WASHINGTON – The leader of the House intelligence panel said last week he is confident that Congress will pass cybersecurity legislation this year, despite public perception of U.S. intelligence overreach driven by intense media scrutiny.
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said that he is “extremely optimistic” Congress can pass an information-sharing bill for cybersecurity this year.
The Michigan Republican said that he met with the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee last week.
“That was one of the most productive meetings I thought we had this year on this issue, and I am back to being extremely optimistic that we are going to get a cyber-sharing bill this year,” Rogers said during an event at the American Enterprise Institute.
Rogers has previously said that the Senate needs to act by August to get the bill to the president’s desk by the end of the year.
“I am very, very encouraged by this meeting yesterday,” he said.
The bill would allow companies to share information about possible cyber threats with each other and the government.
The House passed its version of the bill in April 2014 with two-thirds support. The effort in the Senate was largely hindered by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden’s revelations about the agency’s Internet spying program. The Senate has yet to bring a bill to the floor in this Congress, but lawmakers in the upper chamber are working to move forward.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), the panel’s top Republican, announced earlier this year that they have reached a compromise on draft legislation.
Privacy advocates fear that the bill would encourage Internet companies to hand over their users’ private information to the NSA and other intelligence agencies.
Rogers cautioned that public misconception of intelligence agencies after the Snowden leaks has made passing any cybersecurity legislation significantly harder.
“Every day there’s a new article that isn’t exactly right in the newspaper about leaks that are coming out from the NSA,” Rogers said.
A January Associated Press/GfK poll found that more than 60 percent of Americans are increasingly placing personal privacy ahead of being kept safe from terrorists.
Rogers, however, said this is a false dichotomy.
“We’re caught in these series of debates that you have to have either privacy or security. I believe you have to have both, and you can have both,” he said.
He said the public does not understand the risk of cyber threats, which has become the “most serious national security problem” that the United States faces.
“I really did hope that the Target example would kind of shock Americans to understanding as great as an opportunity as the Internet is, it also presents a whole new level of danger that we need to try to deal with,” Rogers said, referring to the hacking of 40 million payment accounts at the retail company. “I don’t think our psyche has gotten there yet.”
Rogers said that Snowden has caused “grave damage to our national security,” noting that over 90 percent of the information he stole was related to military tactical and strategic information.
“He is a traitor to his country, who has caused grave damage to our military readiness around the world,” Rogers said.
General Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA and the NSA, said Snowden’s actions have damaged America’s reputation around the globe.
Hayden, who likened the impact of cybersecurity on human life to the disruption triggered by the “European discovery of the Western hemisphere,” said the leaks hurt American national security by giving away secrets to terrorists and foreign governments in Russia and China. He said the leaks were the “greatest hemorrhaging of legitimate American secrets in the history of the republic. Period.”
Snowden has been living in Russia for the last year, where he is avoiding espionage charges in the U.S. Critics have accused him of working with foreign spies or even being a Russian agent, while he has described himself as a patriot.
Rogers claimed that Snowden was “in the loving arms” of Moscow’s Federal Security Service, the successor to the Soviet-era KGB.
“We know that for a fact,” he said. “That’s not even disputed.”
Snowden has repeatedly indicated he wishes to come back to the United States, but the Obama administration has ruled out granting him full amnesty. Nevertheless, supporters hope that a deal can be reached so that he does not remain a fugitive for the rest of his life.
Speaking at a later panel, former NSA chief General Keith Alexander said the media has been on a “snipe hunt” for NSA wrongdoing based on what could happen with its data collection programs, not what has, in fact, happened, which has been found to be legal by the courts.
“What’s in the papers and what has come out is what it could be used for, but not one thing has been found to be used wrongly,” Alexander said.
“We can’t let snipe hunting drive this debate,” he added. “It has to be the facts.”