Lieberman Wants Senate-Confirmed Cyber Coordinator

Good timing for Sen. Joe Lieberman: the night before he's slated to lay out his vision for a comprehensive remake of the nation's cybersecurity laws, his colleagues on the House Ethics Committee were dealing with the fallout of a major cybersecurity breach.

In a speech this morning at the Chamber of Commerce, Lieberman, the chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, will outline legislation that includes the step of making president's cyber coordinator a Senate confirmed position. The White House, which has not named its cyber coordinator, wants the position to be accountable only to the National Security Adviser.

"We need this kind of position in the White House specifically to ensure that the classified work conducted by Department of Defense and intelligence agencies is informing the defensive actions taken by our domestic agencies. Only the Office of the President has the authority to ensure that everyone is working off the same playbook. The person who fills this position would also develop a true national cyber security strategy and ensure that each agency's operational activities are in line with that vision," Lieberman plans to say.

Lieberman's bill will give the Department of Homeland Security the authority and personnel to monitor federal civilian networks and defend against malicious traffic. As Lieberman notes, the DHS has this authority by executive order but does not have the resources or institutional cooperation to do the job.

Lieberman wants the DHS to establish a voluntary cyber security standards program and encourage members of the private sector to implement those standards through a certification program. Compliant companies would get a seal of approval.

In excerpts of his speech, it is not clear whether Lieberman would give the DHS authority to shut down civilian and private cyber networks deemed to be a threat, but he illustrates the threat by pointing to the impact of cyberwar on "our financial and electric power, and mass transportation infrastructures controlled by cyber systems."

"The federal government has an inherent responsibility to its citizens protect its own networks, but also to work with the private sector and ensure a reliable supply of electricity and water and the continued, orderly functioning of financial, communication and transportation systems," Lieberman says.

Lieberman will drop a bill into an increasingly crowded legislative landscape. Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Olympia Snowe of the Energy and Commerce Committee have a competing bill that includes many similar elements.