Scuttlebiz: Separating Cyber from NSA could speed private-sector development in Augusta

When America’s enemies hide behind closed doors, the best military strategy could be stealthily picking the lock under the cover of night. Or it could be blowing the door to smithereens with an M203 in broad daylight.

 

Same goes for electronic warfare: some situations requires finesse, others demand brute force.

That, as much as anything, explains why the Pentagon is planning to separate U.S. Cyber Command from the National Security Agency – the two entities that have the most influence over Fort Gordon and, by extension, Augusta’s fledgling cyber economy.

If the split happens as expected in the coming years, the impact would be a positive for Augusta. More on that later.

First, some background: The nearly decade-old Cyber Command focuses on digital warfare and oversees Army Cyber Command, which is gradually being moved from Fort Belvoir, Va., to a 324,000-square-foot facility under construction next to NSA-Georgia’s massive cryptologic center at Fort Gordon, which gathers intelligence from Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

Cyber and NSA directives differ, but both report to the same commander, Admiral Michael S. Rogers.

Cyber, being the new kid on the block, has essentially borrowed the NSA’s tools. That made sense when the command was brand new in 2009, but now cyber warriors need battle-specific gear, military experts say.

One of those experts is Bill Leigher, director of government cybersecurity solutions for defense contractor Raytheon, which has an office in Augusta. Leigher will be one of nearly 3,300 attendees at the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association’s TechNet show in Augusta later this week.

During a phone interview on the eve of the event, the retired Navy rear admiral explained the difference between Cyber’s needs and NSA’s.

“Using network capabilities to collect good intelligence, and not get caught while you’re doing it, is the secret part of what our Department of Defense does,” Leigher said. “But when you go to war, that measure of performance changes. (The technology) needs to behave like a weapon. It needs to be measurable. It needs to be legal in the context of conducting war.”

Leigher believes a Cyber-NSA split is about two years from becoming a reality. The two would, of course, continue to collaborate, but he said Cyber Command would be free to start adapting things “used successfully in the intelligence community to create new tools that are more in line with the responsibilities of conducting war.”

Leigher, who spent many years working with Fort Gordon as the commanding officer of Naval Information Operations Command and deputy commander for U.S. Fleet Cyber Command/U.S. 10th Fleet, said Cyber Command could – and should – become the Defense Department’s 10th unified combatant command. It currently falls under U.S. Strategic Command, the Omaha, Neb.-based command that also oversees U.S. nuclear capabilities and space operations.

Though the Cyber-NSA separation would be transparent “from the layman’s point of view” at Fort Gordon, a newly independent Cyber Command would likely create more opportunities for private industry to develop new cyberwarfare weapons or battle-focused adaptations of existing intelligence-gathering technologies.

Leigher noted increased outreach already is occurring through events such as last month’s Cyber Quest, where 27 companies put out more than three dozen products for road testing at the base’s cyberwarfare school, the Army Cyber Center of Excellence.

He said a sharper focus on digital warfare technologies could speed development of private industry.

“The best analogy I can give you is I happened to be working at NSA in Fort Meade on Sept. 11,” Leigher said. “What we now call Annapolis Junction – a three-quarter-mile long, half-mile wide cluster of defense contractors and IT companies – did not exist before the war on terrorism started. It has all emerged to stand up and support the intelligence needs around NSA. So I just have to believe that you guys in Augusta are going to see growth too.”

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TONS O’ TOURISTS: The TechNet show, with an estimated economic impact of nearly $2.8 million, is one of the biggest annual conferences in Augusta. And it keeps getting bigger.

But it’s not the month’s biggest event. That distinction goes to 2017 Military Worlds Softball Tournament, which is bringing an estimated 5,500 attendees and $3.4 million in economic impact to the region. This year’s United States Specialty Sports Association-sanctioned tournament is about the same size as it was last year, when it came to Diamond Lakes Regional Park in south Augusta for the first time in its 15-year history.

August in general is a big month for visitors, according to the Augusta Convention & Visitors Bureau and Augusta Sports Council, which said events like the tournament and TechNet will pump nearly $10.5 million into the economy. Other major events for the month include the the Georgia-South Carolina Bulls Soccer Club’s 2017 Aiken Soccer Cup (3,500 participants, $1,8 million impact) Georgia United States Tennis Association’s 2017 Georgia State Mixed Doubles Championship (1,400 participants; $865,000 impact).

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MELTING DOWN: I’d be smiling more if our nuclear power industry’s long-term outlook was as rosy as tourism ’s.

Here’s two bombshells from this past week: South Carolina’s SCANA and Santee Cooper canceled construction plans for their two new reactors at the V.C. Summer nuclear plant, and Atlanta-based Southern Co. said its Plant Vogtle expansion project will cost at least $25 billion and won’t be finished until 2023.

