The man once responsible for leading the president-elect’s national security transition team warned this week that a “significant” cyber-event will occur during Donald Trump’s administration. This warning was shared with advisers to and other allies of the incoming commander-in-chief.
The prospect of a devastating cyberattack against the U.S. in the near future is “inevitable” due to the rising escalation of hostile activity in cyberspace and an advancement in capabilities by foreign adversaries, Republican former Rep. Mike Rogers said Thursday. He did not cite any specific threats but instead spoke in general terms.
“I argue that this next administration will face a significant cyber-event. It is just inevitable,” Rogers said during a public speaking event in Washington. Rogers represented Michigan in the House from 2001-15 and was chairman of the Intelligence Committee for four years.
“We are barely able to keep up. If you think about how Iran has stepped up their game — others too — in terms of engagement and are poking around in our financial institutions, it is staggering.”
He added, “I think this administration has a great opportunity to walk in and start lashing up this old government cyber-relevance. We have to make sure that we get the best players of value; the best players on the field. Our NSA folks who go overseas and steal some of the nasty things our adversaries are doing, how can we get that roped into an ecosystem of cyber-sharing where companies can keep it off their network before it gets to you.”
Rogers backed a vague cybersecurity plan previously proposed by Trump that would broadly see the Defense Department play an increasingly influential role in the defense of domestic, private sector computer networks. The supposed strategy would likely transfer some of the existing defensive cybersecurity responsibilities currently held by the Department of Homeland Security onto Defense Department-led agencies.
Privacy advocates are wary of Trump’s past comments on the topics of privacy, surveillance and digital security because of, among other things, the choice of Rep. Michael Pompeo, R-Kan., to be CIA director. A Wall Street Journal editorial Pompeo wrote earlier this year advises that “legal and bureaucratic impediments to surveillance should be removed.”
Rogers said this of the next administration’s affinity for increased Defense Department involvement in protecting the internet:
“Two things are going to happen: about 85 percent of networks in the U.S. are private. And you do not want the very popular NSA on those networks. You don’t want the Defense Department trolling your private sector networks. That’s a bad solution. But there are ways we think through the use of sensors deployed down range — this is probably more technical than you wanted to be. So what our goal here would be is this: if you can see something bad coming by on your side and if you’re say the NSA or Department of Defense or fill in the blank agency, if you see something go by that sensor — external to a private network — wouldn’t it be great if we can share that information in realtime, mitigate that problem in realtime, how much damage could we stop.”
Months prior to the Nov. 8 presidential election, a transition team for each candidate began the monumental task of compiling policy documents, recommendations and other information in an effort to help prepare the eventual winner to take on the immense responsibility involved with sitting in the Oval Office.
Rogers resigned from the transition team shortly after Trump pulled off one of the biggest upsets in campaign history. According to NBC News, Rogers’ departure came due to a “purge” of transition advisers selected by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
“It was a privilege to prepare and advise the policy, personnel and agency action teams on all aspects of the national security portfolio during the initial pre-election planning phase. Our work will provide a strong foundation for the new transition team leadership as they move into the post-election phase,” Rogers said in a statement announcing his resignation.
Speaking Thursday to a crowd of policy experts, journalists, intelligence and defense officials, Rogers said he never met Trump but was impressed by the businessman’s work ethic. He also spoke highly of the transition team’s decision to consider sitting NSA Director and Cyber Command chief Michael Rogers for the Director of National Intelligence position.
Indeed, the fact that the current NSA director is being considered for the ODNI job shows in itself, according to the former congressman, that Trump is cognizant of impending cybersecurity challenges.
When pressed by the event moderator, Washington Post reporter Karen DeYoung, to explain how Trump will be able to balance an admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin with defending the U.S. against ongoing offensive cyber-operations orchestrated by the Kremlin, Rogers tried to find some balance. He said Trump’s desire to normalize relations with Russia presents a positive opportunity, but the president-elect “shouldn’t give Putin an inch” with respect to U.S. global interests.
In an interview with CyberScoop, he declined to comment on any specific cyber-related information that he shared with Trump’s team.