. . . And Takes Command of U.S. Cyber Command and the National Security Agency
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
Earlier this month, a grandson of immigrants from Okinawa whose Nisei father served in the Military Intelligence Service in World War II became the fourth American of Japanese ancestry in U.S. military history to be elevated to four-star general and appointed director of the National Security Agency and head of U.S. Cyber Command.
On May 4, 54-year-old Gen. Paul M. Nakasone, a Minnesota-born sansei with deep Hawai‘i roots, assumed leadership of the two intelligence agencies. Nakasone now faces what deputy secretary of defense Patrick Shanahan called “the dawn of a new era, facing the reality of war’s changing character — the emergence of cyberspace and outer space as contested war-fighting domains, equal in importance with land, sea and air.”
Gen. Nakasone brings a decade of experience in combatting cyber warfare that began with a 2008 security breach involving a thumb drive. Following that incident, he played a major role in the design and creation of U.S. Cyber Command, which was formally established in June 2009 when it became the 10th fully unified, stand-alone combatant command, headquartered at Fort Meade, Md.
In October 2016, after deployments to South Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan, Nakasone assumed the leadership of the Army’s Cyber Command. As its commanding general, he created joint task force areas charged with attacking and disrupting ISIS (Islamic State) online operations. He was also instrumental in expanding Army Cyber Command by recruiting thousands of digital “warriors.”
In announcing Nakasone’s promotion as the incoming head of the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command earlier this year, Rob Joyce, special assistant to the president and cyber security coordinator on the National Security Council, praised Nakasone’s strong background in cyber issues. He said Nakasone “brings great experience and strong cyber background” to his new post and called him “an exceptional leader for two exceptional organizations.”
U.S. Cyber Command became the 10th combatant command — four of which, like U.S. Cyber Command, have specific missions: Transportation Command, Special Operations Command and Strategic Command; and six with geographic areas of responsibility: U.S. Africa Command, Central Command, European Command, Northern Command, Pacific Command (headquartered in Hawai‘i and headed by Adm. Harry Harris) and Southern Command.
In testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee in March, Nakasone said Russia, Iran and North Korea pose the most serious cyber threats. He added that U.S. Cyber Command is prepared to use its cyber intelligence and attack capabilities to target funds and other assets of Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
“We face a challenging and volatile threat environment, and cyber threats to our national security interests and critical infrastructure rank at the top of the list,” he told the committee during a March hearing on his nomination. Nakasone cited the significance of public-private partnerships in the advancement and implementation of new technologies to address security risks.
Gen. Nakasone assumes leadership of the NSA at a time when it faces several major security breaches, the loss of technical talent and reorganization. The National Security Agency, which conducts electronic surveillance and protects U.S. national security agencies’ computer networks against hacking, employs about 38,000 civilians, soldiers and analysts and works with about 17,000 contractors. U.S. Cyber Command, with 7,000 military personnel and civilians, faces the challenge of effectively countering cyber threats.
In a statement to The Hawai‘i Herald after assuming his new duties, Nakasone said he was honored to lead the two organizations.
“I’m also proud to keep traveling the same path of military service as my father, retired Army Col. Edwin Nakasone, from Wahiawä. He was among many other great Japanese American service members who led the way for people like myself, Adm. Harry Harris, retired Gens. Eric Shinseki and John Campbell and many others.
“I’m looking forward to the new challenges and opportunities that will come with these positions of Commander, U.S. Cyber Command, and Director, NSA,” he added. “Never before in our nation’s history has the cyberspace domain been so important for national security. Any success in these new roles will be because of the great team members that make up these organizations and due to the lessons I’ve learned from my father and other great leaders who came before me.”
The May 4 ceremony, which was steeped in military history, was officiated by deputy defense secretary Patrick Shanahan and Daniel Coats, director of National Intelligence. In entrusting leadership of U.S. Cyber Command and the NSA to Nakasone, they spoke of the challenge he faces.
“Cyberspace is not bound by geography. It is not bound by the physical prowess of our adversaries,” he continued. “The next 10 years will look significantly different than the last 10, more than any of us can likely imagine. Nations as different as Russia and China seek to leverage cyberspace and build asymmetric advantage over our military, and terrorists use the cyber domain to spread their poisonous ideology of hate,” Shanahan said.
“In this environment, there can be no complacency as we field a lethal, resilient and adaptable joint force capable of defending the nation,” Nakasone said.
In accepting his new command, Nakasone said the country is at “a unique point in our history, where, in cyberspace, we are confronted with both rapidly changing technology and adversaries that would seek to threaten this country in new and unprecedented ways.”
He said the newly constructed, integrated cyber center at Fort Meade, Md., was designed to be a “nerve center for critical national security, cyberspace missions, tying together two powerful national organizations — the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command.”
“These connected buildings provide real-time coordination symbolic of the partnership between two great organizations, which trap our adversaries, provide warning and, if called upon, defend the nation,” Nakasone said.
