NSA Chief: U.S. ‘Not Ready’ on Cyber

McCain floats idea of creating a committee to handle legislation.

McCain: Balks at "baked in" overruns.
National Journal
Jordain Carney
Add to Briefcase
Jordain Carney
Feb. 27, 2014, 9:13 a.m.

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.”

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