President Joe Biden on Wednesday called cybersecurity "the core national security challenge we are facing" as the military struggled to evacuate Americans from Afghanistan.
Biden delivered his comments during a White House summit with the CEOs of Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and other tech and Wall Street companies. The president called on tech leaders to "raise the bar" on cybersecurity, noting that "the federal government can’t meet this challenge alone." China and Russia launched major cyberattacks on U.S. infrastructure and private companies in recent months.
A suicide attack on Thursday at Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport killed 12 U.S. service members and dozens of Afghan civilians in one of the deadliest bombings of the war in Afghanistan. The evacuation from Afghanistan has run into snags, and White House and Pentagon officials have admitted they will not evacuate every American by the August 31 deadline.
Cyber hawks have criticized Biden for not prioritizing cybersecurity since he entered the White House. Lawmakers in March criticized existing federal resources devoted to cybersecurity, saying they're woefully underprepared to face threats from foreign actors. The president waited several months to nominate a director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.
Biden's comments on cybersecurity mark a reversal from his previous threat assessments. Speaking to American service members in June, Biden said climate change was the greatest threat to national security, adding, "This is not a joke."