National security leaders like Leon Panetta, Janet Napolitano and even President Obama have been telling members of Congress and the country that unless immediate action is taken, the United States will suffer cyber attacks guaranteed to shut down our power, communication, financial and water infrastructure sectors. Well, I’m not buying it.
The fact that cyber vulnerabilities exist across our infrastructure sectors isn’t exactly breaking news. However, frustrated by their inability to advance cybersecurity-related legislation, the Administration has opted to shake things up by playing the politics of fear.
The politics of fear is a D.C. classic. Consider how President Bush rushed us into war because we were at risk of an “imminent attack” from weapons of mass destruction. Recall how he then convinced us to fund a multi-billion dollar bailout for Wall Street by telling us the entire financial system was going to collapse if we didn’t. Or how President Obama managed to get support for nearly $1 trillion in stimulus funds to avoid an “economic disaster worse than the depression.” In each case, one could easily argue that, at best, the steps taken were an over-reaction to the situation – and at worst, the American people were duped.
If the Administration is aware of an immediate cyber threat capable of ending the American way of life, why not provide top-secret briefings to inform Congress and critical infrastructure leaders? Why not take immediate action to hunt down those planning the attacks? Why not incentivize industry or fund DoD to find ways to mitigate the threat? If such an attack is imminent, why not take emergency steps to address it instead of trying to use fear-inducing, speculative statements to encourage Congress to take the long, slow road of drafting, debating and passing innocuous cyber legislation?
To be sure, cyber threats and vulnerabilities exist. That said, let’s demand that the Administration maintain some perspective and stop trying to scare us into advancing their agenda.