President Donald Trump announced Friday he has directed U.S. Cyber Command to be elevated to a unified combatant command and is exploring separating it from the National Security Agency.
In a statement, Trump said the move “will strengthen our cyberspace operations and create more opportunities to improve our Nation’s defense.”
The decision could have significant economic ramifications for western Anne Arundel County, where Fort Meade is based.
Tim O’Farrell, general manager for the Fort Meade Alliance, said the decision is “huge for the state of Maryland. It’s huge for this region.”
He said, “What this means is greater emphasis on cyber and economic development around the region as companies want to come to a place that is so close to the center of it all.”
Claire Louder, the former CEO of the West County Chamber of Commerce, said last year that a change in how Cyber Command is positioned within the Department of Defense could lead to more opportunities for cyber companies looking to sign military contracts.
Currently, the agency is a sub-unified command underneath the U.S. Strategic Command, and Adm. Michael Rogers is the head of the NSA and Cyber Command.
Eric Geller, a cybersecurity reporter for Politico, wrote on Twitter the move elevates Cyber Command to the level of nine other unified combatant commands within the Department of Defense, such as U.S. Strategic Command and U.S. Pacific Command.
Louder said because resources are allocated differently to full combatant commands rather than sub-unified commands, the change could lead to another significant economic boom for the region.
That could also lead to better positioning for county officials to lobby for additional funding for infrastructure and school improvements as more people move to the area following job opportunities.
O’Farrell said Friday that while the move was largely expected — Congress had authorized the president to make this move through its fiscal year 2017 defense policy legislation — its impact on the cybersecurity community should not be understated.
“If you want to understand what is happening in that space, you’re going to have to come through here,” O’Farrell said. “I think you’re going to see, from Annapolis to Columbia, continued new companies coming into the marketplace.”
Rep. C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger, D-Baltimore County, whose 2nd District includes Fort Meade, lauded Trump’s decision to elevate the agency in a statement.
“Demand for cyber warfare capabilities is only going to increase and this decision will give the Command the power and resources it needs to better protect our country,” he wrote.
Trump said in the statement the move “will also help streamline command and control of time-sensitive cyberspace operations by consolidating them under a single commander with authorities commensurate with the importance of such operations.”
The change follows years of intense debate as to how Cyber Command should be positioned within the Department of Defense.
Several high-ranking officials have proposed separating the agency entirely from the NSA.
Created in 2009 at NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Cyber Command plays a more active and offensive role in military combat than the NSA, mostly over the internet rather than on the ground.
During President Barack Obama’s administration, former Defense Secretary Ash Carter and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper argued Cyber Command should be independent of the NSA.
However, Arizona Sen. John McCain has been adamant he would block any plans to end the “dual-hat” leadership that oversees the NSA and Cyber Command.
In a statement, McCain said he was “pleased” by Trump’s decision, adding “there is much more to be done to prepare our nation and our military to meet our cybersecurity challenges.”