U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta insinuated Thursday that the U.S. military is ready with plans for a pre-emptive cyber-offensive against Iran. Currently thousands of online enemy entities probe Pentagon systems millions of times daily. U.S. officials expect massive cyber-attacks to be launched imminently on American targets by Iran.
Panetta issued his “clarion call” Thursday afternoon in a midtown meeting with Time magazine’s executive board, calling for readiness to engage in cyber-strikes before our enemies hit first. “The whole point of this is that we simply don’t just sit back and wait for a goddamn crisis to happen,” Panetta told Time. “In this country we tend to do that, and that’s a concern.” Panetta made similar remarks Thursday night speaking before Business Executives for National Security at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum
Panetta’s comments were the strongest to date about the reputed cyber-attack threat, according to Voice of America Jerusalem correspondent Luis Ramirez. “This is a pre-9/11 moment. The attackers are plotting,” said Panetta.
In recent months Iran has left its signature on cyber-attacks against energy companies in the Persian Gulf, as well as a series of denial of service attacks against U.S. banks. The Wall Street Journal reports that the responsible “hackers appear to be a network of fewer than 100 Iranian computer-security specialists at universities and network security companies in Iran.” Iran is widely considered responsible for a massive cyber attack – known as Shamoon – two months ago on the Saudi company Aramco and a company in Qatar affecting 30,000 computers.
A successful cyber-attack against the U.S. could result in train derailments, power grid shutdowns, and water supply contamination. Panetta said the U.S. has taken steps to be ready prepare for a strike on U.S. installations. He stated the U.S. Defense will not wait for an attack but rather will launch an offensive attack of its own soon.
“If we detect an imminent threat of attack that will cause significant, physical destruction in the United States or kill American citizens, we need to have the option to take action against those who would attack us to defend this nation when directed by the president,” Panetta remarked. According to Panetta, the U.S. military recently has pumped $3 billion into cyber security efforts including recruitment of a cyber-warrior cadre to fight off attacks. Total annual cyber spending by the military is estimated at $12 billion.
Panetta described the cyber-threat against U.S. interests as “the kind of capability that can basically take down a power grid, take down a water system, take down a transportation system, take down a financial system,” he told Time editors. “We are now in a world in which countries are developing the capability to engage in the kind of attacks that can virtually paralyze a country.”
According to Jerusalem-based debka.com, “Tehran appears to be sending a message that if U.S.-led sanctions continue to cut down its oil exports and restrict its banking business, Gulf oil producers and American banks would pay the price.
“…The Iranian effort may also be payback for a high-tech campaign against Iran that involved the U.S., including the cybersabotage project known as Stuxnet. That project targeted Iran’s Natanz nuclear plant with cyberattacks that caused a large proportion of its centrifuges to spin out of control beginning in 2008.”
Network intrusions are considered one of the most serious potential national security, public safety and economic challenges today, according to The National Defense Industrial Association, a leading American defense industry association promoting national security. Currently, cyber-security legislation sitting in Congress is at a standstill due to partisan intransigence. Legislation pending action would facilitate information sharing between the private sector and U.S. government agencies.