Threat of crippling cyberattack is top worry for retiring StratCom chief - Omaha.com
Published Wednesday, November 13, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 2:57 am
Threat of crippling cyberattack is top worry for retiring StratCom chief
Gen. C. Robert Kehler
Born: Danville, Pa.

Age: 61

Important commands:
1982-85 Missile operations staff officer, Strategic Air Command, Offutt Air Force Base
1991-92 Commander, 508th Missile Squadron, Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo.
2005-07 Deputy commander, U.S. Strategic Command
2007-11 Commander, Air Force Space Command, Peterson Air Force Base, Colo.
2011-13 Commander, StratCom

Adm. Cecil D. Haney

Born: Washington, D.C.

Age: 57

Important commands:
1996-99 Commander, USS Honolulu
2006-08 Commander, Submarine Group 2, Groton, Conn.
2010-11 Deputy commander, U.S. Strategic Command, Offutt Air Force Base.
2012-13 Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet, Joint Base Pearl-Hickam, Hawaii

With retirement near after 39 years of military service — the last three as worrier-in-chief about global threats to U.S. security — Gen. C. Robert Kehler ought to finally get some untroubled sleep.

There's plenty to worry about when you are the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, whose job it is to anticipate and defend against catastrophes inflicted by America's enemies. After three years on the job, he will hand over that portfolio Friday to Adm. Cecil Haney, a former deputy StratCom commander who most recently led the Navy's Pacific Fleet.

Kehler, 61, said in an interview last week that he worries most about a crippling attack on the nation's critical computer networks.

“I came in worried about cyberspace, and my worry has increased,” Kehler said. “I lose sleep over what we see as emerging cyberthreats — but I worry more about what we don't see, because I think that's a more insidious threat.”

In fact, he said, the most devastating attacks of any kind are the ones that blindside the nation, such as the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“Today a strategic attack can occur in many forms and come through many domains,” Kehler said. “Technologies are advanced so fast, and the cost of entry is so low, what we used to worry about only from peer or near-peer competitors is changing pretty dramatically.”

Ever-tightening defense budgets have been a major challenge during his tenure, Kehler said, and most likely will be for his successor, too.

Kehler said he's fully confident that the U.S. can keep up its deterrent threat — as long as funding continues at scheduled levels.

“The question is, will we be able to say in the future the force is safe, secure and effective?” he said. “My view is that we will — but it will take investment.”

Kehler supports the nuclear triad — air, land and sea — that has protected the U.S. and its allies since World War II, even as critics have suggested eliminating one or two of those legs to save money.

Each leg of the triad offers the president an important attribute, Kehler said. Submarine-launched ballistic missiles are hard for enemies to find and thus highly survivable; the weapons carried by strategic bombers can be used flexibly; and land-based ICBMs can respond quickly.

“These three attributes I believe remain critically important for the credibility of the deterrent force,” Kehler said. “The triad remains viable, and the president has told us to maintain the triad, because it gives him the greatest set of options.”

But the weapons themselves, and the delivery systems that carry them, are getting old. B-52 bombers are more than 50 years old, and Minuteman missiles and Trident submarines are around 40. All are scheduled for replacement in the years ahead — but that schedule could be set back, Kehler warns, if funding levels slip.

“Investment is required,” he said. “All of these are occurring at a difficult budget time. The question is, will we be able to sustain? This is presenting the Strategic Command with a very, very difficult set of choices.”

Kehler is proud to have overseen the early work on StratCom's massive new headquarters building, which is scheduled to open in 2016 at a construction cost of $525 million. He hopes to return for the ribbon-cutting.

He's also pleased with StratCom's strategic-bomber support during the Libyan revolution; the harnessing of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to aid victims of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan; and helping to set up a new cyberwarfare command.

The last few months, though, Kehler has been forced to deal with what headlines called “a cascade of missteps” at StratCom and its subordinate commands. First, an ICBM unit in Montana failed a safety inspection last spring. Then 17 members of a Minuteman 3 launch-control team in North Dakota were relieved for what Air Force Chief of Staff Mark Welsh described as “not taking the job seriously enough.” In each case, supervisory officers were dismissed.

The cases led to accusations of poor morale in the nuclear force — something Kehler said he does not believe is true. But he said he is concerned about maintaining enthusiasm for a nuclear mission that lacks the drama it held during the Cold War years.

