(Bloomberg) -- U.S. President Donald Trump will have less scope to bash the North Atlantic Treaty Organization now that an American is at the helm of the alliance’s technology and cyber security arm.
Kevin Scheid, a veteran of the U.S. Department of Defense, became head on July 1 of the NATO Communications and Information Agency, which runs the electronic networks of the 29-nation alliance. NCI Agency spends about 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) a year to ensure NATO’s technological backbone is up to the tasks of fighting terrorism, protecting European airspace, conducting maritime operations and withstanding cyber attacks.
“Not only do we think about the future and trying to develop the capabilities that the command needs and the nations need, and develop those capabilities, but at the same time we have to make sure that the existing networks are up and running and secure,” Scheid, who is serving a three-year term as general manager of NCI Agency, said in an interview in Brussels. This “gets NCI Agency deeply involved in the area of cyber security.”
Trump has shaken seven decades of American foreign policy by questioning the relevance of U.S.-led NATO, which he called “obsolete” during his presidential campaign. Since entering the White House in January, Trump has dropped that label while pressing allies in Europe to foot more of the common defense bill and NATO as a whole to play a bigger role in fighting terrorism.
NCI Agency, with a staff of more than 2,000, was formed in 2012 from the merger of five NATO units. The group contracts out to industries to bolster the alliance’s land, sea, air and cyber capabilities and will be seeking bids for 3.2 billion euros in orders for satellite communications, air and missile defenses, cyber security and advanced software.
Cyber security has also moved to the top of NATO’s agenda, with Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg saying attacks on the alliance’s electronic infrastructure spiked 60 percent last year to an average of 500 a month. Most of the incidents were state-sponsored, according to NATO.
The worldwide cyber threat was highlighted last week when an attack that started in Ukraine hit businesses, port operators and government systems in the U.S., South America, Asia and elsewhere in Europe.
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Among Scheid’s most immediate tasks is to ensure that NATO’s new headquarters in the Belgian capital has properly protected information-technology systems. Construction of the 1.1 billion-euro glass-and-steel structure, which Scheid called “one of the world’s most complex and largest security systems,” is virtually completed while IT work continues.
“What has been challenging about the new NATO headquarters is the complexity of a smart building,” he said. “It’s a network surrounded by glass, steel and some cement.”
NATO intends to start moving 4,500 staff members to the site, located across the street from the current headquarters, later this year. Scheid said the new building is “more complex than what was estimated early on.”
At a May 25 meeting where the alliance’s leaders inaugurated the complex, Trump, after hectoring fellow leaders to increase military spending, said: “I never asked once what the new NATO headquarters cost. I refused to do that. But it is beautiful.”
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