When hackers breached U.S. government computer databases getting access to the names, addresses and Social Security numbers of 22 million current and former federal employees and contractors, it represented a cyber attack of Pearl Harbor or 9/11 proportions.
It was, by far, the largest infiltrations of supposedly secure data in the history of the United States, exposing to foreign enemies, terrorists and criminals a treasure trove of information that has compromised national security in ways that may not be completely understood for decades to come.
So Congress finally got around to investigating the debacle last week, with closed-door hearings before the House Armed Services Committee.
And what happened?
Officials from the Office of Personnel Management, the Office of Management and Budget and Department of Homeland Security all refused to testify.
The officials canceled their previously scheduled appearance at the last minute because the committee would be doing what it routinely does with classified hearings – transcribing the proceedings for review by members of Congress.
“OPM, Homeland Security and OMB’s last-minute refusal to appear before this committee is unacceptable,” said Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas. “Their excuse, that the testimony would be on the record, is disturbing. Let me be clear: this briefing covers the largest government data breach in history. The overwhelming victims of the breach are our troops and the [Defense Department] civilians who work to support them – not to mention the force protection implications from a breach of personally identifiable information of their family members and dependents. … There is no excuse at all for being unwilling to explain on the record about how the breach happened and what we are doing to prevent another one.”
But that’s just the way the Obama administration deals with congressional oversight matters of massive national security breaches – like some rogue branch of government unaccountable to the rule of law and the will of the people.
It’s almost as shocking as the administration’s negligence in permitting the cyber-attack in the first place. It’s a cover-up, plain and simple. It’s stonewalling on a scale that puts Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton to shame.
“If they are unwilling to come and answer questions about the biggest national security data breach we’ve ever had, then that does not inspire greater confidence,” Thornberry said. “So I’m sure we will pursue the matter with them again.”
Even Adam Smith, the top Democrat on the committee, said he was “disappointed” by the withdrawal.
Thornberry said his panel has had no problems safeguarding classified materials, suggesting that may have been OPM’s and the other agencies’ concern. “We do it every day (with) things that are a lot more highly classified than this.”
OPM Director Katherine Archuleta resigned in July because of the furor regarding the agency’s cyber security practices. Last week, Barack Obama nominated Beth Cobert, OPM’s acting director, to lead the agency through the cover-up process. And it’s working.
Even the cleanup of the mess this massive hack created for 22 million Americans is largely stalled. Earlier this month, the agency announced it has still only notified approximately one-fourth of the hacked victims, which it is doing exclusively by physical mail.
I still can’t believe how few political waves this fiasco has created – and how little attention the national security breach has received from the press.
Just try to imagine how different it might have been had such an epic failure occurred during a Republican administration. Would it not be a presidential campaign issue? Of course, with so much failure plaguing the Obama administration after seven years, it’s difficult to keep track of all the scandals.
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