Cyber Insecurity: CPAC Panel Warns USA Vulnerable to Digital ‘Pearl Harbor’

Reuters/Kacper Pempel

NATIONAL HARBOR (MD) — The cost of cyber attacks is growing into the hundreds of billions per year for both the public and the private sector — but speakers at a cyber security panel at this year’s CPAC warned that the USA is falling behind in the fight against this growing threat and the current administration is making matters worse.

During a panel titled, “Surfing for Secrets, Cyber Insecurity In The Digital Age,” at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference the warnings came fast and thick from the five panelists. But their central theme was that the U.S. government is completely unprepared to face a threat that one of the panelists said could bring a “cyber Pearl Harbor.”

The panel included Senator Rob Portman (R,OH), John Soloman of the Washington Times, Congressman Mike Pompeo (R, KS), cyber security author Kevin Freeman, and former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey.

Washington Times reporter John Solomon kicked off the round of warnings, noting that a quarter of a billion credit cards have been compromised in just the last few years. On top of that, over a billion dollars a year is stolen from ATM cards that are scammed, stolen, and cloned. He went on to say that for every dollar lost to this fraud an additional $3.08 is spent by businesses in an effort to adjust for that theft. Compliance is costing billions more a year than the actual fraud.

Solomon also said that if the general populace is falling victim to these acts of economic terror, you can bet that the government is as well.

Cyber attacks are a constant and growing threat that isn’t going away soon and our enemies are getting closer every day to visiting upon us a Cyber Pearl Harbor from which we will not easily be able to recover.

Author Kevin Freeman next chimed in to report that cyber attacks isn’t a form of warfare from the future but one that has already been used as a weapon of war. Russia, Freeman said, presaged its invasions of both Georgia and Ukraine with cyber attacks on those nations. Freeman also told the audience that Iran’s recent Operation Cleaver was another example of a rogue nation using cyber attacks as a form of warfare.

The cyber expert also speculated that the 2010 “flash crash” of the stock market, an attack that caused the Dow Jones Industrial Average to plunge about 1,000 points, was likely a cyber attack from unknown source.

Freeman said that we should make no mistake about it: A foreign nation or extra governmental organization does have the ability to take down our infrastructure electronically with an asymmetric attack that could cripple us. Our technological advantage is gone, Freeman warned. Our enemies have caught up — and surpassed us.

Finally, Freeman suggested that we need to get our debt under control because our debt leaves us open to economic warfare. He went on to say we need tax reform and we need human intelligence overseas, not just data collection. We’ve pulled back from relations with other countries with a reduction of our intelligence regime to mere data collection. We need to go back to human intel to supplement our collection of intelligence overseas, Freeman said.

The next speaker, Senator Rob Portman, opened his comments by saying that often we are not fully aware of these cyber attacks for up to 200 days after the attack. In fact, he said, some companies never find out they were attacked at all. This is affecting our economy in ways that cannot be quantified, he said.

Portman said that it costs the country up to $100 billion a year to address these attacks, but the federal government isn’t even close to finding a solution to these issues.

One of the problems in Congress, Portman said, is that there are five committees tackling this issue and there isn’t enough coordination between them. This, Portman said, is diluting the ability of the country to erect defenses and craft legislation to deal with these attacks.

Portman insisted that the nation needs to quickly change its anti-trust laws to help companies share information about cyber attacks both with other companies and with the government so patterns and solutions can be found to these attacks. Unfortunately, Portman warned, our 21st century problem is being addressed with 20th century laws.

The Senator also hoped to get more people from the business sector into Congress because Congress is not up to the task of solving these problems with mere politicians. He continued saying that this administration has been caught flatfooted on these issues but this is not an area we can ignore.

In response to a question, Portman also insisted that we’ve actually become embarrassed with other nations who have shared their intelligence with us only to have it leaked by Edward Snowden and other intel leakers. This has caused other nations to shy away from working with us on these issues. We have to do a better job working with other nations, the Senator said.

For his part, Congressman Pompeo continued to focus on the damage that people like Edward Snowden and other security leakers have done to the nation. These leaks, plus the complete control of the narrative from the left, Pompeo said, has hampered the response to the attacks. Claims that the federal government is the biggest peeping Tom in history are untrue, Pompeo said. He also said that the idea that the government is wantonly reading our emails and listening to our phone calls is a false characterization of what our security services are doing.

Pompeo also said that America’s citizens have become more than just collateral damage in warfare. These cyber terrorists are attacking each of us individually. To stop this, Pompeo said that we need to empower government to deal with the threats. He continued saying that our intel people are working hard to make sure what they do is wholly legal and consistent with the constitution and our statutory law. Pompeo said he is confident we can face these threats within the realm of our rule of law and in keeping with our Constitution.

But when we have a president who says that the single biggest threat we face today is global warming, the threat of cyber security is diminished and our ability to confront it is damaged, Pompeo claimed.

Finally, former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey spoke for a few minutes and said that cyber security is in the truest sense of the word the Wild West. We have cases being brought at every level of government as well as the private sector and it is creating massive amounts of chaos. Mukasey suggested that the only way to cut through this is with the proper legislation.

But Mukasey agreed with Rep. Pompeo on the point of how unsavory politicians are making matters worse.

“I can’t tell you how furious it makes me to see politicians playing of people’s fears that the government is listening in on them every day,” Mukasey said. In fact, he continued, very, very few of America’s listening and interception programs have seen any unconstitutional abuses. But he warned that these programs that are so are vital to our security are under attack from the left and a willing media.

The former AG also agreed that the intel leakers have really damaged our relations with other countries.

Lastly Mukasey made the point that every principle the Founders put into play was set forth with reasonable restrictions. The founders didn’t grab onto any one particular principle and “go over a cliff” with it, he said. In this vein, he averred, we should be able to feel our way through a world of cyber threats, solve these difficult problems and do so fully in keeping with our American principles.

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter: @warnerthuston. Email the author at 


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