FOR THE past couple of years, Gen. Keith Alexander, the head of both the National Security Agency (NSA) and the U.S. Cyber Command, has been outspoken in warning that private-sector computer networks, upon which the U.S. economy depends, are vulnerable to intrusion. Gen. Alexander stated repeatedly that such attacks — attempts at espionage, intellectual property theft or sabotage — should be met with stronger defenses that would require the sophisticated tools of the government. He argued this case before Congress, which considered legislation that would have eased the way for closer cooperation between the government and the private sector. The legislation made sense, but Congress failed to reach agreement on a bill in the last session.
Now a new factor has intervened that seems to have further darkened the prospects for legislation: the disclosure by Edward Snowden, the former government contractor, of wide-ranging telephone and internet surveillance of Americans by the NSA under Gen. Alexander’s leadership. As The Post’s Ellen Nakashima reported on Thursday, companies have long been skittish about sharing data with the government, fearing harm to their reputations and potential lawsuits for privacy and other violations. The revelations of broad NSA surveillance have raised fresh doubts in corporate executive suites about closer collaboration.