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Public Statements

Cybersecurity Act of 2012--Continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington DC


Mr. COONS. Mr. President, I rise to speak to the issue of cyber security, one where there have been a dozen speeches given earlier today, and one where I am concerned that there is not enough determination, not enough will on the part of this body to work together, to listen to each other, to cross the small differences that remain between camps and competing theories of a bill that we should take up, and I am here to urge our colleagues in this body to address what we have been told is one of the greatest security threats facing our country, to bear down, to file amendments, to clear amendments, to listen to other Members and be willing to do the job for which we were hired, which is to pass tough, broad, bipartisan legislation to protect this country we love.

In my short 20 months in the Senate, I have increasingly become more and more persuaded that we face a constant, steadily rising, increasingly dangerous threat that foreign nations, foreign actors, whether they be terrorists or enemies of the United States, are not just studying the possibility of some day attacking the critical infrastructure of the United States, they are not just writing position papers or theorizing about it or training in some camp in an obscure country, they are today actively engaged in thousands of efforts to compromise the critical infrastructure of this country.

How Members of this body can ignore the importance of this threat when the majority leader and the Republican leader have twice, in my short time here, closed the Senate and urged every one of us to go to a secure, classified briefing, where we have heard from a dozen four-star generals and leaders of three-letter agencies who have told us in great detail about how grave this threat is. Why in the face of repeated and publicly cited assertions by Secretaries of Defense, heads of the NSA, leaders of our homeland security agency, and leaders responsible for our first responder community from the Federal, State, and local levels, from the private sector to this government, who have said over and over that this is a very real, very present threat--how we can ignore that threat today is beyond me.

The bill that is before us is S. 3414. This is a compromise bill. In a series of meetings with other Members of this body, I have been struck to hear others say that we need more time, we need to study this further, we need to pass the narrow portions on information sharing that are easy and everybody can now agree on, and we need not pass a broader or stronger bipartisan bill that deals with infrastructure.

As you know well, Mr. President, for years critical committees in this body have been working on this issue. Senators LIEBERMAN and COLLINS, the chair and the ranking member on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, have been engaged in working their way through difficult issues for years. The relevant committees, from Energy to Commerce to Intelligence, have been engaged in hearings and studies and in legislating for years before I became a Senator.

In the last few months there has been some important and strong work to build a bipartisan consensus around the bill that is before us today. I, like you, I believe, Mr. President, had some real concerns about the information-sharing portions of the bill, title VII, which have to do with permitting private companies to share information with each other about the threats of attacks.

One of our big problems right now, we are told, is that companies of all different sectors of our economy hesitate to share publicly or to share with our national security infrastructure information that is critical to knowing when we are being attacked, how we are being attacked, and how it might spread. Title VII of the bill gives them liability protection to encourage the broad and regular sharing of that information.

But those of us who are concerned about the balance between privacy and security, about protecting civil liberties and whether we have gone too far in seeking security at the expense of liberty, offered a whole series of revisions and changes to this bill--changes that have been accepted. So too in a different section of the bill--title I, which deals with critical infrastructure--folks from the private sector raised alarms and concerns months ago that this bill was too prescriptive, too heavyhanded, was involved too much in regulation and in demanding certain actions by the private sector. Those concerns, too, have been addressed in a broad way.

I have been impressed with how many changes Senators Lieberman and Collins have been willing to accept out of a broad working group of more than a dozen Senators of both parties who over the last few months have come forward with suggestions that have made that portion of the bill truly voluntary for the private sector, in a way that balances the role of civilian agencies with parts of our national security apparatus, in a way that provides enough liability protection but not too much, and in a way that allows the private sector to have a leading role in setting standards.

My point, then, is to say to my colleagues that when they say we need more time to study it, I say we need to come to this bill, we need to come to the floor, and we need our colleagues to be clear--what are your remaining concerns? In a meeting last Friday with several Senators and representatives of industry, I had read every word of title VII and urged them to be concrete with us about what their concerns were. I left unsatisfied. I left concerned that some were simply scaring the private sector and scaring our citizens into thinking this bill is not ready.

