GOP, White House clash over cyber center

GOP, White House clash over cyber center
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The White House is pushing back against the Republican vision for the administration's new cyber agency, claiming the GOP has bigger plans for it than the administration ever intended.

The fight is playing out in an intelligence policy bill that the House passed Tuesday night over Democratic objections and a White House veto threat.

The fiscal 2016 Intelligence Authorization Act will delineate the roles and responsibilities for the Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center (CTIIC), which the White House unveiled in February.

The Obama administration envisions the center as a one-stop shop within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) that gathers and analyzes the dispersed cyber threat data collected across the government.

But the White House is accusing the Republicans of slipping an unnecessarily expansive mandate for the CTIIC into the intel measure. 

“This bill seeks to significantly expand CTIIC’s roles and responsibilities,” the White House said when issuing its veto threat for the bill.

The CTIIC's authorities as outlined in the bill is unrealistic and would muddle the government’s existing cyber efforts, the administration argued.

“The bill gives the CTIIC certain intelligence mission management functions already assigned elsewhere in the [intelligence community],” the White House said.

Specifically, the bill authorizes CTIIC to “coordinate cyber threat intelligence activities of the departments and agencies of the federal government,” as well as to “conduct strategic threat intelligence planning for the federal government.”

President Obama’s official February memo establishing the agency contained similar, but less direct, language.

For instance, the CTIIC was ordered to “facilitate and support interagency efforts” to combat cyber threats.

“The CTIIC will not be an operational center,” the White House said in a fact sheet on the agency. “It will not collect intelligence, manage incident response efforts, direct investigations, or replace other functions currently performed by existing departments.”

The administration also took issue with limitations the bill would place on CTIIC. The intel measure would cap CTIIC staff at 50, and forbid the agency from augmenting that number through outside contractors and executive branch employees who are temporarily assigned to another role.

“The limits this bill would place on CTIIC’s resources, and the expansive approach the bill would take with regard to CTIIC’s missions, are unnecessary and unwise, and would risk the CTIIC being unable to fully perform the core functions assigned to it in the bill,” the White House said.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) has defended the bill's text.

"The CTIIC’s mission was crafted to ensure that the new center would not duplicate existing ODNI cyber efforts," said Jack Langer, a spokesman for Nunes, in a statement to The Hill. 

Langer added that the bill's CTIIC language "mirrors" other "successful ODNI centers," such as the National Counterproliferation Center, which combats the spread of nuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction.

Republican leaders have also backed the bill as taking the necessary steps to thwart cyberattacks, which have targeted numerous government agencies over the past year. Most recently, a breach at the Office of Personnel Management may have exposed up to 14 million people’s information.

“This bill sustains and strengthens our capabilities to combat terrorism, cyberattacks, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, while making every taxpayer dollar count,” Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerLobbying world A new kind of hero? Last week's emotional TV may be a sign GOP up in arms over Cheney, Kinzinger MORE (R-Ohio) said in a statement after Tuesday’s vote.

Senate lawmakers have yet to unveil their companion legislation. Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrEmboldened Trump takes aim at GOP foes NC Republican primary key test of Trump's sway The 19 GOP senators who voted for the T infrastructure bill MORE (R-N.C.) would like to finalize that process sometime this summer, according to his office.

— Updated 2:51 p.m.