OVERNIGHT TECH: McConnell urged to back infrastructure protections

THE LEAD: A bipartisan group of national security experts turned up the heat on Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) in a letter on Thursday, urging him to support protections for critical infrastructure.

The former government officials said that critical infrastructure protections are "essential."

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"Where market forces and existing regulations have failed to drive appropriate security, we believe that our government must do what it can to ensure the protection of our critical infrastructure,” they wrote in a letter to McConnell and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who has already endorsed standards for critical infrastructure.

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 Central Intelligence Agency; Gen. James Cartwright, retired vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and William Lynn, former deputy secretary of Defense.

Many Republicans, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), warn that requiring critical infrastructure companies to meet security standards would be unnecessary and burdensome.

The former officials did not endorse any particular approach, but said "critical infrastructure protection needs to be addressed in any cyber security legislation."

They also said they worried the window to pass a bill could be closing as the election draws near.

"We carry the burden of knowing 9/11 might have been averted with the intelligence that existed at the time," they wrote. "We do not want to be in same position again when when 'cyber' 9/11 hits — it is not a question of 'whether' this will happen; it is a question of 'when.'"

For weeks, there had been little movement on Capitol Hill on cybersecurity, but news that Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) are circulating a compromised draft proposal rekindled hopes that Congress could actually pass a bill this term.

Nearly everyone on Capitol Hill agrees on the threat that cyberattacks pose to national security, but the disagreement over whether to force critical infrastructure systems to meet security standards seemed to derail the legislation.

The Whitehouse-Kyl proposal is not in legislative language yet, and it remains to be seen whether they will be able to craft a bill that can satisfy both sides of the debate. 

McDowell pushes Obama to release more spectrum: Robert McDowell, a Republican member of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), urged the Obama administration on Thursday to free up more radio spectrum for commercial use.

In a speech in Texas, McDowell urged the "West Wing of the White House to demand that Executive Branch agencies redouble their efforts to find spectrum to bring to auction by a date certain."

In March, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) proposed sharing certain spectrum bands between government and commercial users. But McDowell argued that federal agencies did not provide NTIA with sufficient data about how they are using the airwaves.

"Keep in mind that the federal government occupies about 60 percent of the best spectrum. Federal users have no incentive to move off of this prime real estate but do have an incentive to keep the rest of us in the dark about how much it really would cost to move them and how long that task would really take. All too often, inertia rules the day within government bureaucracies," he said.

McDowell also said "sharing" is an "amorphous" term and warned there could be interference problems and other complications with the plan.

Schwartzman to Free Press: Andrew Schwartzman, the long-time head of public-interest law firm Media Access Project, will join advocacy group Free Press as a part-time legal counsel, the group announced Thursday.

"Andy Schwartzman brings Free Press a sharp legal mind, unsurpassed experience and a true dedication to the public," Free Press President Craig Aaron said. "We are excited and honored to have him on board to share his knowledge, inform our legal strategy and help train the next generation of advocates."

Schwartzman joined the Media Access Project in 1978, but the firm was forced to fold last month due to a lack of funding.

"As I take on new projects, I am very happy that one of my top priorities will be to continue mentoring younger lawyers," Schwartzman said.


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