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Chertoff Urges Swift Action by Senate on Cybersecurity Measures

Former U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Defense Secretary William Perry urged Senate leaders to pass legislation to protect hospitals, power plants and other critical sites from cyber attacks.

Chertoff, who founded a security consulting firm in Washington in his name, sent a letter with Perry and six other former senior U.S. national security officials to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, calling for swift action.

“The present cyber risk is shocking and unacceptable,” the former officials wrote. “Control system vulnerabilities threaten power plants and the critical infrastructure they support, from dams to hospitals.”

Concern that networks for banks, power companies and Internet-service providers are vulnerable to hackers rose following cyber attacks last month against the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s biggest business-lobbying organization, and geopolitical analysis provider Stratfor of Austin, Texas.

The National Counterintelligence Executive, an advisory panel of senior U.S. intelligence officials, blamed China and Russia in a Nov. 3 report for stealing sensitive U.S. economic and commercial data. The report said the pace of cyber espionage is accelerating and threatens an estimated $398 billion in spending on research and development.

“Congress must act to ensure that appropriate tools, authorities and resources are available to the executive branch agencies, as well as private sector entities, that are responsible for our nation’s cybersecurity,” according to today’s letter.

Legislation Pending

Reid has pledged to take up comprehensive cybersecurity legislation when the Senate returns from recess next week, without being more specific.

Reid’s office didn’t return phone calls and an e-mail for comment. The letter didn’t call for a specific timeline.

Also signing the letter were Mike McConnell, vice chairman of McLean, Virginia-based Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp.; Richard Clarke, founder of security consulting firm Good Harbor Consulting in Arlington, Virginia; and former General James Cartwright, who serves on the board of advisers of Chantilly, Virginia-based TASC Inc., a security services provider.

McConnell served as director of national intelligence and Clarke was White House cybersecurity adviser under President George W. Bush. Cartwright served as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Bush and President Barack Obama.

“The stage thus is set for the Senate to take up cybersecurity legislation,” the letter said. “We urge the Senate to do so in short order: the rewards of increased security for our country, particularly our private sector critical infrastructure, will be rapid and profound.”

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