Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) is accusing Secretary of State John KerryJohn KerryFormer Obama officials say Netanyahu turned down secret peace deal: AP How dealmaker Trump can resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict John Kerry to teach at Yale on global issues MORE of downplaying the seriousness of overseas cyberattacks, a day after Kerry acknowledged Chinese and Russian spies are “very likely” reading his emails.
“Instead of tackling the challenge with a serious review of our cyber doctrine, it seems like the administration is focused on downplaying emerging threats and convincing the American people that weakness is the new normal,” Sasse said in a statement.
“It is very likely,” Kerry said about foreign countries reading his communications. “It is not ... outside the realm of possibility, and we know they have attacked a number of American interests over the course of the last few days."
"I certainly write things with that awareness," Kerry added.
Sasse found the comments tone deaf.
“At best, that’s apathetic and at worst, it's negligent,” he said.
Sasse has been hammering the Obama administration in the wake of two massive hacks at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). It’s believed China orchestrated the attacks, which compromised more than 22 million people’s personal information and highlighted the government’s sluggish approach to cybersecurity.
The administration has since indicated it will publicly retaliate against China. Kerry also emphasized that the threat of cyber spying is "of enormous concern" to the administration and that the topic will be a significant component of an upcoming Washington visit from Chinese President Xi Jinping.
But Sasse believes the administration is still undervaluing the national security threats posed by such digital assaults.
“I have lots of fears about the state of cybersecurity and Washington’s lack of seriousness about it right now,” he told The Hill in a July interview.
“I think we don’t know how to play defense very well yet, and I think Washington is behind the tech community in understanding the urgency of the problem," he added. "Washington continues to treat each of these as a discrete event and a PR crisis."
The message from top officials such as Kerry and White House press secretary Josh Earnest has not given Sasse much confidence.
“The White House [and] press secretary repeatedly talk about this as analogous to Home Depot,” he added, referring to last year’s digital theft of 56 million payment card data from the retail giant. “It’s nothing like that.”
“I’m worried that foreign actors who have nefarious goals in this space know that we’re asleep at the switch,” Sasse added.
— Upated 12:52 p.m.