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Cyber

Cyber Solarium to back CISA as the lead response agency

In their upcoming report, the Cyberspace Solarium Commission will recommend strengthening authorities of existing U.S. cyber agencies, improving deterrence and bridging the divide between the government and private sector on digital security.

Co-chair Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) said the final report and recommendations will reflect the "unanimous" belief by the commission's members that deterrence in cyberspace is possible but not working in its current form.

"I think our starting point is the recognition that deterrence, particularly below the threshold for military force, is constantly failing and the military needs to be in the business of empowering the private sector to develop more resilience [and] develop a strategy that allows us to do deterrence by punishment," Gallagher said Jan. 7 at a Council of Foreign Relations event in Washington, D.C.

After his talk, Gallagher told FCW that while the Solarium's report will recommend restructuring the federal government's cybersecurity mission in some areas, it still envisions the Cybersecurity and Information Security Agency as the lead entity protecting critical infrastructure. The real problem is that current agencies aren't doing enough coordination.

"What we've discovered in going down this route is there are a ton of players in the cyber community at the federal level, who don't always talk to each other," said Gallagher, who said he had not yet read NIAC's report. "So how can we consolidate them and then have adequate leadership and oversight of the cyber community that goes directly to the White House as opposed to just creating another [agency], and having another person at the table who isn't sharing enough information?"

The commission's work, originally set to end last year, was recently extended until April 2020 in the latest National Defense Authorization Act. With the report still being finalized, Gallagher and co-chair Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) outlined some of the 75 recommendations across six broad categories the commission has developed thus far. They include ideas like strengthening protection of election infrastructure, incentivizing private companies and government to better work together on common threats and ensuring U.S. Cyber Command, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and other federal agencies have the resources and agility to carry out their mission.

In particular, Gallagher said the commission's work will reflect a desire to build on and bolster the roles and authorities of agencies that are already working to protect U.S. interests in cyberspace. He pointed to new authorities granted to Cyber Command by Congress and the White House as a successful example of this strategy and expressed similar hopes for CISA on the civilian side.

"Rather than sort of creating a bunch of new agencies and structures, we're trying to figure out how do we enhance and empower the agencies we have right now," he said.

If that recommendation holds through April, it will differ from a recent National Infrastructure Advisory Council report submitted to the White House late last year recommending the creation of a new federal commission designed to respond to cyberattacks against critical infrastructure. Businessman Mike Wallace, who chaired the working group that drafted the report, told FCW in December 2019 that a new federal body, independent from DHS and reporting directly to the White House, was necessary to introduce more accountability into the system.

Another issue that will be addressed is the diffusion of cyber policy jurisdiction spread out across different committees in Congress. King bemoaned the painfully slow and difficult road that even uncontroversial cybersecurity bills face under current congressional rules, calling it "unacceptable."

Consolidation would require changes in House and Senate rules. King and others have pointed to similar challenges during the creation of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees as a guide.

"I don't want to go home after a catastrophic cyberattack and say 'well, we knew it was coming and we might have been able to do something about it but I'm sorry, we had four different committees that had jurisdiction and we just couldn't do it,'" said King. "That's not going to satisfy my constituents, so we are going to talk about consolidating the authorities in Congress."

More broadly, members have said they want to do for cyber policy what the original Project Solarium did for U.S. nuclear policy in the 1950s: create a strategic structure that policymakers can use as a foundation in future debates.

King warned that the commission's work is not hypothetical and that the country is in a situation where "cyberattacks are…happening on a continuous basis." King added: "Structure is policy. If you have a sloppy, confusing structure you going to have sloppy, confusing policy and that's what we have."

This article first appeared on FCW, a partner site of Defense Systems. 

About the Author

Derek B. Johnson is a former senior staff writer at FCW.

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