Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., concerned about foreign intrusions into government computer networks and databases, held a classified hearing Tuesday on the Administration’s new Cyber Initiative to protect government networks and databases and vowed close oversight of the program. The Department of Homeland Security plays a key role in the new plan.

“Our enemies are highly skilled at using the battlefield of computer systems to try to gain advantage over us,” Lieberman said. “Just as we cannot let our enemies prevail on the traditional battlefield, we cannot let them succeed on the cyber battlefield. I am pleased the Administration takes this threat seriously and is moving to secure government networks in a coordinated, comprehensive way. The Department is still in the development stage of this new strategy, we have many questions about it, and I will continue this Committee’s tradition of oversight to ensure that we are taking the correct steps to address this serious problem in an appropriate manner.”

“The cyber threat to our nation’s computer systems is real, and we must take action now to secure our government systems and the vast cyber infrastructure held largely by the private sector. As a first step in this important and complicated process, the Cyber Initiative will help secure the federal government’s computer networks,” said Collins. “Our response to this threat must be nimble and must ensure that the Department of Homeland Security and other government agencies have the tools they need to effectively meet this challenge. We also must exercise close oversight of this initiative to ensure that the American people can be confident that their basic constitutional rights are protected.”

The hearing began with a threat assessment from DHS and National Security Agency, followed by a discussion of the program’s operational details and the responsibilities of involved agencies.

Witnesses represented DHS, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the FBI, and the National Security Agency. They were Robert D. Jamison, Under Secretary, National Protection and Programs Directorate at the Department of Homeland Security; Melissa A. Hathaway, Cyber Coordination Executive, Office of the Director of National Intelligence; G. Dennis Bartko, Special Assistant to the Director for Cyber at the National Security Agency; Scott O’Neal, Section Chief, Cyber Division at the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

In November 2007, the Administration asked for and received $115 million of the FY 2008 DHS budget request to be reallocated to fund the Cyber Initiative. The Administration has requested an additional $83 million for FY 2009. Together, this funding would triple DHS’ budget on cyber security in just over a year.

Lieberman asked the Administration to provide Congress with greater documentation about the initiative to facilitate Congressional oversight responsibilities and encouraged the Administration to share more information with the public when possible.