Cybersecurity

McCain slams White House’s cyber deterrence plan

Sen. John McCain at the Heritage Foundation.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)

The cyber deterrence policy the Obama administration sent Congress last month is "wholly lacking any new information" on the administration's plans to meaningfully deter attacks, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Jan. 12.

The deterrence plan "goes to great pains to minimize the role of offensive cyber capabilities and does little to clarify the policy ambiguities that undermine the credibility of deterrence," McCain said.

"The administration has not demonstrated to our adversaries that the consequences of continued cyberattacks against us outweigh the benefit," he added. "Until this happens, the attacks will continue, and our national security interests will suffer.

McCain's sharp rebuke of the administration's deterrence plan is likely the opening salvo in a widening debate between Congress and the administration over cyber deterrence. The issue has been a work-in-progress for the administration, with Director of National Intelligence James Clapper telling Congress in September that large-scale hacks like that of the Office of Personnel Management would continue absent a sound deterrence policy.

The deterrence policy states that all instruments of power, including military and economic means, should be used in a targeted manner to "create uncertainty in adversaries' minds about the effectiveness of any malicious cyber activities."

The document is meant as a roadmap that federal agencies will use to align their efforts. It reaffirms the administration's efforts to bolster deterrence through more resilient network defense; the imposition of costs, such as sanctions, on hackers; and the establishment of international norms in cyberspace.

McCain's call for a more-offensive approach in cyberspace comes as the defense and intelligence officials are mulling their options.

"We focused primarily on the defensive piece initially … but I think now we're at a tipping point," where more attention needs to be paid to offensive capabilities, U.S. Cyber Commander Adm. Michael Rogers told the Senate Armed Services Committee last March.

About the Author

Sean Lyngaas is a former FCW staff writer.

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