Opinions

U.S. businesses are in an unfair fight against cyberthreats

(Jeffrey MacMillan/JEFFREY MACMILLAN FOR WASHINGTON POST) - Booz Allen’s cyber facility in Maryland is one of nine virtually-connected centers and labs in the Cyber Solutions Network.

Mike Rogers, a Republican representative from Michigan, is chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

I was disappointed that an Oct. 14 Post editorial argued that American companies and critical infrastructure operators must cope alone with serious cyberthreats. Most American companies work hard to secure their networks, but U.S. companies are targeted daily by nation-state actors such as China and Iran. That’s not a fair fight. Congress must act, and we must not let a misguided leaker dissuade us from doing our jobs.

The Post editorial suggested that because of the recent public debate about national security programs, the chance has “evaporated” to pass legislation to better defend against advanced cyberthreats from nation-states. Expectations for Congress may be low, but that is simply too low. Congress does not get a pass from attending to its highest constitutional responsibility — providing for the common defense.

Let’s be clear about why we are having this debate: A systems administrator with only the dimmest understanding of the legal and technical complexities of vital counterterrorism programs stole and disclosed a mountain of properly classified material. The compromised programs are authorized in law and carefully overseen by Congress, the Justice Department and the courts. Yet these selectively leaked documents, framed hyperbolically by an activist masquerading as a journalist at the Guardian, have created the dangerous misimpression that the intelligence community is lawless. The American people must not accept this absurd myth. Congress also can’t let Edward Snowden’s anarchy paralyze us from addressing real threats to our country.

As Congress works to add additional oversight and transparency measures to national security programs and thereby restore confidence in those Americans who work hard to keep the nation safe and protect citizens’ privacy and civil liberties, we must also address the threat of further cyberattacks.

The threat is serious. Rampant cyber economic espionage from China, Iran and other countries is eroding U.S. prosperity . And many of the same vulnerabilities used to steal trade secrets can expose critical infrastructure on which our nation depends.

But the federal government lacks clear legal authority to widely share information about cyberthreats with private companies. Congress must provide that authority and should allow more voluntary, anonymous sharing from the private sector to the government. The law should also allow better sharing of cyberthreat information within the private sector, so U.S. companies have the information to defend against cyberattacks.

The Post is right: The political ground has shifted. Snowden’s disclosures of legal national security programs cannot, however, absolve Congress of its responsibility to defend this country from foreign threats. America’s economic and national security are at stake.

 
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