WASHINGTON: Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House intelligence committee, slammed the administration’s cybersecurity approach today but expressed guarded optimism that his own stalled legislation — which the White House has threatened to veto — might be revived when Congress reconvenes after the election.
“There was a very good meeting with some members of the Senate,” Rogers told the audience at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s cybersecurity conference this afternoon, speaking immediately after NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander. (The Chamber has campaigned, successfully, against some cybersecurity legislation but endorsed Roger’s Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, CISPA). “I think it rekindled people’s interest in trying to get something done here in the lame duck [session]. We think there might be one last shot here — maybe I’m just an eternal optimist — to get this thing sparked back to life.”
Driving the interest, he said, has been a series of briefings for key legislators “on what appears to be a new level of threat that would target networks from — I’ve got to be careful here — an unusual source.”
Rogers has been giving fellow legislators a “glimpse” of this new danger. “I figured if I can’t sleep at night, why should any other member of Congress?” He declined to describe the threat, citing the highly classified nature of the information. “I look really bad in orange — those orange jumpsuits with the numbers on the back,” he said to laughter.
What Rogers did make clear was that he saw a new opportunity to push his controversial Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act. CISPA passed the intelligence committee — with strong bipartisan support, 17 votes to 1 — and the full House — largely on party lines — only to stall in the Senate. “Momentum may be too strong a word,” he said of the bill’s prospects, but “[this] new threat information at least revitalized discussions between the Senate and the House.” One possibility, he said, was to move narrowly focused language on information sharing in the lame duck session this year, then “coming back to the other portions of it thereafter.”
“Don’t give up on this thing. It is too important,” he said. “I’m going to ask all of you to engage in the Senate.”
Since cybersecurity legislation ran aground this summer, the administration’s approach has been to work on an executive order. The chairman of the House cybersecurity subcommittee, Rep. Dan Lungren, previously supported the idea of an executive order, but Rogers was withering in his criticism of how the administration has gone about drafting it. He and his committee have not been consulted, “which is a huge problem,” he fumed. “We’ve spent almost two years studying all of this problem, we’ve got great data, [and] we’ve got reams of material.”
“I don’t get it. I don’t understand it. I think it’s irresponsible,” Rogers went on. “They need to reach out a little bit so you can foster some discussion.”
Rogers also had harsh words for the administration’s effort to expand its “Defense Industrial Base” (DIB) pilot project from the original 20 companies to a thousand, shifting leadership from the Pentagon to the Department of Homeland Security. “That was about a year ago…. Guess how many companies we have participating in the DIB project?” Rogers said bitterly. “I’ll tell you, less than 20. We’ve lost somewhere between five and seven companies…. That is not keeping pace with the seriousness of this threat.”
“We are in a war today in cyberspace. This is the biggest national security threat I can think of that we are not prepared for,” Rogers declared. And lots of less-than-friendly countries are investing in cyber-attack, he said, “because they know it’s the one place we’re just not quite ready – and at the end of the day it’s a lot cheaper than building a fleet of aircraft carriers.”
Edited at 4:55 pm.