Calls on Administration to Address Vulnerabilities and Deter Future Attacks
VIDEO: Watch Bennet’s Speech HERE
Washington, D.C. – Today, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet spoke on the Senate floor about the reported cyber-hack of the federal government that appears to have compromised a growing number of public and private entities in the United States and around the world. As a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Bennet urged the president to swiftly shore up cyber vulnerabilities across the federal government and deter future threats.
Connecting the failure to detect the hack with the administration’s failures to address the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, Bennet pointed to the urgency of more far-sighted leadership at the national level and urged his colleagues to come together to protect America from 21st century threats.
“Reports suggest that the hackers have been in the system since the spring -- and perhaps much longer. And according to public reports, they may still be in our systems, tonight. And we have heard literally not a word from the White House about this,” said Bennet in his speech. “I suppose this should come as no surprise. After all, this is the same president who -- to this day -- refuses to acknowledge the Russians interfered in our 2016 election...Who, instead of challenging Putin, proposed creating a joint cyber-unit between the United States and Russia. That would be like asking a burglar to design the locks on the front door of your house.”
Bennet continued: “If we’ve learned anything this year...it’s that our government has proven itself woefully unprepared to deal with emerging threats – not only a cyberattack, but also a global pandemic. This year has also taught us that the cost of ignoring these threats is much, much greater than the cost of addressing them head-on. But to do that, we need a president who doesn’t bury his head in the sand or his face in Twitter; a democracy that can think beyond the next commercial break on the cable news; that can put aside festering partisanship and forge an enduring national security policy for the 21st century.”
This week, reports emerged of a far-reaching hack against the U.S. Government along with several businesses and nonprofit organizations. So far, the hack appears to have compromised several federal agencies, including the Department of State, the Department of Energy, the National Nuclear Security Agency, and the Department of Homeland Security, the agency responsible for our cybersecurity.
Bennet’s remarks as delivered are below. You can watch a video of the remarks HERE.
Before I give my remarks I’d like to say that I hope the rumors are true that we’re getting close to a deal here. The country needs us to reach a bipartisan deal as we did in March, unanimously, when we passed the CARES Act here. It’s time for us to do that again.
In Colorado and all across the country, cases are spiking and the economy is slowing down. People need relief. They need help. And I hope we’ll come together in a bipartisan way and do that.
I hope that the deal is not going to come crashing down because of a disagreement about what the Federal Reserve’s authority ought to be under the 13(3) program.
That’s an important program for the Federal Reserve to help when things are really distressed in our economy. To help our small businesses, our state and local governments, working families all over this country. It’s an authority that Donald Trump used, or that the Fed used while Donald Trump was president.
People on both sides of the aisle said it was an effective authority, and if it’s an effective authority for President Trump, it should not be taken away from the Federal Reserve just because Joe Biden is becoming President of the United States.
So I hope that we will come to an agreement. I expect that we will. I hope it’s soon. People need the help.
Mr. President, in the last few days, we’ve learned that the United States was subject to one of the most brazen cyber-hacks in history.
Based on press reports alone, the hackers appear to have breached: The Department of State; The Department of Commerce; The Department of Energy; The Department of Treasury; The National Nuclear Security Agency; and The Department of Homeland Security -- including the agency responsible for our cybersecurity.
On top of that, the hackers also managed to breach major American companies like Microsoft and compromise several state governments and other foreign governments all at the same time in this process.
While we’re learning more about these breaches, the level of resources and sophistication bears all the hallmarks of Russia.
Reports suggest that the hackers have been in the system since the spring -- and perhaps much longer. And according to public reports, they may still be in our systems, tonight. And we have heard literally not a word from the White House about this. Not a single word from the President about this. I suppose this should come as no surprise.
After all, this is the same president who -- to this day -- refuses to acknowledge the Russians interfered in our 2016 election, even though our intelligence agencies unanimously agree that Russia meddled.
