Senate bill proposes closer links between US spies, private sector

Olympia Snowe

Olympia Snowe

A bipartisan bill, unveiled yesterday in the US Senate, proposes closer links between US intelligence agencies and private sector companies active in areas of “critical infrastructure”. Drafted and proposed by Republican senator Olympia Snowe and Democrat Jay Rockefeller, the legislation builds on concerns by government officials that US energy and telecommunications systems may not be able to sustain a concentrated cyber-attack by a foreign government agency or organized cybercriminal group. The major practical problem in terms of the government protecting these systems is that most have been deregulated since the Reagan era, and are now almost entirely under the control of private corporations. According to the bill, the US government would have to define the term “critical infrastructure”, and then designate the companies in control of such infrastructure networks as “critical partners” in protecting strategic national interests. Government spy agencies would then try to prevent potential cyber-attacks by sharing relevant intelligence with “top-level private sector official[s] with security clearance[s]”. As I noted last month, in connection with Google’s unprecedented collaboration with the US National Security Agency, closer ties between US spy agencies and the corporate sector is a trend that should be expected to continue. There are serious issues to be addressed, however, in the latest Senate bill, such as the criteria on which security clearances will be awarded to corporate executives, who often work for corporations with multi-national branches; or how much government intelligence would be communicated to them in case of a pending danger. The bill’s advocates say that the company “would be provided with ‘enough’ information to defend or mitigate the attack”, but what exactly does this mean, and who decides what “enough information” looks like?

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Expert news and commentary on intelligence, espionage, spies and spying, by Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen.

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