NSA chief: Cyber staff ‘gobbled up’ by private sector

Federal cyber warriors are being “gobbled up” by the private sector and other government agencies, the NSA director said Thursday in a plea to lawmakers for consistent funding.

Adm. Mike Rogers, who also leads the U.S. Cyber Command, said the task of building a strong cyber force has proven difficult given threats of budget cuts and government shutdowns.

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“Quite frankly, for most of the workforce I’m leading, they could make a lot more money on the outside,” Rogers told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.

“If we go into the sequestration scenario, they say, ‘Aha, this is another example of how I cannot count on the government to support me.’ ”

The military is working to build a force of 6,200 cybersecurity experts who can combat a growing variety of cyber threats. The Cyber Command, created in 2010, is hoping to have 133 teams in operation by the end of next year.

In a back and forth with lawmakers, Rogers described the challenges of mounting a fledgling cyber force in a time of budget constraints and fierce competition for talent.

“I don’t have decades of investment I can fall back on” when there are cuts or a government shutdown, he said.

Rogers also suggested the cyber force lacks the flexibility in staffing to address surprise threats.

“In creating the force we’ve allocated it all very specifically ... I have no capability right now that we have not allocated,” he said.

Lawmakers including Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMeghan McCain says Steyer should drop out: 'I hate that guy' Sanders says idea he can't work with Republicans is 'total nonsense' GOP casts Sanders as 2020 boogeyman MORE (R-Ariz.), the committee’s chairman, suggested that Rogers consider ways to advertise U.S. cyber warfare capabilities as a way to deter adversaries.

“How many warning shots do we have to have between Target, Sony and the Sands Casino [intrusions] before we start telling the world, ‘If you do this to us, there is a price to be paid?’ ” Sen. Angus KingAngus KingOcasio-Cortez defends Sanders running as a Democrat: It's 'more than what you call yourself' Use of voting tabulation apps raise red flags on Capitol Hill Patrick Dempsey to star in pilot for CBS political drama 'Ways and Means' MORE (I-Maine) asked Rogers. “Right now, as I think you testified, there is no price to be paid.”

The first-term senator concluded his remarks with a Dr. Strangelove reference that prompted laughter in the room.

“If you build a doomsday machine, you have to let people know,” he said. “Otherwise, the purpose is thwarted.” 

—This post was updated at 3:38 p.m.