Cyber Policy Is Increasingly A Partisan Issue

The arena of cyber policy and legislation has become a battleground between the major parties in the United States.

With all of the pressing issues connected to securing the nation’s cyber vulnerabilities, there is plenty of political ammunition to go around.

Recent reports tell of the efforts of a prominent Senate Democrat to urge leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee to subpoena a White House national security official to testify before Congress. The effort comes after the White House blocked cybersecurity coordinator Rob Joyce from testifying before the committee at a hearing last week.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) wrote a formal letter to Chairman of the Armed Services Committee John McCain (R-Ariz.) and ranking member Jack Reed (D-R.I.) beseeching them to “subpoena the appropriate White House official” to appear before them to testify. Nelson added in the letter that “it is troubling that the White House prevented the Cybersecurity Coordinator—the Administration’s top cybersecurity official—from testifying at [Thursday’s] hearing. This is unacceptable.”

In truth, there is plenty of precedent of the White House preventing its officials from appearing before Congress. The highly publicized incident involving Desiree Rogers, President Obama’s social secretary, serves as one example from the past administration.  

However, in the current climate on Capitol Hill, with the near panic-like milieu surrounding cyber security, any action by one side impeding transparency can be interpreted as a cover-up.

Democrats have been increasingly trying to take the initiative on IT related issues, in some instances unilaterally. Recently, a group of Senators met with former top cyber officials from the Obama administration. Dubbed the “Congressional Task Force on Election Security,” the meeting featured appearances by former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Suzanne Spaulding, the former DHS Under Secretary for the National Protection and Programs Directorate. By arranging this panel, Democrat lawmakers were making a public display of their opinion on President Trump’s cybersecurity strategy, namely that it is unresponsive, and perhaps intentionally avoiding important issues.

All of these events are unfolding as the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology plan to hold a hearing on 25 October, during which it will discuss the security risks of the software produced by Kaspersky Labs, the Moscow based cybersecurity company whose programs were recently banned for use on federal computers. The hearing was originally scheduled for the end of last month and was planning to feature the head of Kaspersky Labs, Eugene Kaspersky, as a witness. While it is not clear if Kaspersky will be present at Wednesday's hearing, the results of the meeting will certainly add important information as to whether or not the administration is keeping a handle on cybersecurity policy.  

Support for Nelson’s subpoena request from Trump’s own party increases the likelihood that it will actually go through, in turn increasing the political repercussions of the current happenings in Washington. The same reports stated Senator McCain had responded to Nelson’s letter and would meet with Committee members to discuss options.

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