Former Homeland Security secretaries call for action to address cybersecurity threats

Greg Nash

Three former secretaries of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Monday testified that cybersecurity threats to elections and other critical infrastructure are major issues that could impact the security of the nation.

Former DHS Secretaries Michael Chertoff, Janet Napolitano and Jeh Johnson all discussed the severity of cyber threats to the U.S. while testifying in New York City during a field hearing at the National September 11 Memorial Museum held by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

{mosads}Napolitano, who served as secretary under former President Obama from 2009 through 2013, listed cybersecurity as one of the top three threats DHS “can and must confront,” pointing to vulnerabilities in election infrastructure, utility grids and other critical infrastructure as putting the country at risk. 

“Our adversaries and international criminal organizations have become more determined and more brazen in their efforts to attack us and to steal from us,” Napolitano said. “We need a whole of government and a whole of public and private sector response to this threat, and it needs to happen immediately. 

When asked by Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) how the U.S. can best improve how it responds to cyber threats, Napolitano suggested establishing a commission similar to the one created following the Sept. 11 attacks to get ahead of the threats. 

“The report points out all these red flags that have arisen, and they said that a key critique is that our government leaders suffered from a failure of imagination,” Napolitano said of the 9/11 Commission’s findings. “In the cyber arena, we have all these red flags now, we should not entertain such a failure of imagination.”

Chertoff, who served as secretary under former President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2009, also highlighted cyber threats as a major issue facing the U.S., describing attacks on government systems and infrastructure as a “battle.”

Chertoff advocated for more resources to be given to DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, a group that was formally established last year, to address threats such as election interference. 

Johnson, who served as secretary during Obama’s second term in office, zeroed in on threats to elections. He harshly criticized both President Trump and Congress for not taking adequate action to respond to Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

“Though Congress and the Trump administration have imposed considerable sanctions on the Russians, and President Trump’s subordinates sound dire alarms that ‘our democracy itself is in the crosshairs,’ the president himself appears to not take the threat seriously, barely acknowledges it exists, and has yet to communicate directly to [Russian] President Putin in any serious way that the U.S. will not stand for it any further,” Johnson said. 

Trump discussed election interference with Putin during the Group of 20 summit in Japan earlier this year, smiling and seeming to lightheartedly tell Putin not to interfere in future U.S. elections. 

The Senate Homeland Security Committee has been focused on cyber threats this year.

The committee has held hearings to examine private sector data breaches, the security of the upcoming 2020 census against cyberattacks and other threats, and has also approved legislation to bolster the security of internet-connected devices and resources for state and local governments to address cyber threats. 

Tags Donald Trump Mitt Romney

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