Armed Services panel aims to toughen cyber oversight in defense bill

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The House Armed Services Committee will seek to increase oversight of the military’s cyber operations and partnerships with allies on cyber capabilities in this year’s annual defense policy bill.

“While we are increasing that oversight, it’s not necessarily an indication that the department’s doing anything bad or wrong or that is not in concert with the direction of the committee,” a committee staffer told reporters. “This is a maturation process.”

Overall, the Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee is responsible for about $68 billion for the programs it oversees, such as Cyber Command and special operations.

The bill folds in a cybersecurity bill that was introduced as a standalone earlier this month.

That bill, introduced by Reps. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), Adam Smith (D-Wash.), Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) and Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), would require Congress to be notified within 48 hours of any sensitive military cyber operations that are conducted and would also mandate notification of any unauthorized disclosure of cyber capabilities.

The subcommittee portion of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) also includes a provision that was part of Thornberry’s standalone bill on Asia-Pacific security.

The provision seeks to increase partnerships on cyber with allies in Asia to counter China and North Korea.

The bill would also support the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence in order to deter Russian cyber operations.

Outside of cyber, the subcommittee portion of the NDAA would invest technologies such as directed energy, hypersonics and three-dimensional printing with a focus on their use for conventional warfare.

“We’re trying to think to not necessarily the problems of right now,” a second staffer said. “We’re trying to think ahead a couple years, motivating the department to start thinking about what those conventional weapons requirements are going to be going into the future.”

The bill would also fund special operations at the administration’s requested level of $12.3 billion and put more congressional oversight on special operations by increasing reporting requirements for “various sensitive activities.”

The bill would further require congressional notification within 30 days when a change is made to presidential policy guidance on direct action against terrorist targets. 

“Obviously with the new administration there were member requests related to that,” the staffer said. “This is just additional direct and report language that puts an additional emphasis point on that.”

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