Langevin hopeful new Armed Services panel will shine new spotlight on cybersecurity

Greg Nash

Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), the newly minted chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s new cybersecurity subcommittee, is looking to bring a spotlight to the nation’s defensive cyber capabilities and international cyber diplomacy. 

Langevin, a longtime House leader on cybersecurity issues, told The Hill during a phone interview that his aim is to support a 21st century defense posture, and expressed confidence that after the biggest cyber espionage event in U.S. history, the level of focus on cybersecurity from both sides of the aisle would remain high. 

“The Armed Services Committee needs to dedicate staff and resources to face this challenge, and give the oversight that men and women in uniform really deserve,” Langevin said Thursday. “These issues aren’t going away, they are not going to diminish, if anything they are just going to grow in complexity and importance.”

“I want to make sure that we swing the pendulum back in our favor,” he emphasized. 

Langevin is gearing up to chair the newly established Subcommittee on Cyber, Innovative Technologies and Information Systems, which is set to intensify the focus of the House Armed Services Committee on cybersecurity concerns at the Department of Defense (DOD). 

The subcommittee, announced earlier this month, is being stood up as the federal government continues to reel from the effects of what has become known as the SolarWinds breach. 

It was discovered in December that IT company SolarWinds, and potentially several other companies, had been involved in a Russian hacking operation that compromised much of the federal government, including the Pentagon. 

The incident is among the top priorities that the new subcommittee will address. Langevin told The Hill that the subcommittee would be receiving a briefing from officials on the effects of the breach this upcoming week, and would hold a public hearing at some point to explore the issue further. 

The breach, potentially the largest cyber espionage incident in U.S. history, also had the effect of making the new subcommittee a popular choice for members of the full House Armed Services Committee, with Langevin noting that the panel’s roster filled up faster than any of the other subcommittees. 

“Members even off the subcommittee have requested briefings on SolarWinds,” Langevin said. “I’ve been talking about this for years, but unfortunately, the thing that’s woken people up the most and gotten their attention is the high-level cyber intrusions or ransomware attacks that are happening.”

The subcommittee is far from the first time Langevin has focused on cybersecurity. The congressman has made the issue one of his top priorities for more than a decade in Congress, and recently helped negotiate the inclusion of more than two dozen cybersecurity recommendations in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act.

These clauses, many of which are meant to bolster DOD’s cyber capabilities, were based on recommendations from the Cyberspace Solarium Commission. Langevin is a member of the group, which is made up of members of Congress, other government officials and agency leaders that produced a report on how to protect the U.S. in cyberspace last year. 

The leading recommendation was the establishment of a national cyber director at the White House. President Biden has yet to pick a person for that role.

Langevin told The Hill that filling this role was crucial to address a range of cybersecurity threats.

“We need to make sure that we are resilient, we build in stronger defensive capabilities, that’s where the national cyber director comes in, but also working with the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command, that’s all part of it,” Langevin said. “We have to make sure that we have strong both offensive capabilities but also defensive capabilities.”

Langevin plans to focus on a range of areas to do so, including enhancing artificial intelligence, bringing in new talent to the defense workforce, boosting research and development at the Pentagon, creating a “general purpose cloud environment,” and zeroing in on supply chain security. 

“That’s machine security, our weapon systems, our wireless network infrastructure and also microelectronics,” he said.

All of these issues could warrant a future hearing for the subcommittee. Langevin noted he had the full support of House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) in setting up the panel and its priorities. “We’re moving forward, full steam ahead,” he said. 

Langevin is also focused on cybersecurity priorities outside of the subcommittee, in particular on reintroducing the Cyber Diplomacy Act. The bipartisan bill, which failed to be signed into law in previous years, would establish an Office of International Cyber Policy at the State Department with a leader who would report directly to the secretary.

The bill, spearheaded by House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Michael McCaul (R-Texas), has been in the spotlight over the past month after former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo set up a new cyber bureau at the agency. The bureau drew ire from both sides of the aisle amid concerns that its structure could hurt, not help, the nation’s cyber diplomacy efforts. 

In the wake of the controversy, McCaul, Langevin and other sponsors are gearing up to reintroduce the bill in the coming weeks, with Langevin noting he had recently spoken with Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, on the issue. 

“The Trump administration, they were a train wreck when it came to international cyber diplomacy and policy,” Langevin said of the need to bolster the State Department’s cyber capabilities. “We ceded a lot of ground to our enemies and adversaries and international policymaking entities.”

Langevin said he would also introduce legislation to establish a Bureau of Cyber Statistics at the Department of Commerce, an office that would be responsible for compiling data on private sector cyber intrusions to help inform cybersecurity spending. 

He noted that he had already spoken with Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D), President Biden’s nominee for Commerce secretary, on setting up the position, adding that he hoped to have a “great pipeline” to Raimondo due to their shared home state. 

“If done the right way, it’s going to give us greater insights on the scope and depth of cybersecurity challenges that we face and technologies that we’re up against, and then how we can best secure vulnerable networks,” Langevin said. 

On all cybersecurity topics, Langevin stressed the need for all levels of government and industry to stay focused on securing critical networks, with adversaries constantly looking for weaknesses. 

“I think we’ve come a long way from where we were, but because it’s an ongoing effort, we are never going to be 100 percent cyber secure,” he stressed. “There’s no silver bullet … continued focus on cybersecurity is going to be essential.”

Tags Adam Smith China Gina Raimondo Jake Sullivan Jim Langevin Joe Biden Michael McCaul Mike Pompeo Russia SolarWinds hack
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