McCain hits Trump over lack of cyber policy

McCain hits Trump over lack of cyber policy
© Greg Nash

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainSenate's defense authorization would set cyber doctrine Senate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Overnight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions MORE (R-Ariz.) is again hitting President Trump over his lack of a cybersecurity policy, calling the administration's leadership on the issue "weak" as the president continues attacks on the senator in the wake of his decisive vote on the failed GOP healthcare bill. 

During remarks at a cybersecurity conference hosted by Arizona State University on Wednesday, McCain dinged Trump for not delivering on his promise of producing a plan to combat cyberattacks within 90 days of taking office.

“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, according to remarks released by his office. “And while the current administration promised a cyber policy within 90 days of inauguration, we still have not seen a plan.” 

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The Arizona Republican was referring to a promise made by then-President-elect Trump in early January following a meeting with the intelligence community on cyberattacks against the United States.

“Whether it is our government, organizations, associations or businesses we need to aggressively combat and stop cyberattacks. I will appoint a team to give me a plan within 90 days of taking office,” Trump said on Jan. 6. But the deadline came and went without the announcement of any clear policy.

Trump did, however, sign an executive order on strengthening cybersecurity in May, which afforded him praise from Republicans and some Democrats. McCain, however, remained critical of the specifics. 

McCain’s remark come one day after Trump taunted the Arizona senator, without naming him, for his no vote on a Republican effort to repeal ObamaCare during a campaign-style rally in Phoenix. 

“One vote away! I will not mention any names. Very presidential, isn't it," Trump told the crowd Tuesday evening.

“Speak to your senator, please. Speak to your senator," he added.

McCain, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, has welcomed more recent actions by Trump on cybersecurity, including his decision last week to elevate U.S. Cyber Command and initiate a review of whether it should now be separated from the National Security Agency — praise he repeated on Wednesday. 

McCain stressed that, “despite inaction from the executive branch,” Congress has tackled the issue head-on. He outlined provisions included in annual defense policy legislation to boost the Defense Department’s cyber efforts and capabilities. The most recent version of the National Defense Authorization Act for the approaching fiscal year, he noted, establishes a policy for the Pentagon’s use of offensive cyber capabilities. 

Still, he signaled the need for a “greater centralization” of the U.S. government’s cybersecurity efforts, authorities over which are scattered across multiple government bodies, including the departments of Defense and Homeland Security, as well as the FBI. 

“But despite the significant progress we have made at DOD, much remains to be done, especially in the coordination of a whole-of-government approach to defending the homeland from cyberattacks,” McCain said. 

“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,” he said.