In their questions to witnesses in a hearing this morning, members of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security revealed a bipartisan interest in having the National Security Agency put in charge of domestic “cybersecurity” efforts.
Republican Senator Jon Kyl asked witnesses to evaluate the idea of the NSA — a military intelligence unit tasked in its charter with the task of engaging in foreign intelligence — taking charge of the U.S. Government’s domestic effort to ferret out computer security threats:
I’m still fixated a little bit on this question of who should lead the effort. Let me start, because you raised the question right and the end, Mr. Wortzel, you indicated you thought NSA would be the best to lead the overall effort. And if you could just give me about one more minute on that. And then, Mr. Clinton, given that the interface with a lot of business is through the Department of Homeland Security, as you mentioned, how would that fit into an NSA with an overall lead? And maybe [Senator Kyl snickers] Mr. Nojeim, are there any concerns you have with that kind of a structure?
Larry Wortzel, an ex-military officer affiliated with the Heritage Foundation, indicated that the National Security Agency (as part of the Department of Defense) would provide perfect leadership for the job: “Senator, I think you’re absolutely right.” Larry Clinton, president of a corporate alliance of cybersecurity businesses, declared that it should be the job of businesses to protect themselves, not the NSA. And then Gregory T. Nojeim, at whose civil liberties concerns Senator Kyl had just snickered, brought up the NSA’s history:
I should add, I would be remiss if I didn’t, that NSA has certain baggage that it would bring to lead an effort to secure civilian systems, that other agencies don’t have, including the warrantless wiretapping program.
Mr. Nojeim was too polite to insert the word “illegal” in front of the phrase “warrantless wiretapping program.”
Despite the raising of business and civil liberties objections to the Defense Department’s NSA taking charge of domestic cybersecurity (central aspects of which involve domestic surveillance), Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse held the last word in the hearing, uttering a rhetorical question and forbidding any of the witnesses from actually answering:
If NSA has technical capabilities beyond those of the providers, why should you be relying on the providers in the area where the NSA has greater capability?
I’ve never seen a clearer tipping of the hand: we can expect to see efforts by U.S. Senators, and possibly the Obama administration, to put the military-run foreign intelligence operation of the NSA in charge of domestic cybersecurity and cybersurveillance efforts.
If this sort of thing bothers you, now would be the time to raise holy heck.