Senator: Secrecy Obscures Cyber Threats

07.29.10 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

“I believe we are suffering what is probably the biggest transfer of wealth through theft and piracy in the history of mankind,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), referring to the penetration and compromise of U.S. information systems by foreign nations and criminal entities.

In a statement on the Senate floor on Tuesday, Sen. Whitehouse described some of the findings of a classified Task Force that he chaired and that recently reported to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The defense of U.S. information networks “is the greatest unmet national security need facing the United States,” he said. “The intelligence community is keenly aware of the threat and is doing all it can within existing laws and authorities to counter it.  The bad news is the rest of our country–including the rest of the Federal Government–is not keeping pace with the threat.”

Part of the problem, he said, is that “threat information affecting the dot.gov and the dot.mil domains is largely classified–often very highly classified” and so “the public knows very little about the size and scope of the threat their Nation faces…. If they knew how vulnerable America’s critical infrastructure is and the national security risk that has resulted, they would demand action.  It is hard to legislate in a democracy when the public has been denied so much of the relevant information.”

Among several proposed responses that he described, he said “we must more clearly define the rules of engagement for covert action by our country against cyber-threats.  This is an especially sensitive subject and highly classified.  But for here, let me just say that the intelligence community and the Department of Defense must be in a position to provide the President with as many lawful options as possible to counter cyber-threats, and the executive branch must have the appropriate authorities, policies, and procedures for covert cyber-activities, including how to react in real time when the attack comes at the speed of light.  This all, of course, must be subject to very vigilant congressional oversight.”

More than 40 bills on cyber security are currently pending in Congress, Sen. Whitehouse noted.