A Panel Discussion on the Politics of Cybersecurity with U.S. Congressman Jim Himes

On the evening of Tuesday, March 5th, professors from the AU Washington College of Law and the AU School of Public Affairs participated in a panel discussion on national security, intelligence, and cybersecurity with a conversation that covered more than the stated topic. Panel host Professor Fernando Laguarda began by asking several questions about the intersection between national security and cyber threats in government. Professor Rebecca Hamilton noted that courts are particularly deferential to Congress on these issues because of the relative novelty of cybersecurity, so it is important that political actors remain accountable. Professor Jennifer Daskal shared how she recently went to a conference that discussed cybersecurity, and she said that cyber threats can be categorized in different ways. For example, an attacker may be a non-state actor, an individual activist or criminal, a nation-state, or even a prankster. 

Cybersecurity is a hot button issue. With cyber warfare as a constant threat, the consequences of the Internet are still far from being adequately controlled. Professor Hamilton stressed the importance of being prepared for a diplomatic national crisis caused by a cyberattack. She further stated that we are an interconnected world, and our country’s safety involves the world’s safety. Professor Daskal added that not only does the government have a role in preventing cyberattacks but individuals should also exercise proper cyber hygiene to limit the chance of information getting into the wrong hands.

With a background in congressional oversight, Professor Jennifer Gumbrewicz discussed Congress’ role in cybersecurity and intelligence. She noted the connection between the change in leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives Permanent Selection Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) following the 2018 election and a newly ignited focus on transparency. Transparency regarding congressional actions was a reoccurring theme of the evening. With the change in party leadership in HPSCI, the Committee launched an investigation into President Trump’s ties with Russia in February 2019. Professor Daskal stated that more transparency in government and cybersecurity will and should occur.

The hacking incidents during the 2016 presidential campaign illustrated our country’s need for more robust cybersecurity tools, and there are differing opinions on cyberwarfare strategies and how to minimize conflict with Russia. Congressman Jim Himes (D-CT) joined the discussion later in the evening, and suggested the need for more offensive cyber tactics as well as a diversity of backgrounds within congressional oversight committees, adding that many committee positions are held by former military personnel, which creates homogenous discussions that leave out different perspectives. Congressman Himes is a member of the House Committee on Financial Serves and serves as the Chair of the Strategic Technologies and Advance Research Subcommittee of HPSCI.[1]

A few students asked Congressman Himes about his views on the partisan nature of politics. In his response, he noted that the public often highlights Congress’s setbacks and added depth to the discussion by sharing examples of congressional victories, such as penal code reform and improvement of cybersecurity. However, the divisiveness of today’s political climate still occupies cybersecurity, and Professor Louis Caldera stressed the changing political norms and the consequences brought by those changes. He stated that the polarization has undermined trust in elected officials, and the Russian cyberattacks during elections magnified that distrust. He fittingly noted that when elections can be hacked, people stop believing in elected officials, which adds another layer to the existing partisanship, even though most elections are free from interference. At the end of the evening, the panel concluded by noting that a new era of cybersecurity policy is developing during a time complicated by a variety of issues and new challenges.


[1] U.S. Congressman Jim Himes, About Jim, https://himes.house.gov/about (last visited March 18, 2019).

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