“There's not much recognition in what they do — until something goes wrong, and then everybody points a finger at them,” he said. “These are smart, dedicated, talented people, and they continue to do a great job. We have to keep telling them they're important to us.”

Meanwhile, two senior officers — Kehler's former deputy, Vice Adm. Tim Giardina, and Maj. Gen. Michael Carey, who oversaw all land-based nuclear missiles — were relieved in September amid allegations of personal misconduct.

“Both of them have served for the bulk of their time very, very honorably,” Kehler said. “They both have taken it very, very hard.”

Kehler said it's a sign of resilience that StratCom can move on without them.

“We have high standards. When there are questions about whether individuals are meeting these standards, we investigate,” he said. “I believe taking that action strengthens the institution.”

One of StratCom's greatest strengths, he said, is the local Omaha-area community that supports it. He said many service members come to Offutt Air Force Base knowing little about Nebraska.

“They come here, the community embraces them, and the schools treat their children well,” he said. More than a few decide to stay.

Kehler himself said he enjoyed his three tours here, dating back to 1982. But he and his wife, Marjorie, will be retiring to the Washington, D.C., area to be near relatives.

“We're sorry to leave Omaha, but we have to get closer to our families,” he said. “We'll miss Omaha very much.”

Contact the writer: Steve Liewer

steve.liewer@owh.com    |   402-444-1186

Steve is the military affairs reporter for The World-Herald.

Financial picture improving for city-owned Mid-America Center
No injuries after fire at midtown's old Mercer Mansion
19-year-old arrested in connection with March shooting
17 senators in Nebraska Legislature hit their (term) limits
Keystone XL pipeline backers blast 'political expediency' as foes hail ruling to delay decision
29-year-old Omahan arrested for 22nd time in Lincoln
Nebraska senators to study tax issues over break
Portion of Saddle Creek Road closed after water main break
Teenager arrested after woman's purse is snatched outside Omaha store
Police identify 21-year-old shot in ankle near 30th, W Streets
Cult murderer's death row appeal denied, but execution in limbo
Beau McCoy strikes Obama doll in TV ad; Democrats are not happy
Police: Slaying of woman in Ralston apartment likely over drugs
Interstate construction to cause lane shifts, closings in Omaha area
Kelly: A California university president returns to her Nebraska roots on Ivy Day
Omahan charged in fatal shooting in Benson neighborhood
Friday's attendance dips at Millard West after bathroom threat
High school slam poets don't just recite verses, 'they leave their hearts beating on the stage'
Crack ring's leaders join others in prison as a result of Operation Purple Haze
Haze in area comes from Kansas, Oklahoma
Man taken into custody in domestic dispute
Omaha judge reprimanded for intervening in peer attorney's DUI case
Intoxicated man with pellet gun climbs billboard's scaffold; is arrested
Police seek public's help in finding an armed man
Saturday forecast opens window for gardening; Easter egg hunts look iffy on Sunday
< >
COLUMNISTS »
Kelly: A California university president returns to her Nebraska roots on Ivy Day
The main speaker at today's Ivy Day celebration at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is a college president who grew up roping calves and earned her Ph.D. at the prestigious Oxford University in England.
Breaking Brad: Stuck in a claw machine? You get no Easter candy
I know of one kid in Lincoln who will be receiving a lump of coal from the Easter Bunny, just as soon as he's extricated from that bowling alley claw machine.
Breaking Brad: Mountain lion season's over, but the bunny's fair game!
Thursday was the last day of a Nebraska Legislature session. Before leaving town, legislators passed a bill to hold a lottery to hunt the Easter Bunny.
Breaking Brad: At least my kid never got stuck inside a claw machine
We need a new rule in Lincoln. If your kid is discovered inside the claw machine at a bowling alley, you are forever barred from being nominated for "Mother of the Year."
Breaking Brad: How many MECA board members can we put in a luxury suite?
As a stunt at the Blue Man Group show, MECA board members are going to see how many people they can stuff into one luxury suite.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
The Jaipur in Rockbrook Village
Half Off Fine Indian Cuisine & Drinks! $15 for Dinner, or $7 for Lunch
Buy Now
PHOTO GALLERIES »
< >
SPOTLIGHT »
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
WORLD-HERALD ALERTS »
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for Omaha.com's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »