May 27, 2021
WASHINGTON, D.C. –U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine), Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, today pressed top Defense Department and nuclear security nominees on cybersecurity and deterrence strategies in their departments – specifically emphasizing the importance of “pentesting” (penetration testing) their systems. Today’s first exchange between Senator King and Frank Rose, nominee to be Principal Deputy Administrator National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), came during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Senator King, the Co-Chair of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission, took the opportunity of the hearing to insist on fresher, proactive cybersecurity thinking within the NNSA.
SENATOR KING: “Thank you. Mr. Rose, I want to turn to you. A couple of things, we had a question a few minutes ago about cyber and you said you were going to appoint a new [Chief Information Officer]. I want urgency here and I don’t think, I’m fine with appointing a new CIO, but I would like you to stand up a team that aggressively red teams your system to test them because every CIO says ‘oh we’re okay’, and that goes up the line and you say ‘we’re okay.’ I want people who are paid to hack your system to demonstrate whether or not you are in fact secure. There is no more important cyber protection than that of nuclear command and control and communication, so I hope you will go beyond a new CIO to an all hands on deck, urgent, urgent pursuit of cyber defense, particularly in the NNSA.”
ROSE: “Senator, thank you very much. I agree with you 100%. We have got to get on our ‘A’ game with regards to cyber, especially that nexus between cyber and nuclear. One of the things that I have been focused on in my career, in the last five years, is the challenge of these new emerging technologies to nuclear deterrents. So if confirmed, I assure you that I will make your recommendation a priority and we will work to get the NNSA’s house in order with regards to cybersecurity.”
Later in the hearing, Senator King and Deborah Rosenblum, nominee to be Assistant Secretary Of Defense For Nuclear, Chemical, And Biological Defense Programs discussed the danger of nuclear weapons falling into the wrong hands – a concern that he regularly raises as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces:
SENATOR KING: “Ms. Rosenblum, to look at deterrence in another way, my nightmare is nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists, non-state actors, and the problem is that this whole theory of deterrence that we’ve been talking about, doesn’t work with a group of 30 people who would just as soon give their lives up for some abstract cause. Number one, talk to me about how do we keep that from happening, either indigenous development of these weapons by a terrorist group, or more likely, purchased from a rogue state like North Korea.”
ROSENBLUM: “Thank you, Senator for the question, it is something, I believe appropriately, we do need to be concerned about, and is part of the reason that there needs to be emphasis put on securing nuclear materials, civilian nuclear materials, throughout the world, particularly as we see the use of nuclear energy as part of the approach to the climate related issue. And if I may, Senator, one other point, I worry very much about biological weapons, particularly…with synthetic biology, which is becoming more and more ubiquitous. It’s allowing a much broader range of actors, to have those tools in much shorter time frames, and that is something that if I am confirmed, I will take a very close look at the Department of Defense.”
In addition to Mr. Rose and Ms. Rosenblum, today’s hearing included testimony from Christopher Maier, nominee to be Assistant Secretary Of Defense For Special Operations And Low-Intensity Conflict; and Jill Hruby, nominee to be Under Secretary Of Energy For Nuclear Security And Administrator, National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).
As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and co-chair of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission, Senator King is recognized as one of Congress’s leading experts on cyberdefense and a strong advocate for a forward-thinking cyberstrategy that emphasizes layered cyberdeterrence. He voted in favor of the Senate’s passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2021, which includes 25 bipartisan cybersecurity recommendations from the Cyberspace Solarium Commission. The legislation became law earlier this year after Senator King and the overwhelming majority of his colleagues voted to override former President Trump’s veto.
The CSC was established by statute in the 2019 NDAA, officially launched in April 2019, and will continue to execute its statutory mission through December 2021. The Commissioners convened nearly every Monday that Congress was in session for a year, and its staff conducted more than 400 engagements, drawing upon the expertise of corporate leaders, federal, state and local officials, academics, and cybersecurity experts. The meetings and the ensuing report sought to strengthen America’s posture in cyberspace and identify opportunities to improve our national preparedness to defend ourselves against cyberattacks.