White House considers executive action to address cybersecurity

The Obama administration is considering exercising the White House's executive authority to impose cybersecurity mandates after lawmakers failed to adopt legislation to implement those measures, a top U.S. counterterrorism official said on Tuesday. 

Those options include President Obama possibly introducing several cybersecurity measures via presidential executive orders, according to White House chief counterterrorism adviser John Brennan. 

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"We will see what we can do ... the critical infrastructure of this country is under threat" by cyberattacks from state and non-state actors, Brennan said during a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. 

The administration's counterterrorism chief did not go into detail as to what specific measures the White House may pursue under executive authority to mitigate the cyber threat. 

However, he did note that many of those possible measures would align closely with the administration's legislative proposals package for cybersecurity sent to Capitol Hill last year. 


Several of those objectives were folded into cybersecurity legislation co-sponsored by Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Ct.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine).

The bill, which received the backing of the White House and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Ariz.), would have increased cyber protections for the nation's electrical grid, financial networks, transportation system and other critical infrastructure.

But opponents of the Lieberman-Collins bill, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, claimed the legislation would unfairly restrict private companies through the cybersecurity standards called for in the legislation. 

Civil-liberties groups and open government advocates also slammed the legislation, arguing the proposal went too far in handing over authority of commercial cyber networks to the White House, Pentagon and intelligence agencies. 

In the end, the Lieberman-Collins bill was rejected on a 52-46 vote — 60 votes were required to move forward with the legislation. The bill's collapse likely kills any legislative action on cybersecurity this year, punting efforts to 2013.

But Brennan and other administration officials argue the United States cannot afford to abide by congressional timelines to get cybersecurity mandates in place, especially while U.S. government and commercial networks are under continued attack. 

"We have to improve our [cyber] defenses in this country," Brennan said. "We cannot wait."