Retirements pose threat to cybersecurity expertise in Congress

Retirements pose threat to cybersecurity expertise in Congress
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Rep. Pete KingPeter (Pete) KingCheney clashes with Trump Coronavirus Report: The Hill's Steve Clemons interviews Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney On The Money: 3 million more Americans file for unemployment benefits | Sanders calls for Senate to 'improve' House Democrats' coronavirus bill | Less than 40 percent of small businesses have received emergency coronavirus loans MORE’s (R-N.Y.) planned retirement after the 2020 elections is the latest in a string of House departures that look likely to deal a blow to Republican cybersecurity expertise on Capitol Hill.

King said on Monday he would not seek reelection after 14 terms in the House, including serving previously as chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee and as a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

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Those two panels have a focus on cyber issues, such as election security and other cyber threats from foreign countries, and the departure of a longtime member such as King could make it more difficult for Congress to address growing cyber threats in the future.  

His resignation comes on the heels of announcements by almost two dozen other House Republicans that they will not run for reelection, with several of these members having become key players in the cybersecurity debate on Capitol Hill, including Rep. Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdDemocrats go big on diversity with new House recruits Texas Democrats plan 7-figure ad buy to turn state blue Republicans face worsening outlook in battle for House MORE (R-Texas). 

Cybersecurity is listed as an area of interest by King on his congressional website, with the lawmaker writing, “As the only senior member of Congress serving on the two Committees with the largest cybersecurity oversight mission, I have made it my goal to ensure we are building an effective cybersecurity program across the federal government.”

King added that “it is imperative that DHS [Department of Homeland Security], the Department of Defense and other government agencies work hand-in-hand to monitor and assist our critical infrastructure, and to support one another.”

On specific cyber issues, King highlights election security and cyber threats from China as key areas of focus.

The retirements of Republican Reps. Hurd, Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryBottom line Overnight Defense: US to pull 11,900 troops from Germany | Troop shuffle to cost 'several billion' dollars | Lawmakers pan drawdown plan | Trump says he hasn't discussed alleged bounties with Putin Lawmakers torch Trump plan to pull 11,900 troops from Germany MORE (Texas), and Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenHillicon Valley: Trump backs potential Microsoft, TikTok deal, sets September deadline | House Republicans request classified TikTok briefing | Facebook labels manipulated Pelosi video Top House Republicans request classified TikTok briefing Pelosi huddles with chairmen on surprise billing but deal elusive MORE (Ore.) previously underlined the threat to cyber leadership in the House. 

Hurd, a former CIA official, is viewed as one of the major cybersecurity voices in Congress, and has co-sponsored numerous bills around this issue, including those intended to secure internet-connected devices against cyberattacks and to secure elections.

Hurd also serves as the top Republican on the House Intelligence Subcommittee on Intelligence Modernization and Readiness. 

In announcing that he would not run for reelection in 2020, Hurd highlighted cyber and tech issues as areas that the government would still need to address, and tweeted that he hoped to “pursue opportunities outside the halls of Congress to solve problems at the nexus between technology and national security.”

In a separate statement, Hurd highlighted cyber and tech issues, saying, “We are in a geopolitical competition with China to have the world’s most important economy. There is a global race to be the leader in artificial intelligence, because whoever dominates AI will rule the world. We face growing cyberattacks every day.”

Hurd, in his capacity as a member of the House Intelligence Committee, has been a key player during hearings in questioning officials on the cyber threats facing the nation, including former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE.

Several ranking members of House committees have been among those to announce that they will not run for reelection in 2020, including Walden, the ranking member and former chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Walden has raised awareness around cyber threats to the electric grid, and pushed forward legislation meant to secure the power grid against foreign cyberattacks. 

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Thornberry currently serves as the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, which has had a hand in addressing cyber defense issues. 

The Texas Republican also serves on the House Cybersecurity Caucus, and he highlights cybersecurity as a key issue to address on his website, writing that “operating in cyberspace must remain a top priority for the United States, and so must defending our computer networks and other technological assets.”

Kiersten Todt, the former executive director of the Obama administration’s Commission on Enhancing National Cybersecurity, told The Hill that while she saw the impending retirements of “smart, thoughtful people” as “disappointing,” the larger issue of an unfocused cyber agenda was a bigger problem.

“Everyone has their buffet item, their flavor of the day, and what we need is leadership and an agenda that prioritizes issues and focuses on them,” Todt, who currently serves as the managing director of the Cyber Readiness Institute, said. 

A major issue for House cyber leadership on both sides of the aisle is that cybersecurity is an area that is addressed by multiple committees, including the House Homeland Security Committee, the Intelligence Committee, the Energy and Commerce Committee, the Financial Services Committee, and the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. 

There is general bipartisan agreement on cyber issues being important, with hearings held in both the House and Senate this year on topics including election security, energy grid cybersecurity, disinformation, deepfake videos, and threats from countries such as Russia and China in cyberspace. 

However, lawmakers have struggled to fully address cybersecurity challenges in the face of the different jurisdictions by various committees as well as the increasing pace of threats. There has also been a divide over how to address areas such as election security. 

Tom Kellermann, a former commissioner on the Commission on Cyber Security for Obama and the current head cybersecurity strategist at software group VMware Carbon Black, told The Hill on Monday that he “hopes that representatives have an awakening that cybersecurity is a patriotic endeavor not a partisan issue.”

Todt, however, was optimistic for the future of cyber leadership despite the departures of members such as Hurd and King. 

“I look at cybersecurity, and I hope that there are new members that come in and recognize the impact of this issue, not just in technology or infrastructure, but for the entire nation and world, and that new members have the courage and foresight to see the leadership that they could take to drive this issue,” Todt said.