The Senate Armed Services Committee’s (SASC) mark of the latest defense spending bill reintroduces the push for the Pentagon to develop the first ever cyber warfare policy after last year’s version failed to result in a new plan.
SASC’s FY ’19 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) mark, approved Thursday by a 25-2 vote, includes provisions for the Secretary of Defense to develop a cyber plan that includes greater authorities to carry out offensive operations and improve responses following digital threats to critical infrastructure.
A similar plan was proposed by SASC Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) for last year’s bill, but the final version of the NDAA only included a call for the White House to deliver a cyber policy. The administration-led effort didn’t provide senior DoD leadership with the same level of authority to respond to adversaries following high-level cyber threats.
The committee’s mark calls for a policy that employs “all instruments of national power, including the use of offensive cyber capabilities” to deter and respond to malicious cyber actors.
The Secretary of Defense would also appoint a senior official and create a cross-functional team to work on the new cyber warfare policy.
To aid in deterring future cyber aggression from nation-state actors, SASC included authorities in their mark to empower Cyber Command to make independent decisions on cyber operations.
Adm. Mike Rogers, the previous leader of Cyber Command, told SASC at a February hearing he had not received orders to respond to Russian interference limiting his command’s ability to defend against future threats (Defense Daily, Feb. 27). Gen. Paul Nakasone, who succeeded Rogers earlier this month, also told SASC at his March confirmation hearing that Cyber Command would need empowered authorities and a more defined DoD cyber strategy to effectively carry out its mission (Defense Daily, March 1).
The House’s version of the NDAA, also passed Thursday, contains fewer cyber policy reforms and adheres to the administration-driven approach from the previous defense spending bill.
SASC’s version of the bill now moves to the Senate floor for a full vote.