McCain steps up cyber pressure on Obama administration

McCain steps up cyber pressure on Obama administration

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainPublisher announces McSally book planned for May release Democrats lead Trump by wide margins in Minnesota Here's what to watch this week on impeachment MORE is stepping up his campaign to get the Obama administration to take a more aggressive approach to America’s cyber adversaries.

The Arizona Republican, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, sent two letters to top officials on Thursday.

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Both memos implored the administration to use more of the tools at their disposal to punish foreign hackers, and questioned why the administration was dragging its feet on developing a more complete cyber deterrence policy.

“The failure to utilize these authorities is alarmingly consistent with this administration’s refusal to articulate a robust strategy to deter cyberattacks against the United States,” said one letter, addressed to Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.

The other letter went to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

McCain has long leaned on the administration to move more swiftly on a specific strategy to thwart the cyberattacks that have hammered both the government and private sector in recent years.

McCain believes the White House’s inability to express this strategy has allowed major digital rivals like China and Russia to hack the U.S. with no fear of repercussions.

“I am dismayed by this president's inability to recognize that this is already a national security threat as well as an area of competition with China,” McCain said in one letter.

He pointed to provisions within the recent defense authorization bill that required the administration to report to Congress on the foreign cyber theft of U.S. trade secrets.

“That report was due to the appropriate congressional committees in June and has yet to be delivered,” McCain said.

Such information is “especially important,” he added, given the recent agreement the administration struck with China to end corporate hacking, which some analysts estimate was costing the U.S. hundreds of billions of dollars a year.

Many believe the deal has done little to abate China’s widespread commercial espionage.

McCain also pointed to clauses in the defense authorization measure that gave the president more power to impose sanctions on those caught conducting or benefiting from commercial espionage. President Obama earlier this year signed an executive order giving the administration a similar authority.

“However, neither of these authorities have been utilized to sanction individuals and hold accountable the worst perpetrators of these activities, or to deter continued cyber-enabled theft,” McCain said.

The White House has countered that it is developing these strategies through a number of domestic documents and international channels, such as the United Nations.

McCain's missives come at the end of a week in which the lawmaker vowed to redouble his efforts to fight adversaries in cyberspace.

In the wake of last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris, which have been linked to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), McCain has led the call for legislation that would require companies to give government officials guaranteed access to encrypted data.

Law enforcement officials have speculated that those behind the deadly plot, which killed more than 120 people, used encrypted communications channels while planning the attacks. No concrete evidence has surfaced to back up these suspicions, though.