Senators given taste of cyber scare
March 8th, 2012
06:15 PM ET

Senators given taste of cyber scare

By Adam Levine, with reporting from Ted Barrett and Virginia Nicolaidis

Senators got a taste Wednesday night of what Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has called his worst nightmare, a cyber attack on the on the United States' infrastructure.

Senior officials from the Obama administration briefed assembled senators on a hypothetical scenario, said National Security Spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden.  The briefing, at the request of the senators, was intended "to provide all Senators with an appreciation for new legislative authorities that could help the U.S. Government prevent and more quickly respond to cyber attacks," according to Hayden.

First word of the classified briefing came when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, took to the floor to complain about the slow pace of progress on key measures.  Among those, as we've reported, cyber security.

The senate is at loggerheads over the right way to run cyber security, with competing bills being presented.

“We had a demonstration here in our classified briefing room to talk about what’s going on in America and what could go on in America about bringing down our – bringing down our country,” Reid said. “The demonstration last night dealt with electricity, but it could be banking, it could be our hospitals. We have to recognize that we now have new enemies in the world. Not enemies that are flying airplanes and dropping bombs necessarily or shooting us with bullets, but they are prepared to do something that is so damaging to our economy and we were given that illustration last night.”

In his State of the Union speech in January, the president urged Congress to pass cyber security legislation.

"Only Congress can modernize our underlying laws and give us the full range of tools our cybersecurity professionals need to more effectively deal with this growing and increasingly sophisticated threat, including risk-based performance standards to ensure the nation’s most vital of critical infrastructure systems meet a baseline level of security," Hayden said in an emailed statement.

Among those briefing the senators on Wednesday were national security advisor John Brennan, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, Joint Chiefs

Chairman General Martin Dempsey, FBI Director Robert Mueller, Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence Stephanie O'Sullivan, General Keith Alexander of the National Security Agency and Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter.

The fear of cyber attack is gripping the campaign trail as well, CNN's Mark Preston and Michelle Jaconi write in  CNN's Political Gut Check.

"Reid’s warning took us back to the CNN/American Enterprise Institute/Heritage Foundation National Security Debate, when AEI Fellow Marc Thiessen asked the GOP hopefuls this great question: “What national security issue do you worry about that nobody is asking about, either here or in any of the debates so far?," Jaconi and Preston observe.

One of those who answered cyber attacks is an aspiring defense secretary.  Clearly he and Panetta have something in common.

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    March 9, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Reply
  8. michaelfury

    March 9, 2012 at 7:22 am | Reply
  9. SixDegrees

    Not a word on any of the actual legislation that forms the core of this article. From the vague descriptions offered, it sounds like it will once again be reactive rather than proactive, addressing acts after they have taken place but doing nothing to prevent them from happening in the first place. And yet another huge expansion of government, rather than efficiently retraining existing agencies.

    March 9, 2012 at 3:07 am | Reply
    • #1 Mossad Agent aka AIPAC Agent #1 Lee Rosenburg

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      March 9, 2012 at 5:45 am | Reply
    • 40 acres

      Six, Do you think it would be a good idea to discuss the proactive aspect of the cyber security plans on a public forum? Wouldn't that kinda negate the effects?

      March 9, 2012 at 6:56 am | Reply
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  11. Mike in SD

    Dinosaurs did not go extinct, they merely moved into gov't and boardrooms. Nothing will change until someone pushes a button and nothing happens. Of course, by then it will be too late. However, at least the 1% that handle the purse strings will still have their serfs, in fact, even more.

    March 8, 2012 at 11:12 pm | Reply
  12. Harumph

    It's hard to believe the good folks in Congress can do anything since it's such an acrimonious atmosphere between parties, still who knows? I remember when a denial of service attack hit various brokers a few years back, my company paid $10k to some guy in the Balkans to restore our online trading platforms. Easy money, and then the head of cyber security in the US was terminated a few days later. Of course he was from the M.E. (what a shocker) so I wasn’t too surprised about the extortion.

    It has never ceased to amaze me how stupidly cheap companies and the government is when it comes to IT security. If it costs money they don’t want the expense; naturally, when they get hacked the damage and cost is usually incredibly high, so high in fact that if they had good IT security that cost would have been a fraction of a penny on the dollar. They never learn though and I don’t think they have the mental capacity to change.

    Like GM and their functional obsolescence concept that eventually drove them into bankruptcy the people running corporations and our Govt. will not change until they go down. Still, I will watch and see if they have learned anything, but frankly I very much doubt it.

    March 8, 2012 at 8:04 pm | Reply
  13. dfgh

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    March 8, 2012 at 7:39 pm | Reply
  14. mipolitic

    what ever it takes is the only mind set needed to devert such threats and attacks. i think fly by wire techno stuff is a very weak link to any and everything. drones for example may or may not be what we all thought they were.
    canada had a guy in the military spying for the russians in a place called hms trinity, this idiot could have just as easy introduced something into the system that could have screwed us for years. operators are the weak link to all this electronic stuff , for instance who makes the boards and hard drives and whats on them they we do not see?

    March 8, 2012 at 7:19 pm | Reply

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