McCain: We need a select committee on cyberwarfare, not just the Russia hacks

“I’ve seen no evidence that the election would have been different,” Senator John McCain told CNN’s Jake Tapper on State of the Union yesterday in response to Hillary Clinton’s allegations that Russia threw the election for Donald Trump on the basis of a “personal beef” Vladimir Putin has with her. That being said, McCain — who renewed and broadened his calls for a joint Congressional select committee to investigate election-year cyberwarfare — insists that the risks exist regardless of how this election played out. “That doesn’t change the fact that the Russians and others, the Chinese to a lesser degree, have been able to interfere with our electoral process.” The seriousness of that potential, McCain argues, is why Congress needs to act — and not just within the intelligence committees:

During an appearance Sunday morning on CNN’s “State of the Union,” McCain stressed that a select committee is needed not only to determine what happened this year, but also to look at “the whole issue of cyberwarfare, where we have no strategy or no policy.”

“It is one area where they have an advantage, perhaps the only area where our adversaries have an advantage over us,” McCain said.

Why can’t Congress deal with this in the intelligence oversight committees? “The responsibilities for cyber [security] are spread over about four different committees in the Senate,” McCain explains. “Frankly, it [intel committee process] is not going to be the most efficient way of arriving at a conclusion. This is serious business.”

McCain’s right about that, especially the part about it being serious business. Had Barack Obama taken it seriously, perhaps some of this damage might have been prevented. Obama admitted last week that he knew about the Russian hacking but preferred not to go public with it … because he expected Hillary Clinton to win the election. The extent of action Obama took was to tell Putin to “cut it out,” which makes hash out of the administration’s sudden depiction of Russian hacking as the end of the Republic. McCain wasn’t impressed either:

Let’s get back to the question of a joint select committee, either on Russia’s hacking in 2015-16 or on the larger issue of cybersecurity and cyberwarfare. This issue didn’t start in 2015, but has been an open sore throughout the Obama administration on systems that belong to the government. Edward Snowden raided the NSA three years ago and wound up in Russia. China had full access to the OPM database for more than a year before anyone knew they were in there. The DNC and the Center for American Progress are responsible for their own data security, but the failures of the executive branch in securings its own systems have been well known for years.

Perhaps that deserves its own joint select committee now to deal with the acute failures and incompetence of the Obama administration, because clearly we are at serious risk of foreign manipulation of more than just an election with these hacks. But a better question might be why the Senate and the House have not reorganized their standing committees or subcommittees to bring all of the cybersecurity issues to single points of accountability before now. Wasn’t the OPM hackmuch bigger issue in terms of exposing millions of Americans with security clearances and sensitive jobs to espionage recruitment and extortion? How about hacks at the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, State Department, and at Juniper, all of which were exposed months ago? These weren’t just attempts to influence an election, but to pervert the actual governance of the United States directly.

Why did it take hacks of non-governmental, private organizations to prompt Congress into action years after the federal cyber vulnerabilities had been exploited? Senators McCain, Chuck Schumer, et al should answer that question first before we start forming ad hoc panels to deal with a long-term ongoing threat.