By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 6, 2013 – Pentagon officials are concerned about the growing threat of cyber warfare, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta told a Georgetown University audience today.
Following a speech on leadership and government this morning, the secretary responded to questions from the audience. All were from Georgetown students, one of whom asked Panetta if “cyber warfare … will be a viable and important part of future U.S. defense policy?”
“The developments that have taken place in the cyber arena have been incredible over these last 10 years,” the secretary responded, noting that 21st-century technology makes cyber attacks a primary threat to U.S. national security.
“There is no question, in my mind, that part and parcel of any attack on this country in the future, by any enemy, is going to include a cyber element,” he said.
The secretary, who is expected to retire this month, has warned of cyber attacks’ potential “crippling” effect on government, financial and commercial networks with increasing intensity throughout his nearly two-year tenure since leaving his post as CIA director to head the Defense Department.
When the Cybersecurity Act of 2012 stalled in the Senate in November, the Pentagon released a statement expressing Panetta’s disappointment.
In that statement Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said, “The U.S. defense strategy calls for greater investments in cybersecurity measures, and we will continue to explore ways to defend the nation against cyber threats.”
New legislation would have enhanced those efforts, Little said, adding, “If the Congress neglects to address this security problem urgently, the consequences could be devastating.”
In today’s remarks, Panetta again urged Congress to act to enhance the department’s cyber capabilities. U.S. defense strategy considers cyber potential in planning “how we will go after an enemy,” he told today’s audience during the question-and-answer period.
“So, yes, we are living in that world,” the secretary said. “I believe that it is very possible the next Pearl Harbor could be a cyber attack … [that] would have one hell of an impact on the United States of America. That is something we have to worry about and protect against.”