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Veterans Jobs Corps Act of 2012--Motion to Proceed--Continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington DC


Mr. BLUMENTHAL. Mr. President, I am honored and grateful to follow that very enlightening and energetic exchange between two of the most able and respected Members of this body on a range of issues.

One of them I want to address now, and I want to particularly thank the Presiding Officer for his contribution, my distinguished friend from Minnesota, who has really addressed so instructively some of the privacy concerns in various proposals in an amendment I have joined. I think his work on that issue is really reflective of the approach that has been brought to this issue of cyber security--an issue that this entire body, in my view, has a historic opportunity and also a historic obligation to address this week, deal with it now authoritatively and effectively and in a way that the Nation expects us to do it.

I thank not only the Presiding Officer but a bipartisan group of colleagues, beginning with Senators Lieberman, Collins, Rockefeller, Feinstein, and Carper, who deserve our appreciation for drafting this bill and bringing it to the floor, and a number of other colleagues, including, along with the Presiding Officer, Senators Whitehouse, Mikulski, Coons, Coats, Blunt, Akaka, and Kyl. I mention this number because I think it is an important fact about the process that has brought us to this point. It really reflects the kind of collegial approach that is so important to this legislation.

This legislation has undergone very significant and substantial revisions to reflect suggestions made by myself and our colleagues, and this bill will give the government and private sector an opportunity to collaborate and share information so that they can confront the ongoing, present, urgent cyber threat directly and immediately.

This bill is not a top-down approach; it is voluntary in its direction to the private sector. What it says to critical industries--industries that are critical to our infrastructure--is that you determine what the best practices are, you tell us what the standards should be, and then those standards will be shared throughout the industry and overseen by a council that the Departments of Commerce and Justice and Defense and Homeland Security will be involved in implementing. And if companies comply with those standards--voluntary standards--they receive benefits that will enlist them in the program, benefits that will form incentives in the form of limited immunity in the event of an attack. If companies decline to comply, if they are not provided with sufficient incentives, in their judgment, there is no compulsion, no legal mandate that they need to do so. To use an often overused imagery, what we are talking about here is a carrot, not a stick, in solving one of the most pressing and threatening challenges our country faces today. It is the challenge of this moment, the challenge of our time.

I have been in briefings, as has been the Presiding Officer and other Members of this body, with members of the intelligence community and others who have, in stark and staggering terms, presented to us the potential consequences of failing to act.

Just last week, GEN Keith Alexander, the chief of the U.S. Cyber Command and the Director of the National Security Agency, said that intrusions on our essential infrastructure have increased 17-fold between 2009 and 2011 and that it is only a matter of time before physical damage will result. He has said that the loss of industrial information and intellectual property--putting aside the physical threat and taking only the economic damage--is ``the greatest transfer of wealth in history.''

We are permitting with impunity the greatest transfer of wealth in history from the United States of America to adversaries abroad, companies based overseas, at a time when every Member of this body says our priority should be jobs and protecting the economy of this country. It is an economic issue, not just a national security issue. In fact, cyber security is national security.

The United States is literally under attack every day. General Alexander described 200 attacks on critical infrastructure within the past year. He alluded to them without describing them in detail. And on a scale of 1 to 10, he said our preparedness for a large-scale cyber attack--shutting down the stock exchange or a blackout on the scale comparable to the one in India within the past few days--is around a 3 on a scale of 1 to 10. That situation is unacceptable.

We are, in a certain way, in a period of time now that is comparable to 1993, after the first World Trade Center bombing. Remember, in 1993 the World Trade Center--1,336 pounds of explosives were placed in a critical area of the World Trade Center, killing 6 people, injuring 1,000, fortunately, at that point, failing to bring down the building, which was the objective. That first bombing was a warning as well as a tragedy. America, even more tragically, disregarded that warning in failing to act. We are in that period now, comparable to 1993 and before 9/11, when the country could have acted and neglected to do so. We cannot repeat that failure now. We cannot disregard the day-to-day attacks, the serious intrusions that are stealing our wealth and endangering our security, our critical grid, transportation, water treatment, electricity, and financial system. The scale of damage that could be done is horrific, comparable to what 9/11 did. We have an obligation to act before that kind of damage is faced in reality by the country.

We have been adequately and eloquently warned on the floor of this body, in private briefings available to Members of this body, and in the public press, to some extent. One of the frustrations I think many of us feel is that we cannot share some of the classified briefings we have received which would depict in even more graphic and dramatic terms what this Nation faces. Some of these attacks are launched by foreign countries that seek to do us harm. Some are launched by domestic criminals who simply want to steal money. Some are sophisticated and some are very crude.

