NSA lawyer advocates for one agency to handle cyber

NSA lawyer advocates for one agency to handle cyber
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The National Security Agency’s (NSA) lead lawyer in a recent speech made the case for creating one federal agency to spearhead the government’s cybersecurity efforts. 

Glenn Gerstell, the NSA’s general counsel, proposed that federal cybersecurity activities be unified under one roof instead of dispersed across the departments of Defense, Homeland Security and other agencies during remarks at Duke Law School over the weekend that were released by the NSA on Thursday.

While Gerstell acknowledged progress made on cybersecurity by the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, he said that “glaring gaps remain in our nation's cybersecurity posture.”

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“One obvious and affirmative strategy, and the one that I think may have the most potential for achieving real gains, would be to unify the government’s cybersecurity activities by establishing a new lead department or agency for cybersecurity,” Gerstell said. 

He noted that the agency could be modeled after Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre, which has been operational for months but only officially opened in February. 

Gerstell’s argument echoed statements made by retired Gen. Keith Alexander, a former NSA director, before a Senate panel on Thursday. Alexander told lawmakers that government agencies focusing on cybersecurity are too “stove-piped” to effectively defend the nation from cyber threats. 

“What you have is people acting independently, and with those seams, we will never defend this country,” Alexander told the Senate Armed Services Committee, suggesting that the agencies responsible for cybersecurity be brought together under one framework.

During his speech, Gerstell explored potential drawbacks to consolidating cyber activities under one roof, saying that it “misses an opportunity to marry cyber expertise with the unique insights and understanding of requirements possessed by each agency in their own fields.” 

He also said that key questions would need to be answered in the overhaul, such as how the new agency would be afforded the power to protect computer networks across the federal government. 

There has been lively debate on Capitol Hill about how to reform the government’s cybersecurity efforts, especially in the wake of the Office of Personnel Management data breach and the more recent Russian cyberattacks related to the presidential election. 

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, has pushed to reform the Department of Homeland Security by codifying its cyber activities under one component department.