Congress must pass the Cybersecurity Act of 2012 if the United States hopes to prevent a cyberspace version of the Pearl Harbor attack that could cripple key electrical and transportation systems, the bill’s sponsor Sen. Joe Lieberman tells Newsmax.TV in an exclusive interview.
The independent Connecticut senator, who is chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, reintroduced a version of the still-controversial measure July 19. The revised version is designed to address concerns from the right and left about government regulation and privacy and the new measure has so far gained the support of President Barack Obama.
To Lieberman, the goal of the bill is simple: to protect the electric grid, water systems, financial networks, and transportation systems from cyberattacks.
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“The threat is extremely dire,” Lieberman said. “I am literally worried that an attack could be imminent. We know that both states, countries like China, Russia and Iran are constantly probing our cyber networks, both government and private, and both civilian and defense.
"We know that countries and terrorist groups and organized crime groups are constantly trying to steal industrial secrets form American companies that they’ve invested millions in, sometimes billions in, to basically get it for nothing and then create those industries and jobs over in other countries.
“Leon Panetta the Secretary of Defense has said that he’s convinced that the next Pearl Harbor like attack on America will be launched from cyber space and there’s some countries out there who are prepared and have the capability to do it now. I just think we’ve got to raise our guard and if we work together we can.”
Lieberman also noted that Gen. Keith Alexander, head of the National Security Agency in Cyber Command, said recently that theft over the Internet has amounted now to the largest involuntary transfer of money in the history of the world, as much as $1 trillion.
“We’re very vulnerable to attack and some of the private owners of critical cyber infrastructure, like the electric grid or the financial system, banking systems, transportation, water,” he said. “Some of them are doing a pretty good job at defending their cyberspace, but some are not, and the main aim of this bill is to make sure that the private owners – 85 percent of our infrastructure … are taking steps to defend the cyberspace they own because that may well represent defense of our country. “
To assuage concerns from Republicans that the measure would add yet another layer of regulation on private businesses, Lieberman, along with cosponsor Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, removed “mandatory, regulatory sections” and instead offered incentives to comply. Nonetheless, he acknowledged if he had the votes he would have stayed with the mandatory provisions.
“I want to get something done to begin to raise our defenses,” he told Newsmax. “So what are the incentives? The most explicit in our bill is that we say specifically if any company that complies with these standards, voluntarily, is sued after a cyber-attack, they will be immune from liability for punitive damages, and those are usually the ones that really blow up the bill for companies that are sued."
To address privacy concerns from Democrats, the bill sets up a National Cyber Security Council that does not have direct involvement the military or national security agencies.
“We wanted to set up a system where, to the greatest extent we possibly could, we guarantee people that their privacy would not be compromised, their personal privacy, in pursuit of making the country safer from cyber-attack,” he said. “We’ve done that.”
Lieberman said the measure has the support of the “major security officials of the last two administrations,” including President George W. Bush’s Secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, and his director of National Intelligence, Admiral Mike McConnell.
On the situation in Syria, Lieberman said he was “very uneasy” about the country’s acknowledgement it had biological and chemical weapons and wasn’t convinced the Assad regime would hold to their promise they wouldn’t use the weapons against their own people.
“So this is a brutal regime. We’ve watched them already slaughter thousands of their own people with more conventional weapons,” he said. “Now they’re using helicopter gunships and even the fighter plans. So who’s to say, in a moment of desperation, if they won’t use chemical weapons against their own people?
"I am very uneasy about it and I really think it’s such an international threat that there ought to be a move at the United Nations to put the chemical and biological weapons stocks of Syria under international control, even if they stay in Syria there ought to be an international presence to control them.”
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