Reid vows action on cybersecurity bill

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Tuesday said the Senate would soon move to consider a cybersecurity bill, and challenged Republicans to work with Democrats so something can be passed.

"I put everyone on notice: We are going to move to this bill at the earliest possible date," Reid said on the Senate floor. "For that to happen, more of my Republicans need to start taking this threat seriously.

"It's time for them to participate productively in this conversation, instead of just criticizing the current approach," he said.

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Reid said a bill from Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and ranking member Susan Collins (R-Maine) is an "excellent piece of legislation" that has been endorsed by many national-security experts. The bill would give the Department of Homeland Security the power to set mandatory standards for critical infrastructure systems, which supporters say is needed to help avoid cyberattacks.

The Lieberman-Collins bill has the backing of the White House, but is opposed by many Republicans who argue it would create unnecessary regulatory burdens on businesses. House Republicans have instead backed legislation that would make the information sharing about cyber threats purely voluntary. 

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has been a key critic of mandatory standards, as have House Republican leaders. Reid's Tuesday comments seemed directed at them, as he said, "Critics of the bill have failed to offer any alternative to securing our nation's critical infrastructure."

Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) have put forward a compromise bill that would give companies incentives to meet baseline cybersecurity standards, which falls short of requiring companies to meet new standards.

Reid said his call was based on a letter that both he and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) received last week from former national security officials, who said cyberattacks are the most serious challenge to U.S. security "since the onset of the nuclear age 60 years ago."

"The attack may not be one that knocks down buildings and starts fires that we saw in 9/11, but it will be a different kind of attack that could be even more destructive," Reid said. "And yet some key Republicans continue to argue that we should do nothing to secure critical infrastructure, that we should just focus on the military."

Reid seemed particularly alarmed by the letter for saying that the officials "carry the burden of knowing 9/11 might have been averted with the intelligence that existed at the time."

"They're admitting that 9/11 could have been averted with the tools we had at hand," Reid said.

The letter was signed by Michael Chertoff, former secretary of Homeland Security; Vice Adm. Mike McConnell, former director of National Intelligence; Paul Wolfowitz, former deputy secretary of Defense; Gen. Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA; Gen. James Cartwright, retired vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and William Lynn, former deputy secretary of Defense.