February 2nd, 2012
03:06 AM ET

Secret cyber meeting of top intel officials

By Suzanne Kelly

The guest list was impressive: assistant to the president for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism John Brennan; Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano; Deputy Director of National Intelligence Stephanie O’Sullivan; Director of the National Security Agency Keith Alexander; Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey …

In all, 12 of the administration’s top officials met with senators in a classified meeting organized by the majority leader’s office late Wednesday afternoon to discuss the battle that has been raging in cyber space.

“There is an arms race in cyber space,” said Sen. Mark Udall, (D- Colorado). “It’s interesting two of the areas where we have seen the most advances and where our quality of life has really improved because of these advances, but we’re mostly vulnerable, are inter space which is cyberspace and outer space, which is where our satellites orbit the earth. They’re linked but they’re both opened to real threats going forward. We have the tools, the technology, if we have the willpower to meet those threats.”

The classified briefing followed testy exchanges on Tuesday during a World Wide Threats hearing before the Senate in which several Senators demanded to know why more wasn’t being done to protect U.S. infrastructure and commercial companies from cyber espionage and attack.

Among the House and Senate, there are dozens of bills in various stages of the legislative process, but no sense of one that would address every need, or has a chance of passing quickly enough to prevent future damage, despite the fact that Senators on both sides of the aisle say this is an issue with enormous bipartisan support.

“I hope that the briefing will give that same sense of urgency and the need for us to put aside turf battles and work together to all of the members of the senate,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). “It’s very compelling to have so many members of the administration representing agencies from DHS, NSA, the White House, the FBI, all coming together and telling us it’s absolutely imperative that we act in this area.”

Lawmakers are now under increasing pressure to unleash the potential of agencies like the super secret National Security Agency, which former NSA Director General Mike Hayden has said already has the tools to do something about the problem. Now, he says, they just need the legal permission to do it.

Last year, the Obama Administration put forth its own vision for protecting the country from the cyber threat and today’s briefing was an opportunity for Administration officials to again press the urgency of the matter with legislators.

“There are many threats to the United States but certainly the cyber security threat is the one that needs to be addressed most urgently because we have addressed a lot of the other threats by revising our laws,” said Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas). “We have not done so in the case of cyber. There is also no doubt that the cyber threat is escalating, that the number of attacks not only on private sector computers where there is economic espionage and theft of intellectual property but also on government computers is growing every single day”

The issue is likely to come up again Thursday when intelligence officials offer their world wide threat assessment to the House.

Filed under: Security Brief
soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. Nelson

    If federal and state inuctstrurafre is so weak that it can be cyber attacked TAKE IT OFF THE INTERNET! Why do we have power plants being controlled remotely? There is no need for that. Stop being lazy. If your going to shut down something shut down the connections to that critical infrustucture, not the whole internet! I take it the government lacks common sense.

    May 22, 2012 at 8:29 am | Reply
  2. DiddyD

    Really all of these people don't really understand the subject, and if Congress can't even agree on simple legislation like a balanced budget, do you really expect they will understand Cybersecurity? NOPE.

    Like everything in this country some catastrophic event will have to occur before ANYONE DOES SOMETHING ABOUT IT. Then and only then the shock, horror, and people complaining will compel Congress to act and so something.

    February 2, 2012 at 11:24 am | Reply
    • Howard

      Yes – something ignorant and wrong headed that defeats its own purpose and wreaks havoc and suffering for millions of innocents – in other words something quintessentially American...

      February 3, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Reply
  3. Lisa Vaas

    if it was a secret meeting, and if that meeting was classified, where did these quotes come from? press releases? interviews with the sources after the secret meeting?

    February 2, 2012 at 9:43 am | Reply
  4. Wes

    ultimately the software engineers are responsible for all things wrong with the internet. if they must create programs with holes the size of the grand canyon in them they should be responsible for fixing it. Not the government, not the corporations. the software manufacturers. Thank you microsoft for not having any standards or policies when creating software.

    February 2, 2012 at 9:41 am | Reply
    • Peanut Gallery

      When was the last time a prophylactic software approach to a potential vulnerability beat the ingenuity of a intelligent, capable hacker? Windows did have its fair share of vulnerabilities, some doozies (like an unchecked buffer in the rpc), but all OSs had/have vulnerabilities. Windows keeps getting a bad rap simply because it became one of the most widely used operating systems in the world. Furthermore, even though security holes do exist in many applications, the real vulnerability is user idiocy, not "holes the size of grand canyons" in applications. No application or operating system can tell you to not execute "arbitrary" code without being ridiculously restrictive to the point of uselessness, because you have deemed it nonarbitrary by running it and it presumes you aren't a blithering idiot.

      Moreover, when's the last time you wrote a really succinct and secure kernel? Its really easy to sit in the peanut gallery and cast aspersions at others when you don't really have a clue. I'm sure you also think you can play sports better than the professional athletes you yell at on your television.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:18 pm | Reply
  5. mipolitic

    ya sure , the usa has people under house arrest for voilent crimes, where are we going to put these guys to serve their sentance ? house arrest or at minimal security facility ? their realy no punishments for 99% of these idoits.

    February 2, 2012 at 8:24 am | Reply
  6. michaelfury


    February 2, 2012 at 7:39 am | Reply
  7. blahblahblahblah


    February 2, 2012 at 7:07 am | Reply

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