By Dustin Volz
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Individuals who steal classified information from the U.S. government are "enemies to our state" and must be punished forcefully, the White House's homeland security adviser said on Wednesday.
Tom Bossert, in remarks that were among the first he has made publicly since becoming the White House homeland security adviser, characterized cyber security in the U.S. government and around the world as being in general disarray.
“We need to find the people who do it and hold them accountable and be absolutely unwavering in doing so," Bossert said in remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington, D.C.
"People who have taken things that they should not have taken, like Snowden and others, are absolute enemies to our state. Period," Bossert said. "They need to be caught, punished, and treated as such.”
He was referring to Edward Snowden, the former U.S. National Security Agency contractor whose leak of classified information in 2014 triggered an international furor over the reach of U.S. spy operations.
Bossert, whose role includes special emphasis on cyber security, made his remarks a week after WikiLeaks published documents related to secret CIA hacking tools.
Investigators believe the documents were likely provided by a contractor or CIA employee, two U.S. officials told Reuters last week. It would be the third high-profile public case in recent years in which an insider pilfered a large tranche of secrets from a U.S. intelligence agency.
The recent CIA leak shows that intensified U.S. government efforts to prevent leaks by "insider threats" have largely failed, according to cyber security professionals and intelligence officials.
In January former President Barack Obama shortened the prison sentence of Chelsea Manning, the former U.S. military intelligence analyst who leaked hundreds of thousands of State Department cables to WikiLeaks in 2010
Manning, now due for release in May, had served seven of her 35-year sentence, and Obama defended his leniency by saying justice had been served. But he drew criticism from Republicans who said the move could embolden other potential leakers.
Bossert said agencies and companies have a responsibility to institute controls and continuous employee screening and monitoring systems to guard against insider threats.
As he characterized cyber security as being in general disarray, Bossert said the Obama administration did not do enough to forcefully combat and deter growing criminal and nation-state threats.
"I feel like I have re-awoken from a long eight-year nap and I found a world that is on fire," Bossert said.
President Donald Trump's annual budget proposal, expected to be released on Thursday, would reflect the White House's plan to prioritize cyber security across the federal government, Bossert said.
He also confirmed media reports that Rob Joyce, the National Security Agency's top hacker, is joining the White House as cyber security coordinator.
(Reporting by Dustin Volz; Editing by Leslie Adler)