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America needs national cyber director to fortify our security

America needs national cyber director to fortify our security
© Madeline Monroe

The cyber challenge that we face as a country is daunting and complex. Just when we think we have a handle on it, something new comes along and disrupts our work. Machine learning, quantum computing, artificial intelligence, and 5G technology are just the tip of the cyber iceberg that is heading our way, and we are still not prepared. Perhaps most glaring is that despite all the efforts to improve our posture, all the legislation, and all the dollars spent, there is still not one person designated permanently within the White House to manage our domestic cyber defenses.

I am testifying today on legislation introduced by my former colleagues, Representative James Langevin and Representative Mike Gallagher, that would establish a national cyber director for the United States, a position recommended by the bipartisan Cyberspace Solarium Commission. If this role is created, it would go a long way to rectifying our cyber weaknesses and to protecting the data of our citizens, which is a lot of data.

The Department of Education has over 49 million student loan borrowers. The Department of Agriculture has to administer Supplemental Nutrition Assistance benefits for 38 million people. Then another 44 million people receive Medicare benefits, while 63 million people receive Social Security benefits. Think of the amount of data about each individual that is needed to accurately process and record all those government benefits.

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Just imagine how attractive that data is to cyber criminals and countries today. Now imagine how hard it will be protecting that data in the future. President Vladimir Putin said three years ago, “Artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia, but for all human kind. It comes with colossal opportunities, but also threats that are difficult to predict. Whoever will become the leader in this sphere becomes the ruler of the world.”

China aims to “occupy the commanding heights” of artificial intelligence technology by 2030 and is aggressively pursuing 5G dominance with the next generation of mobile communications that will revolutionize how we live and work. Beijing has shown that it will use cyber tools to advance its national security and economic interests, and we should expect China to deploy artificial intelligence and more against us in the future.

A national cyber director would ensure that our defenses are coordinated, synchronized, and prepared for these threats of today and tomorrow. The lack of consistent and indeed institutionalized leadership on cyber issues prevents addressing this challenge for the government. With each agency and department pursuing independent cyber policies and practices, there are some significant gaps that emerge which are ripe for exploitation. The fragmented federal approach to most cyber issues has stood in the way of efficiency, best practices, and effective management for years.

A national cyber director would serve as a focal point for cooperation with the private sector. Establishing an individual and an office with the role of leveraging the technology sector, academic experts, as well as think tanks toward national cyber policies would, with the right person in charge, give the private sector a degree of confidence that has been lacking.

We have seen a great deal of money spent on various fixes, programs, or initiatives aimed at addressing cyber vulnerabilities. Unfortunately, these expenditures have not been the most efficient or most effective. Indeed, the national cyber director would solve this problem by providing a clear mission set through a national cyber strategy and by providing oversight of agency and department budgets. The national cyber director ensures that resources are allocated for the threat and the opportunity.

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As my friend and former colleague Representative Dutch Ruppersberger declared, “We have great leaders in cybersecurity throughout the federal government, but we need a cyber quarterback.” He is 100 percent correct. We need to get away from the approach of a middle school soccer game where everyone is chasing the ball and move to American football where everyone knows their job and the quarterback calls the plays.

If we do not get our cyber policies sorted now, and if we do not empower the right person and the right office with the responsibility today, I fear we will have a different type of commission that looks at why a national cyber incident happened at the hands of Russia or China, and what could have been done to prevent such a major disaster in the first place.

Mike Rogers is a former member of Congress who served as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. He is now the David Abshire Chair at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress and is a senior fellow with the Intelligence Project at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University. Follow him @RepMikeRogers.