traditional armed services. We have to figure out how to get it to fit in, so that you all have a full opportunity to bring to bear on your careers the expertise that you gained here and the sense of mission that you felt here, and carry it into the future.

I know that's a challenge in front of us. And you all feel it in your individual careers. And I'm determined that we together create that fit, but that comes with doing something new and different and exciting. You're going to be pathfinders, but we'll find the path together.

You are, whether you're civilians, military, contractor, all parts of our -- our workforce. We regard you as on the frontlines in the same way that last week I was in Afghanistan, and we have people on the frontlines there. It is the front line of today's effort to protect our country. And while you may not be at risk in the way that the forces are -- physical risk in the way our -- in Afghanistan, we are requiring from you a comparable level of professionalism, excellence, dedication. And I know you show all that, but we count on it, because you really are on the frontlines.

NSA and CYBERCOM, two -- one around for a long time, another one kind of brand new. A lot of people wonder what's the relationship between the two. And we pretty much have that in our heads. But the honest truth is, it's a work in progress. We're working out that relationship.

My view is that we're doing the right thing in having the leadership of those two organizations be in the same place. And one way of thinking about that is that we just don't have enough good people like you to spread around. And we need to cluster our hits as a country. And that's one of the reasons why we're going to keep these two together, at least for now.

I want you to know that in addition to thinking through how you're organized and so forth, that a big priority of mine is going to be to make sure that you're getting the training and the equipment and the resources you need. This is a very high priority area. And, you know, if you read about sequester, which is a terrible, stupid thing that we are doing to ourselves -- I have nothing good to say about it. But I think that even in the era of sequester, we understand that this mission area is one we cannot afford not to keep investing in.

And that means that that fact, together with our determination to help you chart rewarding, lasting careers in this field, those two things together ought to tell you, also, how much we value what you do.

Let me make one last point, and this is something that you all know, but it's important to remind our fellow citizens and, for that matter, the rest of the world, and that is we are -- we build our cyber mission force, it's the kind of country we are, to defend the openness of cyber space, to keep it free.

We're the ones who stand with those who create and innovate against those who would steal and destroy. That's the kind of country we are, and that's the kind of cyber force we are.

We're going to execute our mission while being as transparent as possible, because that's also who we are. And that's why I wanted my remarks to you to be public, which they are, if you see them being filmed here. That's an unusual thing for you, and I know that some of you can't be seen on television because of the nature of your work. And it's rare that media come into the premises of this organization.
But I wanted not only you to know how important we know what you do is for the country, but everyone else to hear that as well. So what that means, I suppose, is that even if you forget or are too lazy or for some other reason don't tell your family that you were thanked today, they're going to learn anyway. (Laughter) So I suggest that you beat the media to the punch and, once again, go home, call home, call a friend and say, today I was thanked by the leadership of my department and through them by the country for what I do.

Tell them that. Thank you very much. We'll have some questions?

So, there are two microphones here, which in NSA fashion are only connected by wires to the floor. So, have at it. Any subject at all. Any question or comment.

Q: Mr. Secretary, in a budget-constrained environment, what are your top priorities?

SEC. CARTER: So, the question was, in a budget-constrained environment, what are my top priorities. And that's -- first and foremost, our people. That's got to be number one, because that's what makes our military the greatest in the world. It's people. It's also technology, it's also lots of other things, but it's principally -- it's first and foremost our people, and that's something we need to keep investing in.

Now, I know that that's not the only investment we make, and we do have to have a balanced approach to defense spending, because each of you wants not only to be adequately compensated, but you want to have other people to your left and right, as you do what you do. You want to have the best equipment. And you want to -- and you don't want to go into action without the best training.

So each of us wants to see some balance in how we spend the defense dollar.

But it's not just a matter of money. It's a matter of caring about our people, making sure that the safety and dignity of all of our people is respected, and all those things that we have responsibility for.

So, number one, for me, is people.

