Cyber Bill Wouldn't Change NSA Power-Sharing Agreement

Homeland Security and Defense officials are advocating for a Senate bill that would concentrate computer defense authorities at DHS and the Pentagon's National Security Agency.

In debating how best to thwart a devastating attack on critical U.S. networks, the case has been made that Defense is more technologically and financially equipped for the job than Homeland Security. But many Americans are uncomfortable about the military probing their private communications. DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano on Thursday afternoon said new legislation granting her department responsibility for national cybersecurity, rather than the Pentagon, is the right approach.

She added, however, that the measure would not stop Homeland Security and Defense from abiding by a 2010 memorandum that specifies the Pentagon's codebreakers at NSA and their equipment will respond to civilian and military cyber incidents.

"Both DoD and DHS use the technological expertise of the NSA," Napolitano testified during a Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on the Senate's comprehensive cybersecurity legislation, S. 2105. At various hearings this week, she, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta have backed the bill.

"We are not proposing and have never proposed that two NSAs be created," Napolitano said. The reason she gave for endowing DHS with national cybersecurity oversight rather than Defense is that Homeland Security protects U.S. critical infrastructure systems, which are primarily owned by private companies. In addition, even though NSA technologies would be employed, Homeland Security privacy and legal staff would accompany NSA personnel in all operations.