Pending Legislation In U.S. Congress, Part I: FY 2021 NDAA and FISA Reauthorization

Normally, a FISA reauthorization would be considered must pass like an NDAA, but this year may be different.   

As Congress returns from an eventful summer recess, it is possible technology focused and related legislation is passed or advances towards passage before the body leaves Washington in late September. However, it is just as likely, possibly even more, that Congress punts everything except for a measure to keep the government funded through the November election. This week, we will explore some of the bills that may become law. Today’s piece is on the FY 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and the lapsed provisions in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

FY 2021 NDAA

Congress will almost certainly pass its annual policy and authorization bill for the Department of Defense (DOD) as it has done for every year since FY 1962. Any more, this bill is laden with technology provisions, most of which are oriented towards national security programs, but not always because the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is considered must-pass legislation, it attracts some legislation that is non-defense. For example, the revamp of how the United States government buys and develops information technology programs, the “Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act” (FITARA) (P.L. 113-291), was enacted as part of the FY 2015 NDAA.

The House and Senate have passed their respective bills: the “William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021” (H.R.6395) and the “National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021“ (S.4049) and have already started work on resolving differences between the two packages. However, over the last decade or so, the NDAA has been one of the last major bills passed each calendar year, and it is possible this legislation will not reach the President’s desk until late December.

The base bill put on the floor of the House contained a range of cybersecurity provisions. The DOD’s requirement that it must submit its cybersecurity and information technology (IT) budget would be broadened to include cyber mission force and a its new cyber operations force budgets. The Cyberspace Solarium Commission’s (CSC) structure would be changed and would be extended. The DOD would need to study and consider replicating an entity inside the Navy that has been researching and pioneering cyber warfare. The DOD’s Principal Cyber Advisor would be invested with the authority to manage the Pentagon’s role as the sector-specific agency (SSA) for the Defense Industrial Base (DIB) under Presidential Policy Directive- 21. The bill also increased the DOD’s reporting requirements to Congress regarding compromises of its system and exceptions to its IT policies with the goal of creating a baseline to help the Pentagon manage its cyber risks and tradeoffs. The DOD would determine whether a current public-private partnership on cybersecurity is working and should be extended.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would need to submit a report on the feasibility of an Integrated Cyber Center housed at its National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC). DHS would need to work with the DOD, Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) and National Security Agency (NSA) on whether it makes sense to create a joint collaboration environment to help shore up cybersecurity. The Pentagon would need to study and then implement a threat hunting program that would allow its personnel to go searching for vulnerabilities and cyber risks in the IT systems of DIB contractors. The DOD would be barred from contracting with entities that do not belong to the DIB threat intelligence sharing program. The bill would also permit the DOD to make grants to companies providing cybersecurity to small manufacturers in the U.S. The bill would establish a National Artificial Intelligence Initiative to support and foster a number of related activities including research and development, education, and training.

During floor consideration of H.R.6395, the House agreed to scores of amendments in two en bloc packages that contained most of the technology provisions made in order for consideration. Among the most notable of these provisions are the following, some of which have been considered by the House as standalone legislation:

The cybersecurity provisions in S.4049 would change, alter, or establish a range of programs and operations. The bill would modify the statutory duties of Department of Defense’s Principal Cyber Advisor to require that the person chosen for this role is a civilian at the Pentagon who holds a position requiring Senate confirmation. The DOD would need to develop and implement a framework for forward hunt operations (i.e. offensive cyber operations) to address some of the issues the committee’s oversight turned up. The focus on this exercise would be to get a better understanding on the utility and life span of intelligence gained through such operations. The Pentagon’s reporting duties after executing an offensive or defensive cyber operation would be expanded to include nations and entities with whom the United States is not at war. The Committee expanded the DOD’s required briefings on cyber operations, expressing frustration with the Department’s “unwillingness to keep the committee apprised of cyber operations conducted to gain access to adversary systems, including those conducted pursuant to standing military plans against military targets.”