For those of you keeping track, the Vogtle reactors should have been completed by now for $14 billion. Ay caramba!

Southern Co.’s Georgia Power is said to be mulling whether to pull the plug Vogtle. Just two weeks ago it took project management at the site away from Westinghouse Electric Co., which has had numerous problems getting its super-advanced AP1000 reactor built. The subsidiary of Toshiba Corp. filed for bankruptcy in March, largely because of its problems at Vogtle and VC Summer.

What’s been described as America’s “nuclear renaissance” began in Georgia and South Carolina, and it may end there too.

Other companies that were planning to build new reactors may now be putting on the brakes. And those that haven’t, such as Utah’s Blue Castle Project, have sought companies other than Westinghouse to build their AP1000 units.

That’s sort of like saying you love Ford’s new F-150 … you just prefer it was built by General Motors.

“We’ve been well aware of the construction issues Westinghouse has been having as contractor at those (Vogtle and Summer) sites,” Aaron Tilton, CEO of Blue Castle Holdings, told The Daily Sentinel in Grand Junction, Colo., earlier this year.

Voglte’s woes coincide with this summer’s 30th anniversary of its units 1 and 2, which began operation in 1987 and 1989.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world plows ahead in nuclear. More than 9 gigawatts of new electricity, the largest increase in 25 years, were brought on last year according to the World Nuclear Association.

Four AP1000s under construction in China, two in Sanmen and two in Haiyang are scheduled to start commercial operation next year, with Sanmen being the first.

I predict that a couple of years after that, China’s state-owned electric utility will probably start building its own reverse-engineered AP1000 knockoff. Maybe China will then sell the pirated technology back to us at discount prices?

That’s one way to grow the industry. We’re certainly not going to be able to power our factories and homes – or charge our precious smartphones – on renewables .

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SPEAKING OF PHONES: Xfinity Mobile, a wireless phone service through Comcast, is now available through the Xfinity store in the Augusta Exchange shopping center at 222 Robert C. Daniel Jr. Parkway.

“Comcast is introducing the service in its retail stores market-by-market, and this location is among the first in the Southeast to offer Xfinity Mobile,” the comapny said in a statement. Xfinity Mobile combines Verizon’s 4G LTE network with a Wi-Fi network of more than 17 million hotspots nationwide “to support a seamless internet and entertainment experience.”

The company said it offers straightforward data options: an unlimited $45 per month, per line plan up to five lines with no usage limits; and a $12 “by the gig” plan with hared cellular data across all lines on an account each month.

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SCHOOL DAZE: Are your kids’ faces buried in a smartphone screen? Put the device to work for you looking into some free back-t0-school apps.

Mike Kinney at Verizon’s Evans store recommends the following: Family Locator, which lets you track your kids whereabouts; Brainscape, a digital version of “flash cards” that can be used to improve math and language skills; Easybib, a tool high schoolers can use to make bibliography citations; Todoist, a class, sports and chore task-management app; and Google Goals, a Google Calendar app that lets you schedule, defer or complete goals.

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TAX TROUBLE In last week’s column I pointed out the trouble county officials will face dividing up taxes at the new Jim Hudson Lexus dealership under construction on the Richmond-Columbia county line near Washington and Pleasant Home roads.

My mistake was noting that car sales would become part of that headache. Not so, says a friendly neighborhood CPA, who reminded me sales taxes on cars were eliminated by 2013’s Title Ad Valorem Tax, which is remitted to the county where the vehicle will be registered, not where the sale occurred.

Shows you how often I buy new cars – I still pay the old “birthday tax,” where the car’s taxable value decreases with age.

Car dealers lobbied the state for a title fee for more than 20 years before finally persuading them in 2012 to phase out sales and property taxes on cars. And there’s been gripes about it ever since.

People complained the tax was killing the leasing business. Then they complained dealers were gaming the system by artificially inflating the value of trade-ins. Then they complained high-mileage, late model cars were being overvalued. Then Mercedes-Benz executives got an exemption for moving the company’s U.S. headquarters to Atlanta while other people who moved away and then returned to Georgia got double taxed.

The tax started at 6.5 percent. It’s now 7 percent. The law allows it to go as high as 9 percent.

Remind me, again, what was wrong with the old birthday tax?

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ASK STEVEN: Have a local tax question? You’ll be able to ask Richmond County Tax Commissioner Steven Kendick on Aug. 21 at 6:30 p.m. at the Warren Road Community Center at 300 Warren Road, where he’ll be the guest speaker at the West Augusta Alliance meeting, which is open to the public.

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Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3352 or damon.cline@augustachronicle.com.

 

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