Senators demand cyber deterrence strategy from Trump

Senators demand cyber deterrence strategy from Trump
© Getty

A bipartisan group of senators is pressing President TrumpDonald John TrumpSasse: Trump shouldn't dignify Putin with Helsinki summit Top LGBT group projects message onto Presidential Palace in Helsinki ahead of Trump-Putin summit Hillary Clinton to Trump ahead of Putin summit: 'Do you know which team you play for?' MORE to issue a national strategy for deterring malicious activity in cyberspace “as soon as possible,” accusing successive administrations of not giving enough urgency to the issue.

“The lack of decisive and clearly articulated consequences to cyberattacks against our country has served as an open invitation to foreign adversaries and malicious cyber actors to continue attacking the United States,” the senators wrote in the letter, obtained by The Hill. [Read the senators' letter below.]

“The United States has failed to formulate, implement, and declare a comprehensive cyber doctrine with an appropriate sense of urgency,” they wrote. “We urge you to end this state of inaction immediately.”

The letter was spearheaded by Sen. Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichCNN congressional correspondent talks about her early love of trolls and family Overnight Energy: DNC to reject fossil fuel donations | Regulators see no security risk in coal plant closures | Senate committee rejects Trump EPA, Interior budgets Energy commission sees no national security risk from coal plant closures MORE (D-N.M.). It is signed by Sen. Mike RoundsMarion (Mike) Michael RoundsGOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE Mulvaney aims to cement CFPB legacy by ensuring successor's confirmation GOP senators introduce bill to prevent family separations at border MORE (R-S.D.), who chairs the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on cyber, as well as Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamOvernight Health Care: Watchdog finds Tom Price improperly used funds on flights | Ex-Novartis CEO sent drug pricing proposal to Cohen | HHS staffers depart after controversial social media posts HHS staffers depart after controversial social media posts: report Senate takes symbolic shot at Trump tariffs MORE (R-S.C.), Angus KingAngus Stanley KingHillicon Valley: Hacker tried to sell military docs on dark web | Facebook fined over Cambridge Analytica | US closer to lifting ZTE ban | Trump, Obama lose followers in Twitter purge | DOJ weighs appeal on AT&T merger Senators press federal election officials on state cybersecurity 'Paws for Celebration' event brings rescue animals to the Capitol MORE (I-Maine), Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenDoug Jones walks tightrope on Supreme Court nominee Female lawmakers, candidates must be the voice for women worldwide GOP lawmakers plan official visit to Russia later this week MORE (D-N.H.), Dan SullivanDaniel Scott SullivanGOP senator: NATO summit 'turned out well' Sunday shows preview: Trump readies for meeting with Putin Obstacles to Trump's 'Space Force' could keep proposal grounded for now MORE (R-Alaska), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottGOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE Senate takes symbolic shot at Trump tariffs Congress should prioritize diversity so government reflects Americans MORE (R-S.C.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandMidterms will show voters are tired of taking back seat to Wall Street McConnell: I won't be intimidated by protesters Dem senator: Kavanaugh would 'turn back the clock' on women's health care MORE (D-N.Y.), Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseSasse: Trump shouldn't dignify Putin with Helsinki summit McCain to Trump: Cancel meeting if you won't hold Putin accountable Sasse: Putin is neither America's friend nor Trump's buddy MORE (R-Neb.), Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineDem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick Election Countdown: Latest on the 2018 Senate money race | Red-state Dems feeling the heat over Kavanaugh | Dem doubts about Warren | Ocasio-Cortez to visit Capitol Hill | Why Puerto Ricans in Florida could swing Senate race Green Day's 'American Idiot' climbs UK charts ahead of Trump visit MORE (D-Va.), Gary PetersGary Charles PetersDem senator: Kavanaugh sides with 'wealthiest special interests' Judge on Trump shortlist boasts stint on Michigan's high court NTSB won't investigate Tesla that crashed into parked police car MORE (D-Mich.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenSanders: Trump should confront Putin over Mueller probe indictments Midterms will show voters are tired of taking back seat to Wall Street McConnell: I won't be intimidated by protesters MORE (D-Mass.) and Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoAdministration to brief Senate panel on family reunifications Lawmakers press Trump admin for list of migrant kids separated from families Protesters arrested during #WomenDisobey demonstration at Senate office building MORE (D-Hawaii).

Lawmakers have taken issue with both the Obama and Trump administrations for failing to develop a comprehensive strategy for deterring and responding to malicious behavior in cyberspace.

In order to press the executive branch on the issue, Congress inserted language into recent iterations of annual defense policy legislation directing the president to develop a cyber deterrence strategy.

President Trump strongly objected to a provision in the current National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) requiring him to develop a national cyber policy, though he ultimately signed the bill.

“In congressional hearings over the course of several years, we have heard numerous government officials across party lines from the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, the State Department, and the National Security Agency each point to the White House when answering which government entity is in charge of formulating our nation’s cyber doctrine,” the lawmakers wrote Wednesday. “To date, despite a rapid increase in cyber activity by both nation-states and non-state actors, no cyber deterrence strategy has been announced.”

The issue came up most recently at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on worldwide threats that featured extensive discussions between lawmakers and top intelligence officials on cyber threats. 

Director of National Intelligence Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsTop Democrats request meeting with intel chief over sharing of classified info Overnight Defense: Fallout from tense NATO summit | Senators push to block ZTE deal in defense bill | Blackwater founder makes new pitch for mercenaries to run Afghan war NSA deletes scores of call records over ‘technical irregularities’ MORE, in response to questions from Rounds at the hearing Tuesday, acknowledged that the government has not developed a comprehensive cyber policy.

“I don't think the progress has been made quick enough to put us in a position where we have a firm policy and understanding, not only ourselves, but what our adversaries know relative to how we're going to deal with this,” Coats said, noting that it will take a “whole-of-government” effort.

Coats also told Heinrich that he could not give a “specific date” on when lawmakers could expect a cyber strategy from the new administration. He said there had been “ongoing discussions” on the issue within the executive branch.

The lawmakers on Wednesday asked Trump for an immediate update on the status of the policy, including a timeline on its completion. 

White House cybersecurity coordinator Rob Joyce was copied on the letter. 

“A strong cyber doctrine by the United States government would serve as a deterrent, which is not only necessary, but critical to our nation’s survival in the digital age,” the senators wrote. 

They cited cyber threats to U.S. critical infrastructure as well as “state-sponsored disinformation” targeting the electoral process – an apparent reference to Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.