FALLS CHURCH, Va. — U.S. Cyber Command, tasked with defending Department of Defense IT networks and coordinating cyberspace operations, is developing its own intelligence hub, after years of relying on other information-gathering sources.
The endeavor, still in its infancy, is meant to buttress data collection and augment CYBERCOM’s understanding of foreign capabilities in the ever-expanding cyber realm.
“We know everything about a T-72 tank, all the way to every nut and bolt in there, for the Army,” Col. Candice Frost, the leader of the Joint Intelligence Operations Center at CYBERCOM, said at a Feb. 28 event hosted by Billington Cybersecurity in Virginia. “But we don’t have that for networks, with respect to an all-source capability.”
“Congress asked us: Do we need a center that is focused on all-source intelligence to support Cyber Command, in the cyber domain?” Frost said. “And the answer was a resounding yes.”
The prospective Cyber Intelligence Center was previously teased by CYBERCOM’s director of intelligence, Brig. Gen. Matteo Martemucci. He told the Armed Forces Communications & Electronics Association International’s Signal magazine in November that an in-depth review of assets highlighted a need for a hub dedicated to analyzing cyber expertise and exploits abroad.
It would complement the slate of well-established centers and intel-collecting practices with products that are sought-after but still not available, Martemucci said at the time.
Cyber as a discipline and general interest area has exploded in recent years. Paralyzing ransomware attacks, as was seen with Colonial Pipeline, and the bloody Russia-Ukraine war have pushed discussions about digital destruction to the popular fore.
Frost in her remarks acknowledged the work already done by the National Ground Intelligence Center, the National Air and Space Intelligence Center and others, which feed the U.S. defense colossus scientific and technical information about faraway forces.
While existing centers already consider cyber, more is needed, according to Frost.
“We’ve got great partners with the National Security Agency, and they’re very focused on signals intelligence. That’s a huge part of what we look at. But across the spectrum, a combatant command really needs all-source intelligence,” she said. “We have found, unfortunately, that the foundational layer in cybersecurity just wasn’t there.”
The Cyber Intelligence Center would be primarily staffed through the Defense Intelligence Agency, which produces, analyzes and disseminates military intelligence for combat and noncombat missions.
DIA’s workforce is a mix of military members and Defense Department civilians.
“Personnel-wise, we’re building right now. We’re building the plane in-flight,” Frost said. “We’ll eventually get there. Where it will be, how big it will be, all of those things, that’s kind of the negotiation process that we’re in right now.”
Exactly when such a center will come to fruition isn’t clear. Frost joked it might happen when her high-school-aged children graduate college — or when they retire.
“Things take time in the government,” she said. “But we are forward-leaning.”
Colin Demarest is a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covers military networks, cyber and IT. Colin previously covered the Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration — namely Cold War cleanup and nuclear weapons development — for a daily newspaper in South Carolina. Colin is also an award-winning photographer.