Gen. Keith Alexander, the chief of the United States Cyber Command, yesterday called for the Senate to pass comprehensive bipartisan cyber security legislation this week that the chamber began discussing on Monday.

“The time to act is now; we simply cannot afford further delay,” Alexander wrote Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

The Senate agreed on Monday to proceed with the Cyber Security Act of 2012 (S. 3414). Consideration of the bill began yesterday but as of our deadline last evening no votes had been scheduled on amendments.

In his letter to Reid, Alexander says that the legislation “should address both information sharing and core critical infrastructure hardening.”

The authors of the Cyber Security Act introduced a revised version of their bill last month that calls for owners and operators of critical infrastructure–most of which is in the private sector–to harden their assets but doesn’t mandate that it be done, a key change from an earlier version of the bill (Defense Daily, July 23).

The proposed bill also calls for the government to issue security clearances to appropriate private sector personnel to receive classified information to protect their networks. In addition, the bill provides a framework to enable the private sector to share information about cyber threats with other companies and the federal government.

Alexander says that both the “government and private sector have unique insights into the cyber threat facing our Nation today [and] Sharing these insights will enhance our mutual understanding of the threat and enable the operational collaboration that is needed to identify cyber threat indicators and mitigate them.”

Alexander and other national security leaders met with a bipartisan group of Senators on Monday to repeat warnings to them of the cyber security threats facing the nation’s critical infrastructure. Those leaders were “unanimous in warning” that Congress must act on legislation now, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), one of the sponsors of the Cyber Security Act, said on the Senate floor yesterday.