Why didn't anyone tell us? is the question everyone will be asking. Well, not everyone. A few of us, particularly Richard Clarke and more recently Leon Panetta, have been warning the nation. But too few have been listening. The threat, of course, is cyber warfare, the destructive use of computers to crash large-scale computer-based systems, what experts call the critical infrastructure.
That infrastructure includes: energy, communications, financial, and transportation systems, the systems upon which our economy and nation depend. They are all computer-operated now and all are vulnerable to cyber attack.
What's more, unlike warfare of the past, attacks can come from obscure, independent, malign hackers in basements anywhere in the world. And they are at work. Pentagon computer systems are more or less constantly under attack, too often successfully. So, in theory at least, we could have iron-clad, cover-riveted treaties with Russia, China, India, and virtually all other governments and none would protect us against the rogue hacker.
How will you know when the "cyber Pearl Harbor" has occurred? When the lights and heat in your home go off. When you can't make a phone call. When no ATM works. When your flight cannot land.
Several senators introduced the Cyber Security Act of 2012 to create a government-corporate partnership to protect the critical infrastructure, virtually all of which is in private, corporate ownership, from attack. It passed by a majority but was not filibuster-proof because of Republican opposition. How can this be?
It can be because, at the behest of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Senator John McCain, a reputed national security expert, led opposition to the measure. He and the Chamber argued that it imposed too many burdens on business.
Now, wait a minute. Our economy is totally dependent on critical systems. Those systems are owned by private corporations. Our national security leaders have declared them to be immanently threatened. Yet the owners of those systems don't want government intervention (even as the same corporate owners claim the principal duty of government is to protect us)?
Even the most ardent free enterprise Ayn Rand advocate is hard pressed to put profit ahead of national security. But that seems to be what the chief corporate lobbying group is saying. We don't want the government to tell us we have to harden our computer systems if it's going to cost money. This is appalling.
As this author has been writing and saying for quite a number of years, the warfare of the 21st century does not resemble the warfare of the past. The new warfare involves individuals or small cells using modern technology to attack our nation's greatest vulnerabilities. Those are computers. And our critical infrastructure will remain vulnerable so long as those who own them place their dedication to profit and their hostility toward the U.S. government ahead of national security and the national interest.
And no one should say we were not warned.