By Suzanne Kelly
Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton, who co-chaired the 9/11 Commission, weighed in Monday on a simmering disagreement in the Senate over the best way to address the nation's vulnerability to cyberattacks.
The two men, who now run the Bipartisan Policy Center's Homeland Security project, are calling on senators to take more urgent action on the issue of cybersecurity. They cite recent public statements by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and FBI DIrector Robert Mueller warning that the cyber threat is expected to overshadow other terrorist threats facing the United States in the not-too-distant future.
"Much like the situation before the September 11, 2001, attacks, the federal government is not adequately organized to deal with a significant emerging national security threat," said Kean, former governor of New Jersey; and Hamilton, a former congressman from Indiana, in a letter sent to Senate leaders urging action on cybersecurity.
There are now two competing versions of cyber legislation in the Senate. One bill introduced last month by Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Connecticut, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, establishes the Department of Homeland Security as the government's lead agency in battling cyberthreats. A controversial part of the bill calls on private companies that run critical infrastructure operations to prove to the government that they have taken steps to safeguard against attack.
But a group of Republican senators led by John McCain of Arizona last week introduced similar legislation without designating a lead government agency to take the helm on the issue. They argued that the Lieberman-Collins legislation puts too much power in the hands of DHS.
It's a view that Kean and Hamilton do not share.
"One of the reasons that the 9/11 Commission recommended the establishment of one committee with jurisdiction over homeland security issues was to ensure that there would not be a failure to act on important issues because of jurisdictional conflicts," they wrote. "Unfortunately, jurisdictional and procedural objections to considering cyber security legislation are now being raised. This homeland security issue is too critical for it to succumb to such conflicts between committees."
Kean and Hamilton also said that they have asked retired Gen. Michael Hayden, who was director of both the CIA and the National Security Agency, to find ways to better coordinate information between government and private industry on hacking incidents.
Hayden has publicly called for legislators to harness the power of the super-secret NSA in fighting cyberattacks, saying the NSA has the ability to fight the war, now it needs the authorization to unleash it.