Senator Proposes Cyber 'Academy' to Attract More to National Service

cyber warfare operations journeyman Warfield Air National Guard Base
Staff Sgt. Wendell Myler, a cyber warfare operations journeyman assigned to the 175th Cyberspace Operations Group of the Maryland Air National Guard monitors live cyber attacks on the operations floor of the 27th Cyberspace Squadron, known as the Hunter's Den, at Warfield Air National Guard Base, Middle River, Md., June 3, 2017. (J.M. Eddins Jr./U.S. Air Force)

The nation would benefit from a national academy, similar to the military service academies, for cyber research and operations, a U.S. senator said Wednesday during a hearing on military personnel issues.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., floated the idea of a "national cyber school" that would educate students for jobs across the federal government, including the intelligence services, the Justice Department and Homeland Security, as well as the military services.

Gillibrand said a school structured like the service academies, which provide scholarships and room and board in return for several years of service, would attract a diverse student body that could "benefit the whole of government."

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"I think it would be worth considering having a cyber school ... to develop that love of public service and love of leadership that's so unique about the service academies," she said during a Senate Armed Services Committee personnel panel hearing.

Acknowledging that the service academies have cybersecurity courses and tracts, Gillibrand said the military academies are extremely difficult to get into and require academic excellence and athletic prowess; her vision would draw from a larger pond.

"I'm thinking to create [sic] an on-ramp for public service for all types of students because, as we discussed, you have talent that may not look like a typical service member. They may not be able to bench-press X number of pounds and do so many push-ups. They may not want to become an expert in shooting and arms ... but they may be the best in the country, and we want access to them," she said.

Gillibrand is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, where she chairs the personnel subcommittee, and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. She also is on the Board of Visitors at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York.

Patricia Mulcahy, chief human capital officer for the U.S. Space Force, noted that her branch doesn't have a service academy, adding that its members are appropriately nested at the Air Force Academy.

But a cyber academy is "intriguing," she said, noting that it could help with recruiting and retention within the Space Force.

"This is something to think about as a separate school. ... We have certain missions in all of our services that have to be done by military people that have cyber skills, but we have other ones that civilians can do. Perhaps this is something that caters to both," Mulcahy said.

President Joe Biden signed an executive order Wednesday designed to improve the nation’s cybersecurity infrastructure as networks face increasing vulnerabilities to hackers, including criminals and foreign intelligence operatives.

In the past year, the U.S. has seen massive disruptions brought on by the SolarWinds hack, breaches to the Microsoft Exchange, and the recent ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline. Biden's executive order is designed to upgrade and modernize the federal government’s cybersecurity technology; create a playbook for reacting to infiltrations; and establish a cybersecurity safety review board, similar to the National Transportation Safety Board, to analyze events.

Gillibrand said a unique cybersecurity academy would bolster the federal government’s expertise in this area and provide opportunities for young people who have skills but may not know how to serve their country.

"I think what is so important is that we really excel when we have diversity, when we have kids from all over the globe, [all] over the country coming to do cyber. Their expertise and skills are so extraordinary," she said.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime

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