U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill says the military needs to be more aggressive in attracting and recruiting qualified people for cyber security operations.
That’s one of the big takeaways the Democratic senator had after receiving a presentation on Monday from Missouri National Guard personnel at Jefferson Barracks. The cyber unit that’s stationed there was established in 2013 and is often sought to train military units across the country.
Speaking to reporters after the briefing, McCaskill said cyber security experts could often make much more money working in the private sector. That’s why it may make sense to create incentives for active duty personnel to eventually join the National Guard.
“When someone’s retiring from active duty and has these skillsets, we should be luring them into the guard so they can go out and make a lot more money in the private sector -- but continue to contribute to the national security,” McCaskill said. “One of my big ‘to dos’ when I get back to Washington is to look at what programs are in place to capture this expertise as it leaves active duty and get it into the reserves and into the Guard so we continue to take advantage of it.”
Another thing McCaskill heard from Missouri National Guard personnel is how a cyber unit member almost had to leave because of physical fitness requirements.
“I think the example they gave of one of the most crucial members of this team almost having to leave the team because he couldn’t do enough sit ups,” McCaskill said. “That doesn’t make sense to me. I understand it in a conventional military culture that having that physical capability is very, very important. But if you’re part of an elite team that is working in a cyberspace where we are trying to go toe-to-toe with people who have no constitutions they have to respect and have no rules they have to obey, we’ve got to get the best and the brightest in this space.
“And I’m not sure that’s always the guy that can do the most sit ups,” she said.
McCaskill said cyber attacks “threaten our country in ways that sometimes are even hard to get your arms around.” And that’s why the military needs to beef up cybersecurity efforts.
“These are real threats,” McCaskill said. “I think we’ve got to partner with the private sector. There’s a different set of rules that the military has to follow and that government has to follow. But that doesn’t mean we can’t cooperate and learn from each other. And that’s what I think is great about [the Missouri National Guard’s cyber unit]. Because so many of the members of this unit actually have jobs in the private sector. So they’re learning there and they’re bringing that knowledge and expertise to help us in the military space.”
McCaskill is spending the week touring Missouri’s military installations, making stops at places like Whiteman Air Force Base and Fort Leonard Wood.
Pessimistic on Garland
Meanwhile, McCaskill said she was increasingly pessimistic about chances that the U.S. Senate would confirm U.S. Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.
President Barack Obama nominated Garland to the high court soon after Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s death. But his chances of approval were dealt a big blow when Republicans who control the Senate swore off hearings.
“I’m less optimistic about the Supreme Court,” McCaskill said. “The Republican leader has said very clearly that they will not do confirmation. And frankly, the confirmation process, we’ve always had hearings. And people want to be prepared for those hearings. And there’s a lot of preparation that goes into those hearings.”
There’s been some talk that Garland’s nomination may be revived if Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton defeats GOP hopeful Donald Trump later this year. But McCaskill said that might not be practical.
“The clock is ticking. I don’t even know if there would be time to do an adequate confirmation process after the election,” McCaskill said. “They may want to. But I’m not sure if there will be sufficient time to get it done.”
McCaskill’s colleague, U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, told St. Louis Public Radio’s Jo Mannies on Monday that it’s unlikely that Garland will get confirmed. The Republican senator previously said he would oppose Garland’s nomination.