Week ahead: Lawmakers divided over Pentagon's cyber unit

The Senate is taking up its version of an annual defense bill, setting the stage for debate over a change in authority for U.S. Cyber Command.

A House-passed version of the annual defense bill directs the president to elevate the Pentagon's top cyber unit to a standalone warfighting entity.

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But the current version of the Senate bill lacks that provision. A bipartisan group of senators wants to bring the Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in line with its House counterpart.

The amendment would pull Cyber Command out from under the authority of Strategic Command, from which it currently must obtain permission before conducting cyber operations.

The move appears to have widespread support from lawmakers, as well as Adm. Michael Rogers, the unit's head. He said last month that elevating the unit to a full combatant command would make it more nimble and "generate better mission outcomes."

Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMichelle Obama weighs in on Trump, 'Squad' feud: 'Not my America or your America. It's our America' Meghan McCain shares story of miscarriage Media cried wolf: Calling every Republican a racist lost its bite MORE (R-Ariz.) and ranking member Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedPentagon's No. 2 policy official to retire Senate panel advances Pentagon chief, Joint Chiefs chairman nominees Democrats warm to idea of studying reparations MORE (D-R.I.) both signaled their support for the idea during an April hearing on the unit.

But the White House opposes a statutory requirement to elevate the unit.

The administration argues that the secretary of Defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff "should retain the flexibility to recommend to the President changes to the unified command plan that they believe would most effectively organize the military to address an ever-evolving threat environment."

Supporters see the change in authority as a logical evolution as cyber actions play an increasingly important role in U.S. defense operations.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work said recently that the U.S. is "dropping cyber bombs" on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

"As ISIS is recruiting more and more followers online, CYBERCOM needs the ability to react quickly and engage the enemy effectively. Elevating Cyber Command will ensure that our military is always one step ahead of our adversaries in light of the increased global threats today," Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), one of the lawmakers behind the proposed change, said last week.

Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, the $81-million cyberheist from the Bangladesh central bank's account at the New York Federal Reserve is drawing more scrutiny from lawmakers.

The House Science Committee on Wednesday launched an investigation into the New York Fed over its response to the incident. The hackers are believed to have exploited a flaw in SWIFT, a messaging network used by banks across the globe to exchange information about financial transfers.

The committee is requesting a briefing by the New York Fed on the status of its investigation and "all documents or communications related to any review conducted by the NY Fed of its own information technology," according to a letter from Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas).

"In light of the recent cyber attacks on our global financial systems, the Committee believes it is imperative to receive information from the NY Fed about its response, its oversight of SWIFT, the status of the investigation, and any remedial steps taken to address vulnerabilities," Smith wrote in the letter to New York Fed President William Dudley.

The probe comes amid reports indicating that the Federal Reserve was breached more than 50 times between 2011 and 2015.

 

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