Sen. John McCain suggested Thursday that a select Senate committee should tackle long-stalled cyber legislation.
"We've been going back and forth; everybody knows we need the legislation.... I can't tell you the number of meetings I've gone to on it. And one of the problems we face is that this issue crosses many jurisdictional lines of different committees," the Arizona Republican said, asking Gen. Keith Alexander, the director of the National Security Agency, if he had given the idea any thought.
McCain's comments came during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing to discuss the fiscal 2015 budget and future funding for Cyber Command, which Alexander oversees, and U.S. Strategic Command.
"I think that would be a great idea," Alexander said, but he admitted that his knowledge of the Senate's inner workings is limited.
He stressed, at multiple points during the hearing, that cyber is changing "so rapidly that our policies and laws lag behind it."
Independent Sen. Angus King of Maine backed the idea, saying it made "some sense," adding, "If we have an attack in two or three months from now and we haven't done anything, we're going to look pretty dumb around here."
The boundaries on cyber-related issues currently run through a handful of Senate committees, including Armed Services, Intelligence, Commerce, and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
Senators in both parties have agreed generally that cybersecurity legislation is needed, but they have made little headway. A 2012 bill didn't survive a procedural vote, and the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, a version of which passed the House in 2012 and 2013, languished in the Senate.
But Alexander stressed that legislation is needed to give agencies, including the NSA, the Justice Department, and the Defense Department, increased authority to prevent and combat cyberattacks, adding that he is "concerned that the lack of legislation will impact our ability to defend the country."
Senators on both sides of the aisle agreed with Alexander — who could be making his last appearance before the committee because of his coming retirement — that cyber will be at the forefront of future conflicts.
And if this is Alexander's last appearance, he left members of the Armed Services Committee with a warning, saying, on cyberthreats: "I think those attacks are coming, and I think those are near-term, and we're not ready for them."