U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.(AFP Photo / Alex Wong)While legislation giving the US government more online control sits in limbo between the House and the Senate, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has once again invoked his “cyber Pearl Harbor” scare-mantra, this time in a speech at an elite university.
“I believe that it is very possible the next Pearl Harbor could be a cyber attack,” Panetta told an audience at Georgetown University, in Washington, DC, after a speech. Panetta outlined Pentagon officials’ growing fears of online attacks in a question-and-answer session following a lecture on leadership and government.“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.Such an attack “would have one hell of an impact on the United States of America,” he warned. “That is something we have to worry about and protect against.”Panetta has previously branded China, Russia and Iran, along with extremist militant groups, as the greatest cyber-threats to the US and probable perpetrators of such an attack while using the Pearl Harbor analogy in other public comments. One measure to protect the country from such disasters is the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, better known as CISPA, which made its way through the House of Representatives in April 2012. Despite wide support from American corporations, civil rights advocates have strongly criticized it, and even President Barack Obama’s advisors are reported to have counseled him to veto it. It’s not the first time in recent days that an American official has used scare tactics to push for legislation that would give Washington bureaucrats greater control over what happens online in the US. In late January, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolita
no warned lawmakers that a failure to implement such controls could result in a “cyber 9/11” attack that could knock out water, electricity and gas, causing destruction like that left by Hurricane Sandy.Privacy advocates are concerned that the government would be able to read Americans’ personal e-mails, chat conversations and other personal information that is currently only accessible to corporations and service providers. Though the National Security Agency has promised not to abuse its power, critics remain skeptical.