Cyber Command Expects Lessons From 2018 Midterms to Apply in 2020


Efforts to protect the 2018 midterm elections from foreign interference are expected to be studied and reapplied to protect the November 2020 elections, the commander of U.S. Cyber Command said on Capitol Hill today.

During testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Army Gen. Paul M. Nakasone told lawmakers that protecting the 2018 midterms from meddling adversaries was both a priority and a challenge.  

“The defense of the 2018 midterm elections posed a significant strategic challenge to our nation,” the general said. “Ensuring a safe and secure election was our No. 1 priority, and drove me to establish a joint U.S. Cyber Command/NSA effort we called the Russia Small Group.”

Nakasone serves as commander of Cybercom and as director of the National Security Agency.

In submitted testimony, Nakasone said agencies including U.S. European Command, U.S. Northern Command, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and others had been asked to defend the integrity of America’s 2018 midterm elections. The Russia Small Group resulted from their partnership, he said.

Persistent Presence in Cyberspace

“We created a persistent presence in cyberspace to monitor adversary actions and crafted tools and tactics to frustrate their efforts,” Nakasone said.

Now, Nakasone told senators, Cybercom is reviewing lessons learned from securing the midterm elections and is focused on potential threats that may arise during the 2020 presidential elections.

Nakasone told the Senate panel that new language in the fiscal year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act has enhanced the ability of Cyber Command to perform its mission. That language allows the command to both better partner with other agencies and to operate outside DOD networks, he said.

“I would also offer that the FY19 NDAA was critical for us at U.S. Cyber Command,” Nakasone said. “It gave us capabilities and authorities that were important for us as we look to further enable. That included the ability for us to rapidly deploy elements of our force to the Department of Homeland Security, the ability for us to look at networks that are not part of the DOD network, and ... the idea of cyber as a traditional military activity. I think those are areas that are going to help us immensely with near-peer competitors.”