“NSA will continue our unfailing role as a vital combat support agency to our nation’s military forces,” he added. “We will also continue to be the elite foreign signals intelligence producer across the globe.”
Eric Rosenbach, former chief of staff to Defense Secretary Ash Carter, who served under President Barack Obama, told the Washington Post that “Russia is the most significant national security threat facing Paul Nakasone at Cyber Command and NSA.”
“Given the escalating tensions between the United States and Russia, and the fact that they continue to hack key democratic institutions and conduct information operations, that makes Russia his top strategic concern when he assumes command.”
U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawai‘i) said Nakasone “has a distinguished record of service and led U.S. missions in Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan.” After talking with him, she said she believes he has “the perfect temperament and record to lead our Cyber Command. I am confident that he is the right person to lead the National Security Agency, especially at a time when we are confronted with threats like Russia interfering in our elections.”
A contingent of Nakasone family members from Hawai‘i, Minnesota and Maryland gathered at the sparkling new $500 million integrated Cyber Center and Joint Operations Center at Fort Meade on May 4 to see Nakasone assume the leadership of U.S. Cyber Command and the National Security Agency and also to witness the general’s fourth star being pinned on his uniform — a journey that began 32 years ago, in May 1986, when Nakasone received his second lieutenant’s gold bars.
Nakasone’s wife Susan, seated in the front row, was presented a bouquet of yellow roses, symbolizing “a new beginning” and her arrival to the NSA, U.S. Cyber Command and Central Services. Seated with her were their four children; from Minnesota, the general’s parents, Edwin “Bud” and Mary Nakasone, and his older brother John and daughter Natalie Cremens. Also in the audience from Hawai‘i was the general’s cousin, Norman Nakasone, a Central Pacific Bank executive, and his wife Renette.
Norman Nakasone described the hour-long change of command ceremony emceed by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley as “awesome.” Early in his military career, Milley was stationed in Hawai‘i with the 25th Infantry Division at Schofield Barracks.
The ceremony also marked the retirement of Nakasone’s predecessor, Adm. Michael “Mike” Rogers, after nearly four years in the post.
Equally impressive was the “pinning ceremony” that followed the change of command. Nakasone received his fourth star during that ceremony.
“Gen. Milley and Paul’s wife Susan pinned the new stars on Paul’s jacket. His jacket was then removed and daughter Sarah and son Daniel pinned the new stars on his uniform,” said Norman. The general’s twin sons, Joseph and David, also attached four stars on their father’s beret.
“We are happy about Paul’s promotion and very proud of the fact that he did exceedingly well during the Senate confirmation hearings,” Bud Nakasone told the Herald. “We are proud that he is part of the Sansei generation that has done quite well.”
Bud Nakasone said his son has “always been a conscientious, hard-working individual and very conscious of his Japanese-Irish-German heritage. His Hawai‘i connection is a big plus for him, too — he loves the li hing mui crack seeds.”
A week earlier, family members from Hawai‘i, Minnesota and Georgia converged in the Washington area for the change of command and pinning ceremony. It was postponed a week at the last minute. The visitors did not go home disappointed, however: They had a chance to witness Gen. Paul Nakasone relinquish U.S. Army Cyber Command to its chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Stephen Fogarty, at Fort Belvoir, Va.
The Hawai‘i family members included his uncle, James “Jimmy” Nakasone (Bud Nakasone’s youngest brother) and Jimmy’s daughters, Kelly Nakasone and her fiancé Blaine Kim and Wendy Mooney.
Kelly Nakasone described the ceremony as “very impressive.” She had also attended the Pentagon ceremony marking her cousin’s promotion to brigadier general in 2012, when he received his first star.
“Never in my dreams would I have thought that he would become a four-star general,” she said. Kelly said she and her cousin Paul have always been very close — they were born only 10 days apart, he in White Bear, Minn., and she in Hawai‘i.
“He is a very family-oriented person and has always kept in touch with his relatives in Hawai‘i, visiting them whenever he is in Hawai‘i,” she said. “This is so very amazing and we are very, very proud of him,” Kelly said.
During a visit to Hawai‘i last October to speak at a University of Hawai‘i astronomy, space exploration and cyber security forum, she said her cousin contacted as many relatives as he could during his short stay.
Although he was born and raised across the Pacific and in the middle of the country, Kelly said her cousin Paul “loves Spam musubi, li hing mui seeds and malasadas.” She added that he lived in Hawai‘i for a year as a baby, from 1965 to 1966, while his father was in a graduate program at the East-West Center.
Like his daughter, Jimmy Nakasone described his four-star, li hing mui-loving nephew as “extremely humble” and “always trying to keep tabs on his ‘ohana here in Hawai‘i, inquiring about his aunts, uncles and cousins — and also wanting to know specifics about everyone and how they are doing.”
