MODERATOR: You commented on 24th Air Force. And would you also comment on the standup of U.S. Cyber Command and your expectations of how the services will organize and present a full range of capabilities to this new command?
SEC. GATES: I think all of the services have really readily embraced the reality that this is — this is important and vitally — and vital to us for the future. Each of the services is establishing its own cyber organization, such as the 24th.
All of the — I have — I’ve asked each of the service chiefs to consider as a first priority filling the billets in the cyber schools. We were not filling all of those billets, and clearly the demand for trained people in each of the services in this area is critically important.
I think everybody understands this is a huge potential vulnerability for us because of our dependence on the electronic world for communications, for everything we do. And I think Cyber Command really is a recognition of the need that — the U.S. Cyber Command as a subunified command under STRATCOM.
I think the reason it’s really important is the need to integrate the different elements from exploitation to defense and so on all in one place so that we have a unity of effort in this respect, and then working with the individual service components. So I think that we’ve made a lot of institutional and structural progress over the past year to 18 months in getting ourselves better organized to deal with a threat that is only going to grow in the future.
MODERATOR: And, sir, this is a follow-up on that. You’ve described well what we’re doing within the department. But how will operations in cyberspace be coordinated between the Department of Defense and other civil and national agencies?
SEC. GATES: Well, I’m sort of speaking a little out of turn here because I can’t speak for the administration as a whole, so I’ll just give a personal opinion. I think the notion of being able to replicate NSA for the civilian side of the government is wholly unrealistic. We lack the human capital as well as the dollars to be able to do it; and, frankly, we lack the time to be able to do it. You just couldn’t create another NSA in a year or two. This is a 10- or 20-year project.
So I think we have to figure out a way. I think that the concerns of people — of all of us concerned about civil liberties and so on have to be taken into account. My own personal view is that one way to do this would be to double-hat a deputy secretary or an undersecretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and have that person also be a civilian deputy at NSA, you know, and then figure out a way to put some firewalls in that make sure that the authorities that we have that we can use for going after foreign threats do not spill over into the civilian world.
But clearly the need to address this issue and the vulnerability of the dot-com world in this arena, I think, has to be addressed, and better sooner than later.
MODERATOR: Thank you, sir. And the next question has to do with our growing reliance on space. And our services and certainly our nation and the world continue to rely heavily and even more so on our space capabilities. Now, what we are doing to address the potential threat to our space assets that have been appearing over the past several years?
SEC. GATES: Well, this is a — this is a worry for me, and especially once the Chinese demonstrated their anti-satellite capabilities. They are working on them. Clearly, the Russians have some capabilities in this area. Others may have in the years ahead and maybe in the not-too-distant future.
So I think we have to look at it in a couple of ways. How can we make what we do put in space more survivable? But also, what kind of alternatives can we develop in the atmosphere to be able to provide us at least short-term substitutes for space assets should they be denied to us? And I would tell you we’re not — we’ve made some good progress, but we’ve got a long way to go in this area.