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February 14, 2019

King on Risk of Cyberattacks: “This is not a threat. This is happening now. We are under attack.”

King also pushes importance of bipartisan bill to protect energy infrastructure from hackers

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) took part in a Committee on Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) hearing on cybersecurity. King emphasized the need for urgent action, pushed for his legislation with Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho) to protect U.S. energy infrastructure from cyberattacks, and called for mandatory standards for gas pipelines. Earlier in the day, Senator King took part in a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing focused on national cybersecurity and special operations.

“There’s a weird calmness about this hearing. This is not calm! The Russians are already in the grid… there were news reports from a year ago about the Department of Homeland Security releasing screenshots of Russian hackers in the SCADA system,” said Senator King. “…I just think we’re entirely too calm about this. This is not a threat. This is happening now. We are under attack. This isn’t something that may happen next year, or two years from now, and I’m not revealing anything classified in the sense of quoting news articles and presentations by the Department of Homeland Security. We are in a very dangerous place, and I just think this has to be… an emergency, an urgent situation. I hope I’ve conveyed that here this morning…I don’t think there’s many more serious threats facing this country than this one…I don’t want to go home to Maine and say we knew what was going on but we had four committees that had jurisdiction and we really couldn’t quite get it done.”

In his questioning, King also touched on a number of pressing issues, including:

The importance of his bipartisan Securing Energy Infrastructure Act: “I would like to hopefully suggest that we can move quickly on S.174 which is the bill [from] Senator Risch and I introduced last year, it was S.79. It passed the Senate and came within a whisker of passing the House at the very end of the session. I hope we can, we’ve had a hearing, we’ve had a markup, I hope we can move this bill out, because it addresses this question exactly.” (Beginning at 00:00)


The need to treat natural gas in the same way as the rest of the electric grid: “Of course there should be mandatory standards for gas pipelines. They’re part of the electric system – 60 percent of the [electric supply] in New England is natural gas, not to mention heating. It seems to me we’ve already passed this, an effective system for the electrical utilities… I appreciate working in good faith, but it seems to me we made a realization some years ago that mandatory standards made sense on the electric side, and if the natural gas pipeline system is now essentially a part of the electric system, I see no reason why that should not be the case in that industry.” (Beginning at 01:40)


In a back and forth with James Robb, President and CEO of North American Electric Reliability Corporation, King emphasized the risk of using foreign products in our utilities, saying: (Beginning at 01:02)

Sen. King:  “Okay let me as another question. Do any of our utilities have Kaspersky, Huawei, or ZTE equipment in their system?”

Mr. Robb: “We issued a NERC alert.”

Sen. King: “I didn’t ask you if you issued an alert. I asking you do any of our utilities have ZTE, Huawei, or Kaspersky equipment or software in their system?”

Mr. Robb: “Not to my knowledge.”

Sen. King: “Not to your knowledge. Have you surveyed any of the utilities to determine that? ”

Mr. Robb: “Uhhh, I don’t believe we have.”

Sen. King: “I think that would be a good idea don’t you?” 

Mr. Robb: “I’ll take that on.”


In addition to Robb, today’s ENR hearing featured testimony from Neal Chatterjee, Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission; Karen Evans, Assistant Energy Secretary for Cybersecurity, Energy Security and Emergency Response; Major William Keber, Executive Officer of the West Virginia National Guard Critical Infrastructure Protection Battalion; and David Whitehead, COO of Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories.

Prior to today’s ENR hearing, Senator King questioned General Paul M. Nakasone regarding the cross-jurisdictional nature of cyber defense. During his questioning, King sought to ensure that the agencies who oversee foreign cybersecurity threats are communicating with the agencies who have domestic jurisdiction over cybersecurity.

As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Senator King is recognized as a thoughtful voice on national security and foreign policy issues in the Senate. In addition to his committee work, he serves on the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, the Senate North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Observer Group, and the Cyberspace Solarium Commission. 

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