Cliff May

If a top intelligence expert said America was not prepared for war and, indeed, that if we went to war "we would lose," that would worry you, wouldn't it? Start worrying.

The expert is Mike McConnell, who served as Director of the National Security Agency under President Clinton, and as Director of National Intelligence under President Bush. He was referring not to a conventional war, a guerrilla war or an insurgency. He was referring to a cyberwar. But understand: Cyberwar does not mean fun and video games. McConnell told a Senate committee last week that the risk we face from cyberattacks "rivals nuclear weapons in terms of seriousness."

Cybercombatants could cause massive blackouts lasting for months. They could destroy the electronic processes on which our banking, commerce and financial systems have been built, stealing -- or simply wiping out -- vast amounts of wealth. They could put our air transportation system in jeopardy. They might even be able to cripple our defense and national security infrastructure. It is possible to defend against such threats. But we are not doing it adequately.

McConnell has been sounding this alarm for some time. Most of the media, and therefore most Americans, have not been paying attention. Almost a year ago Jim Lewis, director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told 60 Minutes' Steve Kroft that in 2007 America suffered "an espionage Pearl Harbor. Some unknown foreign power, and honestly, we don't know who it is, broke into the Department of Defense, to the Department of State, the Department of Commerce, probably the Department of Energy, probably NASA."

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After that, you'd think a serious and comprehensive cyber-defense program would have been initiated. But in an op-ed published in the Washington Post on Sunday, McConnell warned that the U.S. government has "yet to address the most basic questions about cyber-conflicts. ... we lack a cohesive strategy to meet this challenge."

Add to that the growing menace of cybercrime which Joseph Menn, in his brilliant and disturbing book, "Fatal System Error," reports is already a "shadow economy that is worth several times more than the illegal drug trade, that has already disrupted national governments, and that has the potential to undermine Western affluence and security."


Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.