Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Lorna Mahlock
Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Lorna Mahlock. Image: U.S. Marines / Lance Cpl. Naomi May

US military’s Cyber National Mission Force gets a new chief

The leadership of U.S. Cyber Command’s key digital warfighting force will officially change hands on Friday, Recorded Future News has learned.

Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Lorna Mahlock will assume command of the Cyber National Mission Force (CNMF) during a change of command ceremony at Fort Meade, Maryland. She will succeed Army Maj. Gen. William Hartman, who has led the force since 2019 and last month was confirmed to be Cyber Command’s new deputy chief.

A CNMF spokesperson confirmed a change of command ceremony is scheduled for Friday afternoon.

The CNMF, first activated in 2014 and composed of 39 joint cyber teams with over 2,000 military and civilian personnel, is the linchpin of Cyber Command’s operations and has become so integral that in 2022 Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin authorized it to become a permanent organization within the command.

Hartman is expected to assume his responsibilities as Cyber Command’s deputy commander on or about January 16, according to a command spokesperson.

Recorded Future News first reported in May that Mahlock, who was born in Jamaica and immigrated to the United States as a teenager before enlisting in the military just three months after arriving in the country, was the frontrunner to replace Hartman.

However, the move was delayed by Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s months-long blanket hold of senior military promotions over the Pentagon’s abortion policy. The Alabama Republican relented last month, allowing an avalanche of nominations to go through.

That included Air Force Lt. Gen. Timothy Haugh, who could take the reins of Cyber Command and NSA as soon as next month.

Mahlock was the first Black woman to achieve the rank of brigadier general in the Marine Corps and was the service’s first female chief information officer.

She most recently served as the first military deputy director for combat support for the National Security Agency’s Cybersecurity Directorate. The organization was created almost four years ago and boasts about 3,700 personnel, including 3,100 civilians.

The directorate “uses an offensive mindset to inform how we protect and defend our nation's critical infrastructure, weapons in space and [command and control] systems,” Mahlock said during a keynote address last year at Vandersbilt’s Summit on Modern Conflict and Emerging Threats.

“What the team usually says — because we have, really, a balanced approach of using hackers — they say, ‘It takes a thief to catch a thief.’ And they're very, very effective at it.”

Mahlock, who sources said had the backing of outgoing Cyber Command and NSA chief Army Gen. Paul Nakasone to lead the CNMF, inherits a digital warfighting corps whose mission is at the forefront of U.S efforts against foreign adversaries online.

For example, Hartman publicly disclosed last year that the force took action against Iranian hackers during the 2020 presidential election.

The organization also conducts “hunt forward” missions around the globe to glean the tactics of malicious actors and acquire new malware samples. The number of such missions proliferated under Hartman, with U.S. personnel deploying to dozens of countries, including multiple times to Ukraine.

It’s worth noting the CNMF post has served as a springboard to even greater leadership roles for the military’s top cybersecurity officials. For instance, both Nakasone and Haugh previously served as CNMF chief at one point in their careers.

As Recorded Future News first reported, Mahlock will be replaced at NSA by Brig. Gen. Jerry Carter, who has served in a number of intelligence posts.

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Martin Matishak

Martin Matishak

is the senior cybersecurity reporter for The Record. Prior to joining Recorded Future News in 2021, he spent more than five years at Politico, where he covered digital and national security developments across Capitol Hill, the Pentagon and the U.S. intelligence community. He previously was a reporter at The Hill, National Journal Group and Inside Washington Publishers.