In the wake of Russian efforts to influence the outcome of the 2016 election, lawmakers have been working to understand what exactly went wrong to allow the meddling to continue and how to keep it from happening again. These efforts include both direct investigations into the Russian meddling and concurrent inquiries into the current state of U.S. national security.
As part of these efforts, the Senate Armed Services Committee, as led by Arizona’s Senator John McCain, held a hearing on Thursday to speak with key officials from across the government about the nation’s cybersecurity. The committee invited a total of four witnesses — but only three of them showed up.
The White House, as Sen. McCain explained at the outset of Thursday’s committee meeting, blocked one of those invited — White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Rob Joyce — from actually attending the hearing. Joyce was blocked from testifying by a policy that allows officials who were not confirmed by the Senate to be kept from testifying before Congress.
Although Sen. McCain noted that Joyce being kept from testifying has a bipartisan precedent, he noted that the White House should be adapting to the present needs in its expressions of policy.
The senator commented:
‘Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the White House declined to have its cyber coordinator testify, citing executive privilege and precedent against having non-confirmed NSC staff testifying before Congress. While this is consistent with past practice on a bipartisan basis, I believe the issue of cyber requires us to completely rethink our old ways of doing business.’
The Trump administration, led by a man who has consistently denied the significance of Russian meddling efforts in the most recent election, is not likely to make any such policy adaptations anytime soon — but the senators aren’t just going to let Trump get away with dismissing the significance of what has been going on.
In response to comments from committee member and Florida Democratic Senator Bill Nelson, Sen. McCain indicated he was open to the idea of issuing a subpoena to make Joyce come and testify.
As McCain explained, the situation represented by Joyce’s absence from the Thursday hearing is serious, indicating a “fundamental misalignment between authority and accountability in our government today when it comes to cyber.”
As he noted, Joyce is the one individual who could be considered responsible for the nation’s cybersecurity in its entirety — but under the rules, the Trump administration is being sure to follow, Joyce is not accountable to Congress.
Other officials, including those three who did appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, are responsible for various components of the nation’s cybersecurity, but they aren’t responsible for its entirety.
As McCain explained, other countries, including the United Kingdom, have adapted their nation’s cybersecurity capabilities to the streamlined needs of modern times, but the United States has not followed suit. With the president focusing on attacking the NFL and other interests and slashing regulations that are important to the protection of the environment, Trump isn’t likely to lead such a policy change anytime soon.
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