By Suzanne Kelly
The White House rolled out its cybersecurity A-team Wednesday for an on-the-record telephone conference, with reporters hearing an appeal for the Senate to pass the Cybersecurity Act of 2012 now being debated on the Senate floor.
John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, was joined by Keith Alexander, chief of U.S. Cyber Command and head of the National Security Agency, as well as Jane Holl Lute, deputy secretary at the Department of Homeland Security, and Eric Rosenbach, deputy assistant secretary of defense for cyberpolicy.
"The risks to our nation are real and immediate," Brennan said, adding that the White House doesn't see the legislation as a partisan issue, but rather a matter of national security.
Brennan said that if passed, the new legislation would give the government the three legislative elements it needs to fend off cyberattacks: new information sharing between the government and private industry, better protection of critical infrastructure like the power grid and water filtration facilities, and authority for the Department of Homeland Security to unite federal resources to lead the government's cybersecurity team.
"First and foremost, we see that the threat is real and we need to act now," said Alexander, who recently returned from a hacker convention in Las Vegas, where he urged the best and the brightest to put their skills to work for the government.
He stressed that the new legislation would enable the government to prevent an attack, not just respond to one, and said the FBI, DHS, Cyber Command and the NSA can unite as a team to do so. He said he believes the current legislation adequately addresses privacy and civil liberty concerns that critics have raised.
Lute added that the status quo is simply unacceptable and that the current DHS cyberteam receives a phone call every 90 seconds reporting a new intrusion.
Brennan said President Obama has received regular updates on the status of the legislation this week. The urgent appeal comes as Congress prepares to take its August recess Friday.