Six of the nation’s former top defense and intelligence officials sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday urging quick action on passing cybersecurity legislation in the Senate.
The letter was signed by former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, former Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.
“Given the time left in this legislative session and the upcoming election this fall, we are concerned that the window of opportunity to pass legislation that is in our view critically necessary to protect our national and economic security is quickly disappearing,” the letter read.
Former National Security Agency and CIA Director Michael Hayden, former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General James Cartwright, and former Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn III also signed the letter.
“Various drafts of legislation have attempted to address this important area — the Lieberman/Collins bill having received the most traction until recently,” they said.
The Lieberman/Collins bill — formally called the Cybersecurity Act of 2012 — has been the favored cybersecurity bill in the Senate, having been developed in close conjunction with the White House.
Opponents of the bill, however, worry that it would add a brand new regulatory regime over the Internet. The competency of the Department of Homeland Security exercising jurisdiction over civilian cyber networks was also called into question, as the agency would have to expand its workforce in order to adequately address the nation’s cyber threats in its proposed new capacity.
The Cyber Intelligence and Sharing Protection Act experienced its own resistance — the bill would enable private sector networks to share threat information with federal government intelligence agencies.
Internet activists — hyper-sensitive to any involvement in the Internet by the federal government, and empowered by their influence in swaying lawmakers during the Stop Online Piracy Act affair — attempted to stop what they viewed as a breach of privacy rights. The House, undeterred by activists and a veto threat from the White House, voted to pass the bill.
“We will not advocate one approach over another — however, we do feel strongly that critical infrastructure protection needs to be addressed in any cyber security legislation,” they said.
The former officials re-emphasized the importance of the National Security Agency’s (NSA) involvement in defending the nation’s critical cyber infrastructure.
“NSA is the only agency dedicated to breaking the codes and understanding the capabilities and intentions of potential enemies, even before they hit send,” they said. “Any legislation passed by Congress should allow the public and private sectors to harness the capabilities of the NSA to protect our critical infrastructure from malicious actors.”
The letter comes nearly a week after a story appeared in the New York Times that described in detail leaked information about a classified U.S. cyber warfare program called Olympic Games, originally begun during the Bush administration to covertly address the threat of a nuclear Iran.