According to the official, Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is preparing to recommend to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that the U.S. Cyber Command, also known as CYBERCOM, be elevated to full, standalone combatant command status. It is currently a "sub-unified command," a small part of the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM). Advocates for elevating CYBERCOM have said the current structure limits its resources and may slow its ability to respond quickly to online attacks.
Established in 2009 to counter national security threats to the Pentagon's information networks, Cyber Command has close to 750 employees, and is responsible for U.S. cyberspace operations and intelligence.
The STRATCOM website describes Cyber Command as being "charged with pulling together existing cyberspace resources, creating synergy that did not previously exist and synchronizing war-fighting effects to defend the information security environment."
The threat and issue of cyber terrorism and warfare is of increasing concern to the Pentagon. In February, the hacking collective Anonymous shut down Chinese websites, and in 2011 hackers took credit for breaching the websites of the CIA, the U.S. Senate, Sony and Citibank.
In 2009 there were reports that Chinese and Russian spies had penetrated America's electric power grid, planting software bugs that could all but shut down the system in a conflict.
Pentagon officials would not directly confirm the pending recommendation to elevate the unit's status, and said no final decision has been made. A spokesman for U.S. Cyber Command declined to comment on the possibility of the elevation.
"We regularly review the command structure, so if these discussions are happening they're at the discussion phase. Nothing has been decided," George Little, the Pentagon's Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, told ABC News.
"There's been a great deal of discussion for a very long time about N.S.A. (National Security Agency) and CYBERCOM, sub-unified command authorities on cyber, and so forth, some people think it might make sense to have this discussion, " Little said.
A change or addition to the Unified Command Plan would require presidential approval.