CNO: Navy Admirals Are Facing Cyberattacks

Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. John Richardson visits Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD), Jan. 18, 2017. (U.S. Navy file photo)
Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. John Richardson visits Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD), Jan. 18, 2017. (U.S. Navy file photo)

The Navy's top admiral is defending his service's decision not to publicize flag officers' promotions and new assignments, citing concerns about cyberattacks if the information is announced.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson told reporters Wednesday that the announcements, which were previously released by the Pentagon and stopped abruptly in October, left flag officers vulnerable.

"There's always a tension between transparency and security," Richardson said. "I don't know if you've been personally attacked in the cyber world, but our new flags are. So ... we can do anything to kind of make sure that we can keep their information secure."

USNI News was the first to report last month that the Navy had stopped publicizing the announcements. The Marine Corps, Army and Air Force have not stopped releasing their general officer announcements through Defense Department news release.

The short announcements include officers' next assignments and promotion nominations. The Senate, which approves the promotion nominations and assignment appointments, also posts that information online, including those from the Navy.

The Navy has sent 74 flag-officer nominations to the Senate for approval since Oct. 1, USNI News reported. It has publicized 22 flag-officer confirmations, according to the outlet, but hasn't named the admirals' new positions.

When asked whether he is concerned about the force not getting information about leaders' assignments, Richardson said the information gets out.

"Our force knows where our flags are going," he said.

Richardson did not say where the cyber threats are originating. But the policy, he added, is consistent with the steps the services must take to combat cyber threats.

A senior Navy official told The Wall Street Journal this week that the service is "under siege" from cyberattacks from China, Russia and Iran. A new Navy cybersecurity review deemed the situation dire, according to the Journal, as the service struggles to respond to the scope and sophistication of the threat.

Cyber threats, Richardson said, are moving fast. Every military branch must be "at the same level of capability" he said, "because it takes one or two vulnerabilities and the enemy can be inside the network and do some serious damage."

Richardson didn't specify how flag-officer assignments are leaving Navy leaders vulnerable to cyberattacks, saying it's "just a vulnerability that we're trying to think about."

"We'll let [the other services] know what we find out," he said.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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