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Navy Submariner Takes Pentagon Cyber Post

Posted by Sydney J. Freedberg Jr. on


Rear Adm. Sean Filipowski

Rear Adm. Sean Filipowski

WASHINGTON: The Pentagon named a Navy cryptologist to a top cyber policy position today. Rear Adm. Sean Filipowski, who’ll get his second star with the new job, is a protégé of former NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander.

Filipowski even served as Alexander’s intelligence chief at US Cyber Command — a position that requires keeping on top of emerging cyber threats worldwide. Filipowski currently works on information dominance (N2/N6) for the Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Jonathan Greenert, who has elevated the intersection of signals intelligence, cybersecurity, and electronic warfare to a higher priority than any other service chief.

Like Greenert, Filipowski also started his career in submarines — specifically handling “strategic weapons,” i.e. nukes. It’s a notoriously cerebral and demanding job.

“No detail is small enough to be ignored when you deal with nuclear weapons,” one retired admiral told me. Filipowski is “very hands-on…. He hasn’t gotten away from his upbringing as a strat weapons guy.”

“When you look at his background over the last 10 years…he’s been one of the guys who shaped Navy cyber policy,” the admiral continued. “There’s probably not a better qualified guy to do this job.”

This job bears the typically clunky title of senior military advisor for cyber to the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, Christine Wormuth. It’s potentially the most influential uniformed position working on cyber inside the Pentagon: The Pentagon’s CIO and Deputy CIO for Cybersecurity are civilians, while the four-star chief of NSA and Cyber Command is based at Fort Meade, ruling a vast and shadowy fiefdom but somewhat detached from the daily fray inside the Beltway. Filipowski, by contrast, comes from a job on the Navy’s Pentagon staff that requires constant interaction with the rest of the Defense Department.

“He understands how the building works,” said the retired admiral. Serving as director of warfare integration for the Chief of Naval Operations means spending “an awful lot of time in OSD [the Office of the Secretary of Defense] in joint meetings. [You gain] a broad appreciation of the cyber acquisition programs across DoD,” not just in the Navy.

Rear Adm. Filipowski will replace Army Maj. Gen. John Davis, another veteran of Fort Meade and protégé of Gen. Alexander. Davis is well-regarded too, but the Army and Navy tend to take different approaches to cybersecurity. Until recently, the Army treated cyber warfare and electronic warfare — hacking and jamming — as separate areas of expertise, although with a new doctrine and new organization it’s working hard to blend them. The Navy, by contrast, tends to promote its cyber officers from a cryptography or signals background, which means they have hands-on experience of how electronic warfare and wireless networks interact. As the world goes wireless, that’s an increasingly crucial skill.

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