McCain blasts OPM chief over extent of fed hack

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) hit the director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) with a withering line of questions during a hearing Thursday on the recent hack of federal networks.

McCain repeatedly talked over Director Katherine Archuleta, chiding her for refusing to say when she will have a final number of individuals affected by the breach. He also seemed exasperated when Archuleta declined to blame China for the attacks, as U.S. officials have privately.

{mosads}“I must say Ms. Archuleta, I’ve seen a lot of performances,” said McCain, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Yours ranks as one of the most interesting.”

Archuleta has been defending her job performance all week amid numerous calls from lawmakers for her resignation.

“I’ve been here for 18 months and I’ve worked very hard,” she told McCain at one point Thursday, insisting her agency has “taken great strides” on cybersecurity.

“I am committed to continuing to do that,” she added, alluding to 15 new security steps the OPM revealed this week.

McCain had little sympathy, launching in with a question about China during the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing, Archuleta’s third this week.

“Are you ready to state that since it’s been in all public periodicals that it was China responsible for this hacking?” McCain asked.

“I would have to defer…” Archuleta started.

“That’s a pretty simple answer,” McCain said, cutting her off. “So the answer is no.”

He then segued to reports that 18 million people have been affected by a breach of the OPM’s security clearance database.

Administration officials have acknowledged two breaches at the OPM.

The first intrusion hit a worker personnel file database. Archuleta has maintained that hack compromised 4.2 million current and former federal employees’ data.

The second breach, announced a week after the first, targeted security clearance files and has become a point of contention between administration officials and lawmakers.

The intrusion has reportedly exposed up to 18 million people’s information contained in deeply personal background investigation files. That approximation was based on an FBI calculation made in early June.

Archuleta on Wednesday cautioned that this estimate was “a preliminary, unverified and approximate number of unique Social Security numbers in the background investigation data.” It does not include those people who had other types of sensitive data in background check files, she added.

McCain pressed Archuleta on her Wednesday statements.

“So the FBI is giving us incorrect information?” he asked, quickly cutting short her answer. “Have you met with the FBI?”

“My associates have,” Archuleta replied.

“So you haven’t,” McCain said. “Why wouldn’t you? … Wouldn’t you sit down with the director of the FBI and say, ‘Hey the American people need to know?’ ”

“As the head of the agency, I have many people working on a number of different issues,” Archuleta started.

“It doesn’t rise to your level of attention, I see,” McCain eventually said.

The two then sparred over when the OPM would have a more concrete prediction.

“My final question is, which I’m sure you will obfuscate, when will the American people know? When will they know the extent of this penetration?” McCain asked.

“We’re working as rapidly as we can,” Archuleta replied. “When I know the number is accurate, that’s the time.”  

Tags John McCain Katherine Archuleta OPM

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