Congressman Rob Wittman (R-Virginia-01) was one of six Republicans last week who cosigned a bill that would create an Office of Intelligence in the Department of Agriculture. The bill was originally introduced by Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) and Congressman Rick Crawford (R-Arkansas-02) last fall, but the current House version, HR 1625, has gradually gained Republican cosigners this spring.
“Two weeks ago, JBS, an international meat supplier, fell victim to a severe cyber attack,” Wittman explained in a Friday newsletter. “This marks the second attack targeting the production of American commodities, such as gasoline and food. This attack highlights the threat cyberattacks potentially pose to the American food supply chain.”
The bill text says the new Office of Intelligence will work with the intelligence community to keep the Secretary of Agriculture informed of foreign threats. Specifically, the office should focus on foreign efforts to steal agriculture technology, biological warfare attacks, cyber operations, and other sabotage or disruption of U.S. agriculture. The bill would transfer functions, assets, and personnel from an agriculture section of the Office of Homeland Security to the new office in the Department of Agriculture.
According to Bloomberg, JBS is based in Brazil, and in addition to closing facilities that provide almost a quarter of U.S.’ beef, the attack also forced shutdowns in Australia and Canada. The hackers targeted JBS computer networks in a ransomware attack. White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said the FBI was investigating the attack, which likely originated from a criminal group in Russia, according to CNBC.
“In an ever more digital age, internet connectivity, and the risks that come with it, increasingly permeate every aspect of every industry, including agriculture,” Wittman wrote in his newsletter. “By improving the interface between the individuals who know our agriculture best and those in the intelligence community who work to protect our national security, our food, and our lives will be more secure.”
When Cotton introduced the bill in September 2020, he focused on potential threats from China, citing four alleged incidents linking agriculture and China.
“The Chinese Communist Party wants to undermine vital American industries through sabotage and intellectual property theft—U.S. agriculture is no exception. Our bill will help safeguard the food and technology that our country depends on for its prosperity and freedom,” Cotton said in his 2020 press release.
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