Senate panel rips administration on cyber

Rob Joyce NSA/WH 

White House cyber adviser Rob Joyce (above) didn't attend an Oct. 19 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, but his name came up. A lot. 

Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee from both sides of the aisle ripped the Trump administration for not making White House cyber coordinator Rob Joyce available for an Oct. 19 hearing on defending the U.S. from cyberattacks.

"[Joyce] is in charge of one of the major challenges, major issues of our time and now he's not going to be able to show up because he's 'counselor to the president,'" said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland and Global security, Kenneth Rapuano, Christopher Krebs, head of the National Protection and Programs Directorate at the Department of Homeland Security and Scott Smith, the FBI's assistant cyber director testified at the hearing. 

McCain called for a full committee meeting to discuss repercussions in response to Joyce's absence, which he called a "misinterpretation of the privileges of the president to have counsel."

Other senators, including Sens. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), expressed vehement discontent with Joyce's absence throughout the more than two-hour hearing.

"This is the ultimate threat," Nelson said. "Vladimir Putin can't beat us on the land, in the air, on the sea, under the sea, or in space but he can beat us in cyber. And to hand out a five-year old dated chart as to how we're going to fix this situation, just is totally, totally insufficient."

Nelson then turned to McCain and said "I wish you would consider a subpoena" for Joyce.

McCaskill added to the committee's ire, saying "The empty chair is outrageous. We had a foreign government go at the heart of our democracy. A foreign government that wants to break the back of every democracy in the world…I am disgusted that there isn't a representative here that can address this."

But the senators voiced displeasure for more than the empty seat. Krebs and Rapuano continuously defended against rapid-fire questioning on whether the DOD and Homeland Security had established doctrine that governed the appropriate response to a cyberattacks on critical infrastructure, lack of threat assessments of government election systems and readiness to fend off future attacks.

 "We do not have sufficient depth and breadth of the doctrine as we've been discussing," Rapuano said. "And that really is one of the primary drivers of the Executive Order 13800…to have the elements to form that doctrine."

They didn't have many answers, which added to the frustration caused by Joyce's empty seat.

McCain complained that he'd been getting the same non-answers from the White House and others on cybersecurity strategy for years.

"So when we see the person in charge and an empty seat here today, then we are going to have to react," McCain said. "The committee is going to have to get together and decide whether we're going to sit by and watch the person in charge not appear before this committee. That's not constitutional."

About the Author

Lauren C. Williams is a staff writer at FCW covering defense and cybersecurity.

Prior to joining FCW, Williams was the tech reporter for ThinkProgress, where she covered everything from internet culture to national security issues. In past positions, Williams covered health care, politics and crime for various publications, including The Seattle Times.

Williams graduated with a master's in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park and a bachelor's in dietetics from the University of Delaware. She can be contacted at, or follow her on Twitter @lalaurenista.

Click here for previous articles by Wiliams.


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