The same president who went to Helsinki and -- on foreign soil -- sided with Russian President Vladimir Putin -- a former [KGB officer] -- over the CIA, the FBI, the NSA, and all of our other intelligence organizations.
The same president who spends the lion’s share of almost every day criticizing everyone from the National Football League to Greta Thunberg, who’s 17 years old, to the Secretary of State in Georgia for upholding the rule of law -- can’t bring himself to utter one word of criticism for Vladimir Putin.
Who, instead of challenging Putin, proposed creating a joint cyber-unit between the United States and Russia. That would be like asking a burglar to design the locks on the front door of your house, Mr. President.
The Trump Administration is not known for its consistency. But here is the one place they have been resolute and consistently weak -- coddling dictators and abandoning our democratic allies.
As a member of the Intelligence Committee, I can’t say for sure, today, whether this weakness emboldened or enabled our adversaries -- we’re gonna have to study the facts. But the administration’s abject fecklessness certainly hasn’t helped.
To understand how weak the Trump Administration has left us, it’s important to appreciate the wreckage of their total war on the federal government.
They came into office with a promise to dismantle “the administrative state”, but what they ended up doing was dismantling our national defenses.
Over the past four years, the administration drove thousands of qualified public servants to the exits, including cybersecurity experts in agency after agency critical to our national security.
Back in March I asked the Department of Homeland Security to detail its plans to shore up our cybersecurity. They responded by telling me that they still had hundreds of vacancies for cybersecurity.
President Trump eliminated the top coordinator for cybersecurity at the National Security Council. There is no one, therefore, coordinating our cyber defenses across the federal government, or engaging the private sector to make sure we’re working together to shore up those vulnerabilities.
If you put it all together, we have been left with a gutted bureaucracy without the necessary leadership to respond to cyber threats and espionage in a coherent way.
And a few weeks ago, the President fired Chris Krebs, just to make matters worse, our top Department of Homeland Security official for domestic cybersecurity – the very person who would be leading our response to the hacks right now.
But he’s gone, he’s gone – not because he did a bad job, but because he refused to repeat the President’s baseless claims about fraud in the election.
Claims the president is still making, as we meet here tonight, more than six weeks after the election and four days after the electoral college confirmed Joe Biden’s election.
In the last few days alone, the President has tweeted at least 25 times about fraud in the 2020 election – something he completely has invented in his mind – but he hasn’t said one word about the most far-reaching breach of cybersecurity in our history by a foreign adversary.
As we meet here again tonight in the Land of Flickering Lights, uncertain whether we’ll pass a budget to keep the lights on in our exercise in self-government for the weekend, all across the globe there are public servants, the men and women of our intelligence services, who are working to repair the damage that’s been done and to keep us safe.
They deserve -- and the American people deserve -- a President who makes clear that we won’t tolerate intrusions like this. A President who rallies our allies to our common cause.
If we’ve learned anything this year, Mr. President, it’s that our government has proven itself woefully unprepared to deal with emerging threats – not only a cyberattack, but also a global pandemic.
This year has also taught us that the cost of ignoring these threats is much, much greater than the cost of addressing them head-on.
But to do that, we need a president who doesn’t bury his head in the sand or his face in Twitter; a democracy that can think beyond the next commercial break on the cable news; that can put aside festering partisanship and forge an enduring national security policy for the 21st century.
And, Russia is not our only concern, Mr. President.
I can assure you that China is not chasing the latest controversy on Twitter or cable news. They’re building roads and bridges and airports across the globe. They’re laying fiber-optic cables beneath the oceans. They’re competing with us in space. They’re forging new alliances and pioneering new technologies every month. They are making considered choices to shape the 21st century, while we’re struggling here to keep the lights on.
This lack of concern from the White House about this breach is a dark moment. But soon we will have the chance to take another approach. I hope everyone in this chamber will seize the opportunity to work with one another to secure the promise of our great century...our great country for the next generation and America’s role in the world.
Thank you, Mr. President, I yield the floor.