So for those who still have concerns--and there may very well be broad and legitimate concerns about the bill and about its direction--let's take these 2 days. I understand that more than 90 amendments have been filed. I think it is the challenge before us to make the amendments germane, narrowly focused, and relevant to improve the bill rather than distracting us into issues that are more partisan or tied to the campaign and to focus on the work that is left before us.

If I could, I am gravely concerned about those who would urge us to split off the portion of the bill on information sharing and ignore the portion of the bill that has to do with protecting our critical infrastructure. As speaker after speaker has come to the floor today and made clear, our electricity grid is at risk, our dams and our powerplants are at risk, our highways and financial system are at risk. There are all sorts of areas in the United States where there have been real cyber attacks, online attacks, in other countries that have demonstrated the devastating potential power of our opponents and enemies around the world.

In the face of the cautionary notes we have heard from leaders of this body and around the country and in the face of that very strong reality, why we wouldn't pass a broad and tough bill that facilitates information sharing and protects our critical infrastructure and strikes a fair balance in the middle is beyond me. It is not that this body has been too busy. It is not that we are exhausted by having passed too many broad and strong, bipartisan bills. We have gotten good work done this session. There are things, from the farm bill to the Transportation bill, where this body has shown an ability to listen to each other across the differences of party and region and craft strong, balanced, bipartisan bills. It is on this topic of cyber security that we have heard over and over that there is no more pressing challenge.

Why, if our adversaries are not going to be taking the month of August off, if our adversaries are not going to cease from now until November to attack us, would we not bear down and focus on getting done the work that is before us as the U.S. Senate? We are called at times the world's greatest deliberative body. I will say to you as a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, in other parts of the world there are folks who are striving toward democracy who question whether this is the model they should follow.

In the remaining days before we all go to some recess, why not bear down, do our homework, do our reading, be forthcoming with clear and concise concerns, and hammer out our differences?

I extend an invitation to any colleague, any industry group, or any group of concerned citizens: I am happy to meet with anybody to hear their concerns and try to do my level best to convey them to the bill managers and the leaders, who have done a remarkable job of hearing and accepting compromise provisions of this bill on privacy, on the role of the private sector, on making voluntary what was mandatory and striking a fair balance.

I urge our colleagues to take this moment seriously, to not allow the days to slip, the month to pass, and the moment to pass us by. How will we answer our constituents, our communities, and our families following an attack that has been so frequently predicted? Do we not believe we will end up regulating in a more heavyhanded, more reactionary, and more ill-informed way after a successful massive attack than now when we have the time to listen to each other and craft a balanced and responsible and bipartisan bill?

Mr. President, I will close. I am convinced that this is the gravest threat facing our country today, graver than that of terrorism from overseas. In fact, GEN Keith Alexander of the NSA has clarified just in the last few days to a group of us how grave a threat this is.

I renew my offer to any Member of this Chamber: Come and meet with me. Come and meet with Senators LIEBERMAN and COLLINS. Come and meet with the leaders of the relevant committees, take up your cause, and give an amendment that is narrow and focused and relevant, and let us hammer out a better defense for this Nation.

There are those who question the purpose and purposefulness of this body. It has no greater purpose than finding a bipartisan way to craft a strong and vibrant solution to a clear and growing national threat. Just a few weeks ago, I had the honor of sitting for lunch with Senator Daniel Inouye. He is the one Member of this body to have earned the Congressional Medal of Honor in combat. I asked his advice, as the most senior member of my party: What issues, Senator Inouye, do you think I should be focused on? What is the thing you might urge me--a freshman--to invest my time and effort into? His answer was simple, his answer was profound, and his answer, I hope, will be heard by this body.

He said to me: I am the only Senator who was at Pearl Harbor. Our next Pearl Harbor will come from a cyber attack for which we are today unprepared. Let's do our duty. Let's listen to each other, come together, hammer out a strong and bipartisan bill, and honor the service and sacrifice of that ``greatest generation''--both in this Chamber and our country--and do our duty.

Madam President, I yield the floor.


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