Hagel Vows to Prioritize Cyber, Nuclear Capabilities

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel walks with Air Force Gen. C. Robert "Bob" Kehler, second from right, commander of US Strategic Command, Navy Vice Adm. Tim Giardina, the command's deputy commander, and Army Command Sgt. Maj. Patrick Z. Alston, the command's senior enlisted leader, on Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., June 20, 2013. Hagel met with senior leaders, received command briefings, and visited with troops and civilians to thank them for their service

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Washington – Malicious cyberattacks are quickly becoming a defining security challenge “for our time, for all our institutions,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Wednesday (June 19) during a speech in Omaha, Neb., at his alma mater, the University of Nebraska-Omaha. “They are putting America’s economic and technological advantages and our industrial base at risk,” the secretary added. “And they threaten our critical infrastructure.”

Hagel noted some now-familiar defense challenges in the cyber realm: attacks are invisible, hard to track to their source, and potentially can be classified as either criminal activity or acts of war. “Attribution is not impossible, but it is not as simple as identifying a navy sailing across the ocean or an army crossing a border to attack you,” Hagel said. “This is a fundamentally different, more insidious kind of threat than we’ve ever seen — one that carries with it a great risk of miscalculation and mistake.”

It is also a global concern, he noted. “Part of the answer to the cyber threat is working through and with international forums of common interests, and developing a common approach with all nations,” he said. Hagel acknowledged that while America’s conventional military edge “remains overwhelming and unrivaled, our nation is dangerously exposed to cyberspace attacks.”

The secretary repeated statements he made last week in congressional testimony: defense spending for cyber capabilities will remain a top priority.

“The president and I asked for an increase in our cyber capabilities in the 2014 budget that I presented at Congress the last two months,” Hagel said. “We will do this even as we pare back force structure in almost all other areas where the military has excess capacity measured against the real-world threats of today.”

Responding to an audience member’s question on cyber after his speech, the secretary cautioned would-be enemies that the nation isn’t defenseless in the cyber realm. “We have considerable deterrent ability [and] capability to deter any kind of attack on this country,” Hagel said.

It’s no secret that everything from ships to banks runs through the cyber domain, Hagel noted. “You start knocking on infrastructure of a country, you don’t need to fire a shot, [and] you paralyze a country,” he said. “You paralyze command and control of your military. You wipe out bank accounts.”

Even seemingly minor disruptions could have a serious affect, Hagel said. “I mean things maybe as mundane as all the traffic lights go out in big cities — well, big deal. Well, [have you ever] been to New York City or Los Angeles when there’s no traffic lights?”

Hagel said the whole question of cyber “leads to the change, the dramatic change in threats to our world and our way of life; and we have to be more agile in our military and everything we’re doing to [manage] that.”

Hagel also discussed nuclear capabilities, noting much of his Nebraska visit would involve US Strategic Command, which has its headquarters near Omaha. Stratcom’s mission includes maintaining a safe and effective nuclear deterrent.

Hagel noted yesterday that President Barack Obama announced the United States will pursue negotiated reductions with Russia of up to one-third of the number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons allowed under the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

The secretary said he strongly supports those reductions, and added that three things will not change:

— The United States will maintain a ready and credible deterrent;

— It will retain a triad of bombers, intercontinental ballistic missiles and ballistic missile submarines; and

— It will make sure that its nuclear weapons remain safe, secure, ready and effective.

Even in an era of declining resources, Hagel said, the United States has invested substantially in the nuclear enterprise. “DOD will continue to make these investments in order to sustain our weapons and delivery systems and ensure that we retain the expert personnel,” he said.

Stratcom’s mission remains critical and relevant, Hagel added. “A safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent remains essential to our national security, and we will maintain that capability,” he said. 

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