And the second thing I would say is we need to be an open institution. Open to the rest of -- because the way we're going to stay excellent is to be the most excellent part of society. And to do that, you have to be pulling from society the very best and the very best people.

And you guys are superb. And this is why people want to hire veterans so much, because you're all so good. That's why you're such good people to hire. And I know that's another problem, and I don't want you being hired away either. (Laughter) And I can't stop you.

But the reason that people want to hire you away is you're so darn good.

Q: Sir, you spoke of military needing to find a way to fit in within their respective branches. What are the possibilities of establishing a cyber branch of service, much like the Army Air Corps became the Air Force?

SEC. CARTER: It's a very good question. And we have asked ourselves that over time. And there may come a time when that makes sense. I think that for now we're trying to build upon our strengths. We're trying to draw from where we already are strong and not to take too many jumps, organizationally, at once.

So, you know, we're trying -- why has cyber come here at Fort Meade? Well, you know, because we didn't want to start all over again somewhere else. Because we didn't feel like we could afford to do that.

And, as I said, maybe there'll come a day when these two things will each be so strong and different, that they won't need to be in the same place. But that's not now.

There was some question initially about why we used so many uniformed people in the first place. Maybe we should be using more civilians or contractors.

We started where we thought we had strength. And I think you have to look at this as the first step in a journey that may, over time, lead to the decision to break out cyber the way that you said the Army Air Corps became the U.S. Air Force, the way Special Operations Command was created, and with a somewhat separate thing, although that still has service parts to it.

And so, we're trying to get the best of both. You know, our armed services give us hundreds of years of proud tradition, a whole system of recruiting, training and so forth. So it's a pretty -- it's not something you walk away from lightly and said, well, I'm going to start all over again.

So, it may come to that, and I think it's an excellent question. It's a very thoughtful question. And we have given some thought to that. And for right now, we're walking before we run. But it may -- that's one of the futures that cyber might have.

Q: Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary. My question, sir, is in regard to cyber and authorities. Going forward, sir, a vast amount of our work is done with network administrators across the DoDIN [DoD Information Network]. Currently, sir, most of the products we report are recommendations, if you will, sir.

What is your vision, going forward, to make those recommendations more of a requirement for those network administrators?

SEC. CARTER: That's a very insightful question also. It is -- it gets down to a fundamental issue here, and let's be -- let's just put it right out on the table, because that's what you're getting at.

The information networks that it is CYBERCOM's first responsibility to protect are our own DOD networks, because there's no point in my buying all these ships and planes and tanks and everything, and none of them is going to work and our kids aren't going to work, unless there are networks that stitches the whole thing together, enables the whole thing. We've got to -- got to -- got to make our networks secure.

And the protectors don't own the networks. So if you're a cyber mission team and you fall in on a network, you find, well, you know, there's a whole bunch of people who work on this network. They set it up, and they're responding to other needs than security. They're responding to people calling the help desk and driving them crazy with one little problem or another they can't figure out, people who want more, more, more; want faster, this isn't working, I want to add some people.

So they're trying to juggle lots of needs. Many of them are administering networks that are outdated and that have been around for a long time and are a little long in the tooth and so forth.

And so, there's going to be a tension between those who are called upon to protect the networks and those who own and operate the networks. And I understand that. And we think we go into this with our eyes wide open.

But the -- I mean, I'm going to stand -- I can tell you this, I'm going to stand with you on the side of requiring protection, because it's not -- it's not adequate network administration to downplay security. You are laying the warfighter open to risk.

And we can't have that. And I -- you know, you put it this way, if all the network owners and operators were good at protecting themselves, we wouldn't have to, right, have these -- these national mission force protectors.

But it's -- they're not. And it's actually not reasonable for them all to be because that's not their first area of expertise. And we -- so we're counting on this sort of extra proficient group of people to fall in on them and help them.

But there'll always be a little tension when you show up at the door, and they've got a problem. And but you've got to do what you've got to do, because they are no good to us if they're penetrated or vulnerable.

I think that's all I can take for right now.

Let me just, once again, thank you from me very much, and please pass that on.