WASHINGTON – Despite reports by the FBI and CIA of Russian interference in the 2016 election, concerns that the foreign meddling will continue in the 2018 midterm elections and private security breaches in the last year, President Donald Trump did not mention cybersecurity threats in Tuesday’s State of the Union Address.
Trump has pushed back against the FBI and CIA conclusions about the Kremlin, and the administration has missed more than a dozen security diagnosis deadlines outlined in the president’s May executive order on improving cybersecurity infrastructure, raising concerns that the White House is not equipped to handle cybersecurity. The order calls for greater protections to critical cyber infrastructure and for private firms to participate in cyberdefense.
“Talking about national security and he doesn’t talk about Russia, he doesn’t talk about Russia’s threat against the United States and of course avoids completely the fact that he has not implemented the sanctions that Congress passed overwhelmingly,” Maryland Sen. Ron Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said. “That was a major gap and a message to Mr. Putin: Full force ahead on the United States.”
Democrats and Republicans alike have been concerned with the president’s handling of cybersecurity threats to not only the American government but private businesses such as Equifax.
“Unfortunately, leadership from the executive branch on cybersecurity has been weak,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said in August. “The last administration offered no serious cyber deterrence policy and strategy. And while the current administration promised a cyber policy within 90 days of inauguration, we still have not seen a plan.”
On Jan. 10, Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee published a report detailing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s history of interference in democratic elections across the globe, which said that Trump has not shown the leadership needed to counter the threats to U.S. cybersecurity.
“Never before in American history has so clear a threat to national security been so clearly ignored by a U.S. president,” according to the report.
Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Penn., lauded the speech, but too said Trump missed highlighting Russian cybersecurity threats. Though he generally believes the president should talk less about the investigation and let Special Counsel Robert Mueller complete his investigation, the president should have addressed it tonight, he said.
“In hindsight, in retrospect, he should have talked about the bad behavior of Russia and Putin in particular and how they’re trying to undermine American power and influence,” Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Penn., said.
While congressional reactions suggest the president needs to further address Russian meddling and cybersecurity concerns, government agencies continue to face Russian challenges and more. The National Security Strategy, released in December, lists Russia, China and North Korea as threats to global cybersecurity and Mike Pompeo told the BBC earlier Tuesday that U.S. intelligence agencies believe Russia will meddle again in the midterm elections later this year.
Claude Barfield, resident scholar at the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute, said that the biggest difference between the Obama administration and the Trump administration’s policy going forward will be the way they choose to handle specific threats rather than the overarching policy.
“The one thing that Obama wrestled with that I think these guys are wrestling with is what actions do you take in reaction to substantial hacking of services or substantial hacking as it relates to critical infrastructure, the kind of thing that happened with (the Office of Personnel Management),” Barfield said. “How do you lay out, to tell the whole world what you will do in relation to a particular interaction, and that’s very tough.”
The president’s budget for fiscal 2019 is expected to be published in early February, which will help indicate where the administration’s priorities lie for the coming year. While Trump omitted cybersecurity concerns from his first State of the Union, the national security capabilities