July 20 (Bloomberg) -- The Defense Department has failed to deliver to Congress a report on U.S. cyber warfare policy that would clarify the legal authorities and rules of engagement to be used in the event of a cyber attack, the leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee said today.
“The continued failure to address and define the policies and legal authorities necessary for the Pentagon to operate in the cyberspace domain remains a significant gap in our national security that must be addressed,” wrote Senators Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, and John McCain, an Arizona Republican, in a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
By law, the Pentagon was to report to Congress by March 1 on its cyber warfare policy, outlining a number of “critical questions” that must be addressed in the new battlefield of cyberspace, the senators said.
The Defense Department last week released a new “Strategy for Operating in Cyberspace” that focuses on improving defenses instead of threatening retaliation for attacks.
Levin, the committee chairman, and McCain, the ranking Republican, said the policy fails to answer all the questions demanded by Congress.
Among the unresolved issues, they wrote, are how to preserve the president’s freedom of action in a crisis, the rules of engagement for commanders, and what would constitute an act of war in cyberspace.
Congressional interest in cyber warfare has been growing as reports proliferate of major breaches in cyber security. Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn disclosed last week that foreign hackers stole 24,000 U.S. military files in a single attack on a defense contractor in March.
Panetta, who took office this month, warned at his confirmation hearing in June that “the next Pearl Harbor we confront could very well be a cyber attack.”
Levin and McCain told Panetta in their letter that he should explain why their unanswered questions are not yet resolved if no report is forthcoming.
“We are aware of the letter and are reviewing for comment back to the Senate,” said Lt. Col. April Cunningham, a Defense Department spokesman.
--Editors: Steven Komarow, Terry Atlas
To contact the reporter on this story: David Lerman in Washington at Dlerman1@bloomberg.net.
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