Al Qaeda video calls for electronic jihad on government computers

Former Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell

Former Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell Charles Dharapak/AP file photo

Senators release segment to generate urgency around a cybersecurity bill.

A video purportedly from al Qaeda that promotes cyberattacks on the U.S. electric grid is being circulated by Senate backers of legislation to regulate the computer security of critical industries, including power companies.

The video includes a U.S. television clip featuring cyber analyst James Lewis and former National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell discussing the vulnerabilities of government and private networks. Congress and the White House are trying to strengthen cybersecurity laws to prevent the types of threats depicted, but partisan divides are interfering with the effort.

Senate Democrats and the Obama administration want to authorize the Homeland Security Department to enforce network security at companies through the 2012 Cybersecurity Act. But House Republicans and some House Democrats are pushing a more industry-friendly bill, called the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, which is commonly known as CISPA.

The FBI obtained the video about a year ago, the senators said.

“This is the clearest evidence we’ve seen that al Qaeda and other terrorist groups want to attack the cyber systems of our critical infrastructure,” Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., a sponsor of the Senate bill, said in a statement. “Congress needs to act now to protect the American public from a possible devastating attack on our electric grid, water delivery systems or financial networks, for example. As numerous bipartisan national security experts have said, minimum cybersecurity standards for those networks are necessary to protect our national and economic security.”