. . . 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.
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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.