February 2nd, 2012
04:23 PM ET

Catastrophic cyberattack looms

By Pam Benson

The United States will soon suffer a catastrophic cyberattack if it doesn't act now to prevent it, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee warned Thursday.

"The clock is ticking and winding down," Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Michigan, said at a hearing on the security threats facing the United States.

Speaking to the nation's top intelligence officials, Rogers said that, "given classified briefings that we've had, discussions with all of you and your counterparts ... that a cyberattack is on its way. We will suffer a catastrophic cyberattack."

The committee's top Democrat, Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, said foreign governments - in particular China and Russia - steal American intellectual property to gain a competitive edge.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper accused China of "the greatest pillaging of wealth in history, if you tote up the value of the intellectual property that has been stolen."

The urgency and severity of the problem was also echoed by FBI Director Robert Mueller. "The cyberthreat will equal or surpass the threat from counterterrorism in the foreseeable future," he said.

Both Rogers and Ruppersberger said now is the time for Congress to act and pass cybersecurity legislation.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's comments on Wednesday that the United States and NATO want to end their combat mission in Afghanistan next year, transitioning primarily to a training role, drew some sharp comments during the hearing.

Some Republican members of Congress said it is premature to make such a decision before it is clear Afghanistan forces are able to defend the country.

The Obama administration has said it wants all U.S. combat forces out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

Rep. Michael Conaway, R-Texas called Panetta's statement "startling." And Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, said he is concerned about the announcement and wondered if there is a good reason for U.S. forces to be in Afghanistan.

CIA Director David Petraeus responded there is, citing the need to prevent Afghanistan from ever again becoming a safe haven to extremists who could attack the United States as they did on September 11, 2001.

But Petraeus also said Panetta's comments had been way "over-analyzed."

Petraeus pointed out he was commander of forces in Afghanistan when the policy was adopted to make the transition. "To do that we embarked on a policy of transition progressively over time. ... What Secretary Panetta was discussing was indeed this progressive transition, and if you're going to have it completed totally by the end of 2014, obviously somewhere in 2013 you have had to initiate that in all of the different locations so that you can complete the remaining tasks," Petraeus explained.

Another contentious issue was the possibility the Obama administration will release five Afghan prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay as a confidence-building measure in its effort to open peace talks with the Taliban.

Rogers maintained the United States would be "crossing a dangerous line" by pursuing such a plan.

He got both Petraeus and Clapper to acknowledge the Taliban continues its practice of political assassinations, that the Taliban wants to go beyond its theater of operation and that it has ties to al Qaeda.

"So you can see where maybe someone who looks at all of this information might scratch our head and wonder, given the fact that after the negotiations started they were committing acts of political assassination to undermine all of the work, all of the sacrifice of the United States military and intelligence on the ground, why some of us might get a little bit cranky about what we're doing when we talk about reconciliation," Rogers said.

Clapper said the administration doesn't harbor any illusions about the effort, but thought it was worth pursuing. He stressed no final decisions have been made.

Rogers called on the administration to reconsider its approach.

On Iran, Rogers told CNN in an interview on Wednesday that the U.S. military needs to do more to scare Iran away from pursuing nuclear weapons. He alluded to that during the hearing when questioning Clapper.

"The narrative is they have to believe we are serious when we say all options are on the table," Rogers said. "I'm not convinced we're there yet."

Committee members also expressed concern about the foiled attempt by Iran to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States in Washington.

Clapper said the Iranians might be pursing terrorist activities because of their belief that the Arab Spring uprisings give them an opportunity to extend their reach. He also said Iran might feel "somewhat under siege," because of the intensified international sanctions placed on it because of its nuclear program.

When Rep. Mike Thompson, D-California, asked if this sort of activity could "raise its ugly head again," Clapper responded that the Iranians and their proxies "have been as aggressive as they ever have been in the last decade or so. So I expect we'll see more of this."

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Filed under: Afghanistan • Central Intelligence Agency • CIA • Clapper • Congress • Cybersecurity • Detainees • Intelligence • ODNI • Panetta • Panetta • Petraeus • Petraeus • Sanctions • Security Brief • Terrorism
soundoff (31 Responses)
  1. Johnny

    No news here. The Chinese and Russians could nuke the US, theoretically. They can ruin the US dollar by mass-counterfeiting it, theoretically. They can also wreck the US with a cyber-attack, theoretically. But would they? nope. That would be an act of war, and the US can counter-attack. Big costs for all involved. Not worth the hassle. They just collect the capability as a deterance, to have something up their sleeve to play in case there really is a problem.

    November 23, 2014 at 2:39 pm | Reply
    • JonJon

      You mean to say it is okay for the enemy have the upper hand? Do you know what they can do with that information? They can diplomatically blackmail us with leverage by saying if you are not doing what I say I will shut down your country's power grid, then you have no choice but to bow your head and do what you are told.

      You cannot see the catastrophic impacts the USA and the world.

      November 24, 2014 at 12:07 pm | Reply
  2. Name*

    What happened to the cyber attack story?

    November 21, 2014 at 10:50 pm | Reply
  3. El Jefe

    "The cyberthreat will equal or surpass the threat from counterterrorism in the foreseeable future." – FBI Director Robert Muller...

    Its nice to see there are some in government who acknowledge the threat the US faces from our own counterterrorism measures (PATRIOT Act, etc.)

