Former NSA Chief Will Work for Wall Street-backed 'Cyber War Council'

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Common Dreams

Former NSA Chief Will Work for Wall Street-backed 'Cyber War Council'

Keith Alexander slated to 'facilitate' government-industry effort to combat cyberattacks

Former director of the NSA Keith Alexander speaking at his retirement ceremony. (Photo: flickr/cc/Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff)

Former director of the NSA Keith Alexander speaking at his retirement ceremony. (Photo: flickr/cc/Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff)

Wall Street's largest trade group is proposing a government-industry coalition 'cyber war council'––and they've already snagged former NSA chief Keith Alexander to 'facilitate' that effort, according to a report in Bloomberg.

After Alexander's services were retained by the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (Sifma), he managed to bring on Michael Chertoff, former head of the Department of Homeland Security, along with his firm Chertoff Group.

Alexander has reportedly pitched his services to multiple banking and trade organizations through his new consulting firm, IronNet Cybersecurity Inc., for up to $1 million per month.

The Bloomberg report draws on information obtained from an internal document dated June 27 and reportedly reveals that Sifma is looking to put together a committee that would consist of representatives from eight different U.S. government agencies, including the NSA and the Department of Homeland Security, and be headed by a senior White House official.

According to Bloomberg:

The government-industry group would develop plans for “much quicker, near real-time” dissemination of information from agencies to the private sector and ways to “actively defend the industry” if preparations for a cyber attack are discovered in advance. Sifma is also seeking “pre-discussed and mutually understood protocols” for the industry to request government help during and after an attack.

Congressman Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) stated in an email to Bloomberg that he was worried that such a coalition sharing information in a 'near real-time' manner could lead to preemptive and possibly illegal attempts to thwart cyber attacks.

"Because of the murky nature of cybersecurity, I am concerned that a council like this might propose either physical attacks or cyberattacks by the U.S. military on the perceived source of the threats," Grayson said. “This could in effect make the banks part of what would begin to look like a war council.”

In a letter (pdf) to Sifma, Consumer Bankers Association, and the Financial Services Roundtable in late June, Grayson touted the opinion of security expert Bruce Schneier that Alexander's proposed fee to the three groups of between $600,000 and $1 million per month is "on its face unreasonable," unless "he's giving them classified information."

Liz Pierce, a spokewoman for Sifma, declined to comment on the contents of the document, but stated that the group “is doing everything possible to help the industry prepare for and defend against cyberattacks.”

The Senate Intelligence Committee voted on Tuesday to advance a bill aimed at boosting cooperation between government and private-sector cyber-defence efforts, including insulating banks from liability that might arise from the sharing of information for cybersecurity.

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