Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warns of a Pearl Harbor-type sneak attack on the United States by its adversaries, which he identified as Russia, China, Iran and other militant groups. He issued the warning last week in a speech at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York.
“An aggressor nation or extremist group could gain control of critical switches and derail passenger trains, or trains loaded with lethal chemicals,” Panetta said. Water supplies as well as the power grid could be among the potential targets vulnerable to attack across the nation.
Defense officials were quick to back up Panetta’s theoretical “cyber-Pearl Harbor” attack on the United States. They insisted that his words were not hyperbole. Ironically, the defense secretary’s remarks come on the heels of cyber attacks that have been launched against some of the nation’s largest banks.
Following his remarks, defense officials did indicate that the secretary is lobbying for legislation that would enhance standards at critical infrastructure sites, including power plants, water treatment facilities, oil, and gas pipelines that criss-cross America.
A measure similar to the one Panetta is proposing was presented earlier to Congress. However, it faced stiff opposition from a group of senators and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, both groups arguing that beefing up security measures in every state, in every city in this country would be cost-prohibitive for corporations.
“The fact is that to fully provide the necessary protection, in our democracy, cybersecurity must be passed by Congress,” the defense secretary stated. “Without it we are vulnerable.”
He may be correct. In fact, a cyberattack on our water supplies, the power grid or any other vital link to America’s basic needs, coupled with another physical attack similar to 9/11, would have devastating results.
One question: How does a debt-strapped, deficit-producing federal government stick the nation’s industrial base with costly security upgrades? If private industry is told to do the upgrade, the end-user will end up paying for these costly security measures in a time when the average taxpayer is facing higher consumer prices for gasoline, fuel to heat their homes, and homes that are worth less than many owed on their mortgages.