As a youngster, Paul Nakasone spent many Christmas holidays with his family in the Islands. “I have a wonderful ‘ohana there,” he told the Herald in a previous interview. He recalled how happy he was to receive care packages during his overseas deployments.
“I would get omiyage with li hing mui and wet seed and all things like Diamond [Bakery] soda crackers, which I would crave. When I was in Afghanistan, my aunts and uncles would always send me those.”
A HISTORY OF MILITARY SERVICE
Gen. Nakasone said his father’s service as a translator and interpreter in the Military Intelligence Service in World War II and his subsequent career in the Army Reserve influenced his decision to enroll in the Army’s ROTC program while a student at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minn., where he studied economics.
“I became interested in the military when I was in high school and started learning about the 442nd [Regimental Combat Team]. I did a paper on it and interviewed a lot of the veterans in 1981 . . . that got me interested in serving and that led to ROTC.”
In many respects, it was the service and outstanding record of World War II Nisei veterans like Bud Nakasone that helped to clear the path for succeeding generations of Japanese Americans to excel in the military.
On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, 14-year-old Bud Nakasone, now 91, was eating a bowl of corn flakes in the kitchen when he saw a Japanese Zero through the screen door of his Wahiawä home.
“I saw the planes coming through Kolekole Pass and then come down and strafe Schofield Barracks,” he said in a phone interview from his home in Minnesota. Running to the kitchen door, Bud Nakasone saw a bomb drop on Wheeler Air Field. As one of the planes flew over their house, he saw “the big red ‘meatball.’ The cockpit of the plane was open and the pilot had goggles and a white scarf, and I realized we were at war.”
Bud Nakasone was drafted into the Army in August 1945 after graduating from Leilehua High School. He passed a Japanese language proficiency test and was sent to the Military Intelligence Service Language School at Fort Snelling, Minn. He was in the last class convened at Snelling, graduating in 1946. He served as an interpreter during the Occupation of Japan.
After being discharged as a technical sergeant in 1948, he enrolled in the University of Hawai‘i, joining its Army ROTC program. He was commissioned two years later. Bud Nakasone transferred to the University of Minnesota and served three years of active duty at the 5th Army Intelligence School. He eventually transferred to the Army Reserve, retiring as an Army colonel with 41 years of service. He made his career as a high school teacher and college professor in Minnesota.
Bud Nakasone said that prior to being commissioned a second lieutenant, his son had told Army officials that he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and become an intelligence officer.
“He said he was happy with what the Japanese Americans had done in the MI (military intelligence) field,” Bud Nakasone said.
After serving on active duty for four years, Paul Nakasone said he found that he liked what he did and was pretty good at it, so he decided to make the military his career.
Paul Nakasone went on to earn master’s degrees from the University of Southern California, U.S. Army War College and the National Defense Intelligence College, and to also graduate from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College.
FOUR WITH FOUR STARS
According to the Japanese American Veterans Association, which tracks the careers of Asian Americans in the military, only three dozen Japanese Americans have been promoted to generals and admirals. To date, only four have achieved four-star ranking — the highest.
Prior to Gen. Paul Nakasone’s promotion earlier this month, Adm. Harry Harris was the only active-duty four-star officer of Japanese ancestry in the U.S. military in the last two years. A 39-year Navy veteran, Harris is expected to retire soon to become U.S. ambassador to South Korea.
The other two four-star AJA officers served in the Army — retired Gen. Eric Shinseki, a Kauai native and former Army chief of staff and former secretary for Veterans Affairs under President Barack Obama; and retired Gen. John Campbell, who commanded the Resolute Mission and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan.
Harris acknowledged the two four-star generals with Hawai‘i ties last month at an aloha luncheon honoring him and his wife, Bruni Bradley, saying, “It’s no exaggeration to say that I join Generals Shinseki and Nakasone, standing on the shoulders of giants.”
THE AMERICAN DREAM
There is a bit of irony in the fact that Gen. Nakasone’s paternal grandmother, Ushii (Shimabukuro) Nakasone, immigrated to Hawai‘i from Okinawa as the 18-year-old picture bride of the general’s grandfather, Matsukichi Nakasone. After laboring in the island’s sugar and pineapple fields for several years, Ushii Nakasone worked as a live-in maid for Army officers in Wahiawä to help support her young and growing family. At the time, she could not read, write or speak English. She told plantation historian Barbara Kawakami, who documented the lives of picture brides like Ushii Nakasone in her book, “Picture Bride Stories,” that she often cried herself to sleep because she was separated from her children.
When Ushii Nakasone died in 1990 at the age of 93, she had 27 grandchildren and 15-great grandchildren — and probably never dreamed that her grandson Paul would rise through the ranks of the United States Army to become a four-star American general in the country she made her home.
Gregg K. Kakesako worked for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Gannett News Service in Washington, D.C., and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser for more than four decades as a government, political and military affairs reporter and assistant city editor.