Congress gets started early on future cyber debates

Congress is still out on recess and lawmakers are still back in their districts, but we’re already seeing rumblings of the legislative cyber debates to come. On Wednesday, six House Democrats moved to block Secretary of State Rex Tillerson from closing the State Department office that coordinates government-wide cyber diplomacy.

Rep. Debbie Dingell filed an amendment — co-sponsored by Reps. Jacky Rosen, Kathleen Rice, Ted Lieu, top Intelligence Committee Democrat Adam Schiff and top Homeland Security Committee Democrat Bennie Thompson — stipulating that none of the funds in a House spending bill for several agencies “may be used to close the Office of the Coordinator for Cyber Issues … or to merge such Office with any other office or entity in the Department of State.”

Former State Cyber Coordinator Christopher Painter — a veteran of cyber negotiations with foreign governments — abruptly left the department at the end of July, and Tillerson plans to merge the cyber office with State’s economic bureau. In late July, Dingell and nearly two dozen House colleagues warned Tillerson to leave the office intact. “At a time when the world is more interconnected than ever and we face constant cyber threats from state actors,” they wrote, “it is vital that we retain a high-level diplomatic role to report directly to the Secretary on global cybersecurity.”

— AND NO LOVE LOST HERE: Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain on Wednesday chided the Trump and Obama administrations for not showing enough backbone on cybersecurity. “Unfortunately, leadership from the executive branch on cybersecurity has been weak. As America’s enemies seized the initiative in cyberspace, the last administration offered no serious cyber deterrence policy and strategy,” McCain said in prepared remarks at a cybersecurity conference hosted by Arizona State University. “And while the current administration promised a cyber policy within 90 days of inauguration, we still have not seen a plan.” President Donald Trump signed a long-awaited executive order on cybersecurity in May, but tangible results from the action have been slow in coming. McCain said that “despite inaction” from the executive branch, Congress “has not stood still.” He said the Armed Services panel “has implemented more than 50 provisions focused on organizing and enabling DoD to address threats in cyberspace” over the last four years. The Arizona Republican also pointed to the Senate’s draft of the annual defense policy bill, which calls for a cyber review that would clarify the country’s cyber strategy and help “defines the threat.”

And while McCain said he is “pleased” the administration elevated U.S. Cyber Command, he called for “greater centralization” in the federal government when it comes to cybersecurity. “It makes little sense for us to continue down our current path, overgrown with bureaucracy and choked by duplication,” he told the audience. “Not surprisingly, this three-legged structure — DOD, DHS and FBI — undermines the unified strategic guidance required to meet cyber threats and slows our response.” He predicted that “poorly defined” responsibilities and a lack full legal authorities among the agencies would put the U.S. at a disadvantage. “My friends, I can assure you that our enemies are not the junior varsity. Until we reassess the cumbersome status quo, in place since the early years of the Obama administration, our own capabilities will be needlessly limited.”

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Source: Politico