After sailing through two friendly Senate hearings—one so uncontroversial that only six senators tops bothered to even show up at any given point in the hour—Lieutenant General Paul Nakasone seems set to for confirmation as the next director of the National Security Agency. That means he'll soon lead not just one agency, but two: the world's most powerful spying operation, the NSA, and the world's most powerful military hacker force, US Cyber Command. And for the first time since those two roles were combined in 2010, the man leading them may be more comfortable with the latter—leaving the NSA with the unfamiliar feeling of being the not-quite-favorite sibling.
The NSA and Cyber Command have been conjoined since the latter was created in 2009, controlled by the same leader and working out of the same Fort Meade headquarters. But over the years, Cyber Command's mission has increasingly shifted from defense to attacking enemy networks to achieve military goals—such as penetrating or disrupting enemy command and control systems in wartime—a contrast to the NSA's more general spying mission, so-called "signals intelligence" or Sigint.
'If I were at NSA, I’d want someone who understood and had done NSA jobs recently.'
Jason Healey, Columbia University
Nakasone's recent career—leading the Army's Cyber Command and creating its Joint Task Force Ares with a mission of attacking and disrupting ISIS operations via the internet—has prepared him more for that Cyber Command role than the NSA's Sigint mission, some in the intelligence community say. And that has raised concerns that Nakasone won't give equal weight or resources to the NSA half of his position. "Since his first star, he’s been doing the straight cyber command stuff rather than broader intelligence assignments," says Jason Healey, a former Bush White House staffer and current cyberconflict researcher at Columbia University.