U.S. Cybersecurity Mirrors 9/11 Terror Vulnerability, Panel Told

  • Democratic, Republican panel leaders agree on cyber needs
  • Reflection on U.S. threats comes ahead of 9/11 anniversary

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The U.S. is as unprepared for cybersecurity threats today as it was for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, national security professionals and historians say.

Scholars and former 9/11 Commission members on Thursday urged House lawmakers to prioritize and boost funding for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and other parts of the federal government focused on preventing attacks.

“The cyber landscape to me looks a lot like the counterterrorism landscape did before 9/11,” historian and journalist Garrett Graff said during a Homeland Security Committee roundtable.

Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images
The ‘Tribute in Light’ memorial lights up lower Manhattan near One World Trade Center on September 11, 2018, in New York City.

The event comes in the lead-up to the 20th anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks. Committee members will also travel to New York next week to visit the 9/11 Memorial Museum and participate in a discussion on cooperation between local first responders and the Department of Homeland Security.

Panelists at Thursday’s roundtable focused on emerging and expanding threats DHS must manage, including domestic terrorism and cyberattacks.

Christopher Kojm, who was deputy executive director of the 9/11 Commission, told the panel it should be as powerful as the House and Senate armed services committees to provide adequate oversight. He acknowledged, however, that he was “speaking to the choir.” Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have pushed to broaden the House Homeland Security Committee’s jurisdiction, with little success.

Homeland Security Revamp Effort Seeks to Skirt Turf Skirmishes

The federal government completed a dramatic overhaul of its approach to counterterrorism after 9/11, but has failed to reorganize cybersecurity work on a similar scale, Graff said Thursday.

Rep. John Katko (N.Y.), the panel’s top Republican and a steadfast CISA advocate, said he agrees with the assessment that “we’re not doing anywhere near enough.”

The cyber threat is more complicated, thanks to the private sector’s role “as both a victim and a threat vector,” Amy Zegart, co-director of Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, said.

“There are more people in the U.S. protecting our national parks than there are in CISA protecting our critical infrastructure,” Zegart said.

Worst Federal Worker Morale Spurs DHS Secretary to Make Changes

Chair Bennie Thompson (Miss.) said he shared concerns about the federal cyber workforce.

“The fact that we cannot find enough people to put in the cyber arena on the federal payroll, we recognize therefore we have an over-reliance on contractors,” he said. “We hold job fairs, we encourage it, but we just haven’t gotten there.”

DHS unveiled its new Cybersecurity Talent Management System, which takes effect in November, aimed at recruiting more competitively.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ellen M. Gilmer in Washington at egilmer@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sarah Babbage at sbabbage@bgov.com; Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com

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