Georgia Cyber Center Selects Former NSA GA Commander

September 26, 2018
georgia cyber security center

Credit: Augusta University

The former commander of NSA Georgia, Col. Eric Toler, has been named executive director of the Georgia Cyber Center. In his new role, which will begin October 1, Col. Toler will work with Augusta University, Augusta Technical College and Georgia Technology Authority (GTA) executive stakeholders to define and execute the overall strategy, vision, mission and goals for the center’s programs and partnerships. Details were provided in a news release issued by the Center on September 19, the day of his official Army retirement ceremony at Fort Gordon. The presiding Officer for Col. Toler’s ceremony was General Paul Nakasone, the Commander of US Cyber Command and Director of the National Security Agency/Central Security Service. Earlier this week, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s Cyber Crime Center, housed on the fourth floor of the cyber center, held an open house for the public to learn about the new GBI unit. The crime center will mainly focus on criminal investigations involving cyber crimes or cyber security violations.

“Col. Toler’s extensive service to our nation reflects his unwavering commitment to the safety and security of his fellow citizens,” said Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal. “As the commander of the National Security Agency – Georgia and through his experience with the Department of Defense’s cyberspace operations, Col. Toler has acquired experience that makes him uniquely qualified to serve as the executive director of the Georgia Cyber Center,” Deal added.

Under his leadership, noted Deal, “The Georgia Cyber Center will promote world-class collaboration between industry leaders, startup companies, academic institutions and government in the field of cybersecurity.”

A native Arkansan, Col. Toler has over 27 years of leadership and national security experience after serving as a military intelligence officer in the U.S. Army. He has been a pioneer in leading and developing cyberspace operations capabilities for the Army and Department of Defense, serving in key positions within Army Cyber Command, U.S. Cyber Command and the NSA.

While serving on the Army staff in the Pentagon, he helped develop some of the Department of Defense’s first cyberspace operations policies. He also commanded the Army’s first Network Warfare Battalion, which served as the foundation for all of the Army’s current cyberspace operations capabilities. Most recently, he served as the Commander of NSA Georgia.

“It was a tremendous honor and blessing to serve our great nation as a soldier, and now I feel equally blessed and thrilled for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to serve as the executive director for the one-of-a kind Georgia Cyber Center,” said Col. Toler. “I am most excited about the responsibility to foster collaboration between government, academia and private industry, which is essential for our national security. I’m equally excited about the opportunity to work with students and help develop some of the world’s most capable cybersecurity professionals, as well as helping improve the Augusta community and the State of Georgia.”

“The students are what we want to build on first,” Toler said. As reported in an Augusta Chronicle article published after the announcement, Toler also said, “We will have some of the best and the brightest cybersecurity professionals in the world, so that’s kind of the big vision, but then also doing projects, doing research and development, doing other operational things that lend to the defense of this community, this state and this nation." The article noted that Toler feels his 27 years of experience, and having been formerly the commander of NSA Georgia, will help him transition to his new role.

“It’s all about the collaboration on every floor of the building, so that’s what really attracted me to this job and the necessity for us to have government and academia and private industry working together,” Toler said, adding, “People say that’s important, but as the guy that knew more about the threat against our nation than most people, I would tell you it’s absolutely necessary for us to have a secure nation.”

Lt. Gen. Stephen Fogarty, commanding general, U.S. Army Cyber Command, and former commander, NSA-Georgia and Cyber Center of Excellence, said, "I have had the privilege of serving alongside Eric Toler at several points during his impressive career with the U.S. Army and the National Security Agency. His contributions to both organizations have been impactful and helped shape the future of intelligence on the modern battlefield. Nowhere has this impact been more meaningful than in the Ft. Gordon and Augusta, GA region, where I know the next chapter of Eric's professional life will show the thought leadership and vision that we in the Army have always admired." 

About the Center

A much-heralded collaboration expected to situate the state as a national leader in cybersecurity, the Georgia Cyber Center represents a unique public/private partnership. The Center includes Augusta University, Augusta Technical College, the University System of Georgia’s research institutions, the City of Augusta, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the Georgia Department of Defense, and other state, federal, and private-sector partners working together to meet workforce demand. 

Costing $100 million and boasting 332,000 square feet in two adjacent buildings, the center is the single largest investment in a cybersecurity facility in the nation to date, as detailed in a media summary issued after the initial groundbreaking event. 

The center will help fill the current and growing shortage of cybersecurity talent in the state and nation. The global cybersecurity labor shortage is predicted to hit 3.5 million unfilled jobs by 2021, up from one million openings in 2016. The U.S. alone is on pace to hit a half-million or more unfilled cybersecurity positions by 2021, according to a June, 2017 Cybersecurity Ventures report cited by the Center.

Reported to be an important and prominent addition to the Riverfront Campus of Augusta University, the Center is designated as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense. It will house the university’s School of Computer and Cyber Sciences and Cyber Institute. The center is also part of the growing cybersecurity corridor in Augusta, which is home to the U.S. Army Cyber Command and the Cyber School of Excellence at Fort Gordon. The state of Georgia broke ground on the Center in June, 2017. The first of the two buildings – the Hull McKnight Building – and the 340-seat auditorium opened July 10, 2018, as reported in a Smart & Resilient Cities news article. The building is named in honor of two of Augusta’s most prominent business and community leaders. Mr. James M. Hull and Mr. William D. McKnight and their families are widely admired for their business successes as well as their long-standing civic involvement and philanthropic activities.

Governor Nathan Deal announced the second building November 27, 2017, and the official groundbreaking took place January 3, 2018. It will be named the Shaffer MacCartney Building in honor of Michael Shaffer and Teresa MacCartney. Mr. Shaffer is executive vice president of strategic partnerships and economic development for Augusta University, and Ms. MacCartney is director of the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget. Both have had central roles in establishing the Cyber Center.  Design and construction partners include Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) as the construction project management team, M. Arthur Gensler Jr. and Associates as the architect, New South Construction as the general contractor, and Cranston Engineering Group as the civil engineer. . The Georgia Technology Authority is overseeing construction and partner coordination of the Cyber Center. Construction is expected to be completed by the end of 2018.

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