Former Deputy Secretary William Lynch has detailed just one attack in which a foreign computer hacker--or group of them--stole 24,000 U.S. military files in March of 2011. As others have noted on the floor as recently as a few minutes ago, in late 2011 the computers of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce were completely compromised for more than a year by hackers. Yet today the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has essentially opposed the voluntary standards-based plan to help secure our Nation against attack. In fact, how extraordinary it is that certain parts of this bill have actually combined a consensus among the business community, the privacy advocates, as well as public officials, the National Security Agency. That consensus on privacy, again, reflects a profound and extraordinary feature of this bill, which is that we are coming together as a nation to face a common problem in a way that is demanded by the times and threats we face.

Shawn Henry, the Executive Assistant Director of the FBI, has said that ``the cyber threat is an existential one, meaning that a major cyber attack could potentially wipe out whole companies.'' That is the reason the business community has been involved and should support these proposals.

These attacks are not only ongoing, they have been occurring for years. These criminals are infiltrating our communications, accessing our secrets, and sapping our economic health through thefts of intellectual property.

Finally, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, as has been frequently quoted, said:

The next Pearl Harbor we confront could very well be a cyber attack that cripples our power system, our grid, our security systems, our financial systems, our government systems.

The panoply of harm is staggering, and we cannot wait for that harm to be a reality to this country. The consequences comparable to 9/11 are tragic to contemplate. FBI Director Mueller has said the cyber threat, which cuts across all programs, will be the No. 1 threat to our country.

FBI Director Mueller speaks the truth. We must make sure our government has the tools and authority they have asked for. The NSA, the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, our business community and privacy advocates are all united in feeling this threat must be confronted. We have the opportunity but we also have a historic obligation to make sure we move this bill and that it moves forward so we do not squander this opportunity.

I thank the Presiding Officer and I yield the floor.


Mr. BLUMENTHAL. Madam President, I am honored to follow the Senator from Vermont, who has been such an extraordinary leader in this area, and look forward to yielding shortly to the Senator from Washington, who has championed this bill and helped us all see the urgency of approving it.

In the minutes that I will be talking, and they will be brief minutes, every minute, two to three women will become victims of domestic abuse. Every minute that I am standing here, every minute that we occupy with debate and delay on this measure, two to three people in the United States, the greatest country in the history of the world, will become victims of domestic violence.

We cannot afford to wait. That is why I urge that my colleagues advance this critical piece of legislation and urge the House of Representatives to agree to the Senate version of this bill so we can make this bill more inclusive to include Native Americans and immigrants and others who would not be covered by the House version.

We find ourselves at a crossroads. We can either strengthen VAWA or we can retreat and go back. I say let's go forward with the philosophy that the Senator from Vermont has articulated so well as a prosecutor, not to mention knowing how our police work. We do not ask whether someone is an immigrant, what their sexual preference is, whether they are Native American. We protect them if they are victims of domestic abuse and violence. That should be our philosophy in the greatest country in the history of the world.

There are two protections for battered immigrant women in VAWA that are particularly important. The first allows immigrant women married to an abusive U.S. citizen to apply for legal status independent of that spouse. The second, which is the U visa, provides temporary status to victims who cooperate with law enforcement to prosecute their abuser.

The reauthorization of VAWA is currently stalled principally because of the U Visa provisions in the Senate bill, S. 1925.

Let me illustrate the importance of this provision with one story. A woman who came to Connecticut from Guatemala fled her native country to escape her abuser and arrived in Connecticut in 2005. Her abuser followed her to Connecticut, where he continued to abuse her. He was eventually deported to Guatemala on criminal charges, but she found herself in another abusive relationship. Eventually, she was able to find shelter at a local domestic violence agency. She could not convince family to sponsor her so she could apply for legal status. She would have had nowhere to turn but for a transitional living program for domestic violence victims that connected her to a Connecticut legal aid attorney, who then enabled her to file for a new visa.

I am happy to report that this constituent survivor received her new visa in May of 2012. Because of VAWA, she is now safe, and so is her son.

This story is repeated countless times across Connecticut and the country by women who suffer in silence. Their undocumented status makes them particularly vulnerable and powerless to escape their abusive situations. My constituents tell me--and I want to listen to them--that we cannot afford to compromise those basic protections that are fundamental to human rights and dignity, and that is why I urge this body, and the Congress as a whole, to move forward, not backward.

Again, every minute, two to three women become the victims of domestic violence. The consequences of this horrific problem are too high and the costs too dire to stay the course and simply repeat the inaction we have seen so far.

Thousands of victims of domestic violence are entrusting us with their safety today. We have an obligation to them to avoid the gamesmanship, end the gridlock, and move forward with S. 1925.

I thank the Chair and yield the floor.


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