In the run-up to the recent election, there were many discussions of issues like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), immigration, the Ebola virus and the Keystone XL pipeline, just to name a few. The one area missing from the pre-election dialogue: a serious discussion about cybersecurity.

Perhaps this was because discussions on cybersecurity can quickly turn into arcane discussions of technical and policy minutiae, and candidates are incessantly advised by their handlers not to provide detailed positions on anything — to eschew the minutae in favor of the time-tested political platitude. The bumper sticker slogan always beats the well-reasoned complex argument in American politics.

But the year was full of headlines detailing the latest cyber crimes. We still remember the Target and Home Depot breaches, don't we? Up to 100 million people were affected by the Target breach. About 56 million were affected by the Home Depot breach. Target's CEO lost his job and real people were at risk of losing real money. Yet nothing was said in the campaign.


Then, there were reports that Russian hackers had compromised the networks running the U.S. energy grid, a key part of our critical infrastructure. That wasn't even mentioned. But, had a coordinated physical attack against multiple power plants and transmission lines knocked out power to millions, it would have been seen as an act of war. Nevertheless, our fearless candidates during this election only provided us with silence on this subject. It was crickets when it came to cybersecurity.

Not that there's any lack of evidence. The nation is being hacked every day. And every day a ton of our cutting-edge intellectual property finds its way into the hands of our economic and political adversaries. The commander of U.S. Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency, Adm. Mike RogersMichael (Mike) Dennis RogersFive questions about Biden withdrawal from Afghanistan Congress brings back corrupt, costly, and inequitably earmarks Biden defense budget criticized by Republicans, progressives alike MORE, said as much in his public testimony in front of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on Thursday. "It's only a matter of the 'when' not the 'if'," he said. Only a matter of time before the nation, its industrial control systems and its electric power grid will be subject to a massive cyberattack from one or more of our adversaries. Rogers said China and one or two other nations were key suspects in a concerted effort to compromise the information technology networks of our critical infrastructure. Previous press reporting has also pointed the finger at Russia and Iran as being possible sources of future cyberattacks against our electrical infrastructure. But our election campaign said nothing about this issue.

Political leaders — and those aspiring to be political leaders through their candidacies — have an obligation to not only deal with constituents' immediate problems; they also have an obligation to help the electorate anticipate and prepare for future threats to its well-being. It is in this anticipatory function that candidates of both parties and of all political stripes failed the electorate this time around.

In part, this failure mirrors the difficulty we all have in predicting the future. As the saying goes, "If we all could predict the future, we'd all be billionaires." Although most are not billionaires, our political leaders and those who aspire to lead in their place have an innate obligation to help anticipate the threats and the risks of the future. Whether they like it or not, their function is to help people understand the threats and risks the future may hold for them and, most importantly, to help them prepare for those threats and risks. That is the core function of government. By default, government is the "Protector-in-Chief." That means it has an anticipatory function as well as a protective function in every dimension of human endeavor, including the cyber dimension.

The failure of our candidates and political leaders to clearly articulate the cyber threats facing the nation is practically a dereliction of duty. This time around, the candidates had ample material to work with, even without Rogers's timely and necessary testimony. Yet they chose not to use the material they had.

The cyber threat is real. Just ask a business like Target or Home Depot. Or a bank. Or the government itself. They have already lost billions and stand to lose more unless we implement policies, plans and laws to deal with a threat that is growing more pernicious by the hour. It's time for our nation and its political leaders to take the blinders off and craft meaningful and workable cyber policies that ensure we can effectively combat and, ultimately, survive this threat. The electorate should demand no less from the politicians whose primary duty is to protect all of us and our institutions.

Leighton is a retired career Air Force intelligence officer and is currently chairman of Cedric Leighton International Strategies.