There is language mandating that the DOD begin the process of harmonizing the Pentagon’s cyber capabilities and those provided by private sector contractors, much of which overlaps in the view of the committee. Cyber Command would receive expanded but necessarily acquisition authority as the service branches are to remain the entities undertaking large procurements. The Principal Cyber Advisor and head of Cyber Command would need to assess how well the DOD manages inter-agency conflict in the Pentagon and among Intelligence Community agencies in managing the process by which cyber operations are designed and executed, suggesting there is significant internal friction among the stakeholders. The DOD would need to conduct a pilot on the feasibility of adopting and using a commercial practice of speed-based cybersecurity metrics. The Pentagon would also need to better integrate its data collection and data analysis regarding potentially malicious or illegal activities by DOD employees and contractors (i.e. so-called insider threat).

The DOD would need “to develop a comprehensive plan, by February 1, 2021, for the deployment of commercial-off-the-shelf solutions on supplier networks to monitor the public-facing Internet attack surface of members of the defense industrial base (DIB)” that is intended to supplement the DOD’s new Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification and other DOD efforts to shore up the cybersecurity of its contractors. The bill would grant a DOD request to receive the authority to immediately react and respond to reported threats and penetrations to “operationally critical” DOD contractors’ systems and networks. The DOD would need “to conduct a baseline review of the Joint Regional Security Stacks (JRSS) activity to determine whether the initiative should continue, but as a program of record, or should be replaced by an improved design and modern technology.” The DOD would also receive limited flexibility to use Operation and Maintenance (O&M) “for cyber operations-peculiar capability development projects.” The committee also conditioned the availability of certain Office of the Secretary of Defense travel on fulfilling a requirement in the current year’s NDAA to submit “a report for the structuring and manning of information operations capabilities and forces” in the DOD, develop “a strategy for operations in the information environment” and to “conduct an information operations posture review.”

The Cyberspace Solarium Commission (CSC) would have its mandate extended so it could monitor, assess, and report on the implementation of its 75 recommendations made in March 2020. The bill includes a number of CSC recommendations, including:

  • Adding “a force structure assessment of the Department of Defense’s Cyber Operations Forces to future cyber posture reviews.”
  • “a report to the congressional defense committees, detailing the actions that the Secretary will undertake to ensure that the Commander, U.S. Cyber Command, has enhanced authority, direction, and control of the Cyber Operations Forces and of the equipment budget that enables Cyber Operations Forces’ operations and readiness, beginning with fiscal year 2024 budget request.”
  • Assessing “options for establishing a cyber reserve force.”
  • A comprehensive plan for “[e]nsuring cyber resiliency of nuclear command and control system”
  • Requiring “the Secretary of Defense to establish policies and requirements for each major weapon system, and the priority critical infrastructure essential to the proper functioning of major weapon systems in broader mission areas, to be re-assessed for cyber vulnerabilities.”
  • Mandating that the Secretary of Defense “establish a threat intelligence sharing program to share threat intelligence with and obtain threat intelligence from the defense industrial base.”
  • Requiring the Pentagon “to conduct an assessment of the adequacy of threat hunting elements of the Cyber Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) program and the need for continuous threat monitoring operations.”
  • Addressing “the risks to National Security Systems (NSSs) posed by quantum computing by requiring the Secretary of Defense to: (1) Complete an assessment of current and potential threats to critical NSSs and the standards used for quantum-resistant cryptography; and (2) Provide recommendations for research and development activities to secure NSSs.”
  • Study the feasibility of establishment of a National Cyber Director.

In terms of the provisions that were folded into the final Senate bill, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chair Ron Johnson (R-WI) succeeded in attached to the larger bill the “Cybersecurity Vulnerability Identification and Notification Act of 2019” (S.3045). S.3045 would expand the authority of Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s (CISA) National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC) to issue subpoenas to internet service providers to obtain the identity of owners and operators of critical infrastructure subject to be drafted procedures and limits on how any information collected from subpoena is used and retained. The House’s counterpart bill, H.R.5680, was added as an amendment to H.R.6395, meaning the substance of the legislation will almost certainly be in the final NDAA. Also, an amendment was adopted to stimulate semiconductor manufacturing in the United States by creating a grant and tax incentive program at the Department of Commerce

There were other technology provisions added to the bill during debate. The following amendments were adopted on 2 July en bloc by unanimous consent:

  • The Department of Homeland of Security “shall produce a report on the state of digital content forgery technology” within one year of enactment and then every five years
  • “[T]he Secretary of Defense, with appropriate representatives of the Armed Forces, shall brief the Committees on Armed Services of the Senate and the House of Representatives on the feasibility and the current status of assigning members of the Armed Forces on active duty to the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC) of the Department of Defense.”
  • “[T]he Secretary of Homeland Security shall conduct a comprehensive review of the ability of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency to fulfill–
    • the missions of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency; and
    • the recommendations detailed in the report issued by the Cyberspace Solarium Commission”
  • The “Developing Innovation and Growing the Internet of Things Act” (DIGIT Act) (S.1611) that would require the Department of Commerce to “convene a working group of Federal stakeholders for the purpose of providing recommendations and a report to Congress relating to the aspects of the Internet of Things.”
  • “[T]he Secretary of Defense, in coordination with the Director of the National Reconnaissance Office and the Director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, shall leverage, to the maximum extent practicable, the capabilities of United States industry, including through the use of commercial geospatial-intelligence services and acquisition of commercial satellite imagery.”
  • “[T]he Secretary of Defense is authorized to establish a pilot program to explore the use of consumption-based solutions to address software-intensive warfighting capability” per a re commendation made by the Section 809 Panel.
  • “[T]he Secretary of Defense shall complete a study on the cyberexploitation of the personal  information and accounts of members of the Armed Forces and their families.”
  • A modified version of the “Utilizing Strategic Allied (USA) Telecommunications Act” (S.3189) that “would reassert U.S. and Western leadership by encouraging competition with Huawei that capitalizes on U.S. software advantages, accelerating development of an open-architecture model (known as O-RAN) that would allow for alternative vendors to enter the market for specific network components, rather than having to compete with Huawei end-to-end” according to a press release.

Additionally, a deal was struck to add the “Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021” (S.3905) to S.4049 but without a bill included in the package as reported out of the Senate Intelligence Committee: the “Foreign Influence Reporting in Elections Act” (FIRE Act) (S.2242).

FISA Reauthorization

At present, key surveillance authorities for new investigations have lapsed, and it does not appear Congress is close to a deal to restore and reform them, an unusual state of affairs, for since 11 September 2001, it has done so regularly. The House and Senate have both passed bills but have been unable to agree on the extent of reforms to Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) programs given antipathy from the Trump Administration on proposed changes and opposition from some Democrats and Republicans who want to see more significant reforms. It is always possible a compromise package is agreed to and then tacked onto the FY 2021 NDAA, a continuing resolution, or an omnibus appropriations bill as has happened before.

In March, the House passed the “USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act of 2020” (H.R. 6172) by a 278-136 vote, a bill to reauthorize three expiring FISA provisions used by the National Security Agency (NSA) primarily to conduct surveillance: the business records exception, roving wiretaps, and the “lone wolf” provision. Moreover, H.R. 6172 ends the NSA’s ability to use the so-called call detail record (CDR) program that had allowed the agency to access data on many billions of calls. Nonetheless, the NSA shut down the program in 2018 due to what it termed technical problems. This closure of the program was included in the bill even though the Trump Administration had explicitly requested it also be reauthorized.

These authorities had been extended in December 2019 to March 15, 2020. However, the Senate did not act immediately on the bill and opted instead to send a 77-day extension of these now lapsed authorities to the House, which did not to take up the bill. The Senate was at an impasse on how to proceed, for some Members did not favor the House reforms while others wanted to implement further changes to the FISA process. Consequently, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) promised amendment votes when the Senate took up H.R.6172, which it did in May. Thereafter, reforms House Democratic leadership tried adding to the bill failed to please stakeholders, leaving the chamber to squelch plans to send a revised bill to the Senate and instead ask for a conference, which is where matters currently stand.

As mentioned, H.R. 6172 would reauthorize the business records exception, which includes “any tangible thing,” in FISA first instituted in the “USA PATRIOT Act” in 2001 but would reform certain aspects of the program. For example, if the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or NSA is seeking a business record under FISA for which a law enforcement agency would need to obtain a warrant, then the FBI or NSA will also need to obtain a warrant. Currently, this is not the case. Additionally, under H.R.6172, the FISA application process under Section 215 could not be used to obtain a person’s cell site location or GPS information. However, the FBI or NSA would still be able to use Title I of FISA to seek cell site location or GPS data for purposes of conducting electronic surveillance related to alleged foreign intelligence. The bill would require that prosecutors must inform defendants of the evidence derived from electronic surveillance unless doing so would harm national security.

