WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is significantly growing the ranks of its cyber warfare unit to deter and defend against foreign attacks on crucial U.S. networks, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Friday.
In his first major speech on cyber policy, Hagel sought to project strength but also to tame perceptions of the United States as an aggressor in computer warfare, stressing that the government "does not seek to militarize cyberspace."
His remarks, delivered at the retirement ceremony of Gen. Keith Alexander, outgoing director of the National Security Agency and Cyber Command, came in advance of Hagel's trip to China next week, his first as defense secretary. The issues of cyber warfare and cyber espionage have been persistent sources of tension between Washington and Beijing.
Hagel said the fighting force at U.S. Cyber Command will number more than 6,000 people by 2016, making it one of the largest in the world. The force will help expand the president's options for responding to a crisis with "full-spectrum cyber capabilities," Hagel said, a reference to cyber operations that can include destroying, damaging or sabotaging an adversary's computer systems and that can complement other military operations.
But, Hagel said, the military's first purpose is "to prevent and de-escalate conflict."
Although some U.S. adversaries, notably China and Russia, which also have formidable cyber capabilities, may view his remarks with skepticism, Hagel said the Pentagon is making an effort to be "open and transparent" about its cyber forces and doctrine. The hope, senior officials said, is that transparency will lead to greater stability in cyberspace.