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Public Statements

African Growth and Opportunity Amendment Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. LIEBERMAN. Mr. President, I rise to speak on the vote we will have in about 10 minutes. I am going to be real personal in my statement.

This is one of those days when I fear for our country, and I am not proud of the Senate. We have a crisis, one we all acknowledge. It is not just that there is a theoretical or speculative threat of cyber attack against our country--it is real and happening now. Most people don't know it because a lot of people who are attacked don't want to announce it because they are embarrassed.

A lot of companies are attacked that control critical cyber infrastructure and have, in fact, what I called yesterday secret cyber attack cells planted in their system to control the kind of systems we depend on for the quality of our life and, in some ways, for our lives.

GEN Keith Alexander, Director of Cyber Command at the Pentagon, said the other day that when it comes to cyber war, we are today where we were in 1993 in our war with Islamist terrorism after they blew up the truck bomb in the parking garage at the World Trade Center. We were attacked. It shook us up for a while, but then people forgot about it. At least in that case we knew we had been attacked. Now we are attacked every day and most people don't know it. Maybe there is a story in the paper one day and they read it and it is on TV and then they forget about it.

Are we going to act before we get to the cyber 9/11, as we obviously did in the attacks in a war we were in without acknowledging it with Islamist terrorism? We pretty much all agree on that. Yet we have descended once again to gridlock, to partisan attack and counterattack. The end result of that is a lot of sound and fury that will accomplish nothing, and we will leave our country vulnerable.

The fact is that as the majority leader announced earlier in the week, we have been on this for a long time. Senator Collins and I have tried to be flexible. We have been open to compromise, not of principle and how much we thought we could get passed through the Senate, but because the threat is so urgent, we cannot afford to insist on everything we thought was in our best interest. We made a mandatory system voluntary, but that has not been enough. Senator Reid said if there was an agreement on a finite list of amendments, and they are germane and relevant to the bill--not taking your favorite political shot through the bill or a political message opportunity--then he would take it up in September. As soon as we come back, we would have limited time on it and go to final passage and the Senate would work its will.

Unfortunately, we haven't been able to agree on such a list. There are still nongermane, irrelevant amendments on the list. Our friends in the Republican caucus have whittled the list down to 58. Frankly, I don't worry about the number as much as the majority leader was right that this bill and the threat of cyber attack and cyber theft is too important to use as a vehicle for political shots at one another.

We are approaching a cloture vote, and now it looks like it is going to lose. I hope not. Hope springs eternal for at least 25 minutes more. I say to my friends, if they believe we are in a cyber war and we are inadequately defended--particularly the part of our cyber infrastructure controlled by the private sector--then vote for cloture. It is the only way we are going to get to this bill. Vote for cloture.

Remember something. We are just one of two Chambers of the Congress of the United States. Whatever passes the Senate still has to go to a conference with the House. The House's approach on this is very different, and we are going to have to do even more negotiating and give-and-take. I appeal to my colleagues, make a principles vote and vote in a way that says to the country and to your constituents two things: One, you recognize we are in a cyber war now and we are inadequately defended. Second, by voting for cloture, which means we will take up the bill, you are saying we are willing to work together across party lines to try to get something done.

In my opinion, it is the only way we are going to get to this bill. If cloture is not granted, as disappointed and angry as I am going to be, I will not be petulant. I will be open today, tomorrow, and as long as we have an opportunity in this session, to work with my colleagues to try to reach an agreement that will help us improve our cyber defenses.

Sometimes in moments of disappointment, I go back to the great Winston Churchill. I will just read a few comments from him. These were all in the 1930s when he was in the House of Commons and was concerned that England and the world faced a threat which they were not acknowledging, the rise of Nazi Germany. First, he said this--and I hate to say it, but it relates to where we are today. He said this about those who refused to act decisively to counter the clear and growing threat of a resurgent and rearmed Nazi Germany during the 1930s: ``They go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity.''

I am afraid that is the message we are going to send to the country and to our enemies if we don't get together and pass a cyber security bill in this session. Churchill said he was staggered, after his long parliamentary experience with the debates he had gone through on this question during the 1930s, by two things: ``The first has been the dangers that have so swiftly come upon us in a few years, and have been transforming our position and the whole outlook of the world.''

That is where we are with regard to cyber war, although most people don't understand that. We do. He said:

Secondly, I have been staggered by the failure of the House of Commons to react effectively against those dangers. That, I am bound to say, I never expected. I say that unless the House [finds its resolve] we will have committed an act of abdication of duty.

I end with those words. I think it is that serious. If we don't find a way either by voting for cloture today to get on the bill so we can negotiate or continuing to negotiate if cloture fails, it will be quite simply a colossal abdication of duty to the people of the United States and their security.


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