Moreover, records obtained under Section 215 could be retained no longer than five years subject to a number of exceptions that may serve to make this limitation a dead letter. For example, if such records are deemed to have a “secret meaning” or are certified by the FBI as being vital to national security, then such records may be held longer than five years. Given the tendency of agencies to read their authority as broadly as possible and the past record of IC agencies, it is likely these authorities will be stretched as far as legally possible. It bears note that all restrictions are prospective, meaning that current, ongoing uses of Section 215 would be exempted. The business records provision would be extended until December 1, 2023 as are the other two expiring authorities that permit so-called roving wiretaps and allow for surveillance of so-called “lone wolves.”

For FISA applications under Title I (i.e. electronic surveillance), any agency seeking a FISA order to surveil will need to disclose to the FISA court any information that may call into question the accuracy of the application or any doubtful information. Moreover, certain FISA applications to surveil Americans or residents would need to spell out the proposed investigative techniques to the FISA court. Moreover, any FISA application targeting U.S. officials or candidates for federal office must be approved by the Attorney General in writing before they can be submitted. H.R.6172 would permit the suspension or removal of any federal official, employee, or contractor for misconduct before the FISA court and increases criminal liability for violating FISA from five to eight years. Most of these reforms seem aimed at those Members, many of whom are Republican, that were alarmed by the defects in the FISA surveillance process of Trump Campaign associate Cater Page as turned up by the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General investigation. Some of these Members were opposed to the House Judiciary Committee’s initial bill, which they thought did not implement sufficient reforms to the larger FISA process.

In May, the Senate amended and passed H.R. 6172 by an 80-16 vote. Consideration of the bill was stalled in March when some Senators pushed for amendments, a demand to which the Senate Majority Leader finally agreed, provided these amendments would need 60 votes to be adopted. Consequently, once COVID-19 legislation had been considered, the Senate returned to H.R.6172, and debated and voted upon three amendments, one of which was agreed to. Senators Pat Leahy (D-VT) and Mike Lee’s (R-UT) amendment to expand the amicus process during the FISA process prevailed by a 77-19 vote.

As mentioned, Wyden and Daines offered an amendment to narrow the Section 215 exception to the Fourth Amendment’s requirement that a search requires a warrant. Section 215 currently allows for FISA court approved searches of business records and all tangible things in the course of a national security investigation, and the underlying text of H.R. 6172 would exclude cell site location and GPS location from Section 215. The Wyden/Daines amendment would also exclude web browsing and search engine histories. However, the amendment failed to reach the 60-vote threshold necessary for adoption under the rule of debate for H.R. 6172, failing by one vote as four Senators did not vote.

In late May, it appeared as if the House would bring H.R. 6172 to the floor and possibly take a run at adding language that barely failed to get added during debate in the Senate that would further pare back the ability of federal law enforcement agencies to use the FISA process for surveillance. However, the Trump Administration more forcefully stated its objections to the amended bill, including a veto threat issued via Twitter, that caused Republican support for the bill to cave, and with it the chances of passage, for Republican votes were needed to pass the bill in the first place. Consequently, House Democratic Leadership explored the possibility of a clean vote on the Senate-amended bill, with the House Rules Committee reporting a rule for debate, but this effort was also scuttled as there were not the votes for passage of the bill to send it to the White House. Instead, House Democratic Leadership opted to go to conference committee, which succeeded in a 284-122 proxy vote, one of the first taken under the new procedure. Thereafter, the House named the following conferees: House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Ranking Member Jim Jordan (R-OH); House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Ranking Member Devin Nunes (R-CA) and Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA). The bill is being held at the desk in the Senate and Senate conferees have not been named, meaning the conference committee cannot formally begin.  

© Michael Kans, Michael Kans Blog and michaelkans.blog, 2019-2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Kans, Michael Kans Blog, and michaelkans.blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Image by ArtTower from Pixabay

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