    November 21, 2014 at 8:36 pm | Reply
  4. YoonYoungJo

    This is an old article discussing the what. But never once seem to illuminate the "how". How have they managed to accomplish all of this? With the US in the forefront of the Internet and technology, how have they so easily infiltrated our networks. Then again, they may just not be alluding to it publicly. The general public needs to know so they are better equipped to defend and prevent these things. Classified information is all in good but sometimes all you need to do to break subterfuge is revelation. Hard to hide in the shadows when there are no shadows.

    November 21, 2014 at 10:03 am | Reply
  5. Shandi

    For crying out loud. The "don't ask, don't tell" clpioy was the very first thing Bill Clinton did when he became president. This was a Clinton mandate.Secondly, why were Democrat plants and questions used for the Republican candidate debate? Isn't this debate and every debate prior to the caucus in Iowa and the primaries to help REPUBLICANS decide who to vote for? This was a set up from the beginning to try to make the Republicans look bad. Shame on CNN and all of the democraps who tried to sabotage the program.Shame on the Republican candidates for even taking part in this three-ring circus.

    March 4, 2012 at 8:54 pm | Reply
  6. Jesse

    Sounds like their trying to scare people into accepting those rediculous interweb laws rofl

    February 6, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Reply
  7. TxJack

    Let’s see the Chinese and Russians are behind many of these cyber-attacks.
    And yet we do nothing about that.
    But instead publish that the weak spots are Power Grid and Financial computers.
    Why not just give them an ID and PW.

    Idiot government officials.

    February 3, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Reply
    • El Jefe

      TxJack – if they need us to tell them what the "weak spots" are, then we don't need to worry about them anyhow. Outrage about that would be akin to outrage at a government official saying a greater loss of life would occur if Los Angeles was nuked than if Cairo, IL was nuked. The level of obviousness borders on the ludicrous.

      November 21, 2014 at 8:39 pm | Reply
      • JonJon

        What about the counterterrorism include obamacare, amnesty to all illegal law breakers, bypassing Congress and House to make his owm laws? Did you forget to mention that?

        November 24, 2014 at 12:20 pm |
  8. Andrew

    She has NO idea what she's talking about. DOS attacks aren't "hacks", not even close.
    A DOS attack is like a few hundred people agreeing to drive their cars into the middle of town in order to stop traffic. It is not a "hack." Nobody at Anonymous "got in" to the target servers they just kept other people from getting in by overwhelming their servers. This is unintelligent hype by an non-credible source. If you want reliable information on CREDIBLE threats to security & privacy then go to slashdot.org. CNN has NO CLUE what the internet is or how it works.

    February 3, 2012 at 11:03 am | Reply
    • dreamer96

      More like thousands of computers all inflected with a little virus that can be told to access a know Internet Address at the same time and crash the servers..but they are also talking about hackers getting inside corporations using unsafe networks or gaps in network security of gaps in the operating systems or email servers...some is just plain bad security on those offices private or government...

      February 3, 2012 at 11:12 am | Reply
    • Tom

      Andrew, do you know what the internet is? Tell us,Andrew,how does the internet work?

      February 3, 2012 at 5:21 pm | Reply
  9. Newsed

    Don't cities lose power for days during natural disasters? Anyone who has worked with government networks or with the power grid knows it's just a matter of time. Just glad to hear someone finally letting joe public know what is highly likely to happen and soon.

    February 3, 2012 at 10:33 am | Reply
  10. dreamer96

    Yeah we have been at risk from cyber attacks for years..but just blocking those networks from internet ports oversea or tracing them backwards before displaying some kinds of information...turning off Java and remote access or better basic security steps would help....when people in those building can get emails that go to other counties and load up God knows what the security is bad in those places...close all those doors for starters...

    And what about strange likes in Russia and strange sounds in the forests of Canada...we are passing through an area of our Galaxy that has been linked to disasters in ancient times whole civilizations gone...when you live by robbing merchants on the road...you just stay in one place and wait for the merchants to come by...

    February 3, 2012 at 10:25 am | Reply
    • dreamer96

      Ops strange "likes" in the Russia...that is strange "lights" in the sky in Russia...Sorry but you got to feed the tabloids too you know..

      February 3, 2012 at 11:07 am | Reply
  11. mipolitic

    in no way are we in the west going to be in the dark for days or have to be without water and or tv. the safe gards in place have the support of over lapping systems on different levels to over come such threats. the truth is we are under attack by cyber geeks daily, the cyber geeks also work for us and along the way ally countries trade info to assure the stability of the net. i think that the biggest concern is a turn coat with in our own security. the manning types could to some degree introduce a bug into the system which could take some time ti sort out. a spy that is a techno geek could try in downloadind something that possibly could comunicate with others or over ride certians things i guess, but all of these cyber attacks i think goes on daily without us having a clue. hats off to the techno geeks on our side !!!

    February 3, 2012 at 6:02 am | Reply
  12. Bruce

    Does this mean I won't be able to post during the cyberattack? Oh, the horror...

    February 3, 2012 at 4:10 am | Reply
    • JonJon

      No, it means that you will not have access to money to buy the new gizmos, buy food, pay your bills, no heat in your home during the winter and your horror of having no beer and football on TV. Have you thought about that Bruce before you make green horn comments?

      November 24, 2014 at 12:13 pm | Reply

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