NEWS AND ANALYSIS:
The commander of the new U.S. Cyber Command told Congress on Wednesday that threats of cyberwar continue to grow.
“The cyberthreat continues to mature, posing dangers that far exceed the 2008 breach of our classified systems,” Army Gen. Keith Alexander said in testimony before the House Armed Services subcommittee on emerging threats.
“We are collectively vulnerable to an array of threats ranging from network instability to criminal and terrorist activities to state-sponsored capabilities and actions that are progressing from exploitation to disruption to destruction.”
So far, U.S. networks have not suffered “irreparable harm in cyberspace” from the threats, but Gen. Alexander noted, “We must be prepared to counter this evolving threat.”
Gen. Alexander noted that no nation has taken credit for attacks, as in the apparent Russian strikes on Estonian and Georgian networks.
Elsewhere, foreign governments blocked Internet access “to suppress and disrupt even peaceful protests by their own citizens,” he said.
“In addition, we believe that state actors have developed cyberweapons to cripple infrastructure targets in ways tantamount to kinetic assaults. Some of these weapons could potentially destroy hardware as well as data and software,” the four-star general said.
Terrorists and cybercriminals also are a growing threat, he said.
The commander warned that U.S. networks remain vulnerable.
“In sum, our adversaries in cyberspace are highly capable. Our defenses - across dot-mil and the defense industrial base - are not,” he said.
Gen. Alexander also stated clearly that his command is prepared to use offensive cyberwarfare to defend freedom of action in cyberspace and deny adversaries its use.
“We are prepared, when directed and in full compliance with applicable laws, including the Constitution, federal statutes and the Law of Armed Conflict, to respond when we or our allies are threatened or subjected to the use of force inthe cyberspace,” he said.
“This is not a hypothetical danger. We have seen adversaries use the Internet to harm U.S. forces and coalition partners.”
He warned that the command is working to defend against a “Cyber 9/11” attack.
The command is projected to have 931 military and civilian officials and a budget of $159 million by next year.
He also disclosed that computer warfare troops were dispatched to the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“We deployed expeditionary teams to support operations in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said.
FBI director search
Obama administration officials say the leading candidate to replace FBI Director Robert Mueller is Fran Fragos Townsend, a lawyer whose career spanned Clinton administration Attorney General Janet Reno‘s Justice Department and George W. Bush‘s White House.
Mr. Mueller’s term as director ends in September. The White House and FBI have been searching for a replacement for the past several months, according to two officials close to the search.
Ms. Townsend most recently served as Mr. Bush’s homeland security adviser, a senior counterterrorism post, until 2009.
Ms. Townsend could not be reached for comment. An FBI spokesman had no comment. White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said: “I just am not going to speculate on any basis about the next FBI director today.”
Her earlier career in the Clinton Justice Department made her the focus of criticism. In early 2000, she came under fire from conservative officials in the Bush administration, notably Attorney General John Ashcroft, who moved her out of the strategically important Office of Intelligence Policy Review.
It was at OIPR that Ms. Townsend was a key figure in the notorious bureaucratic “wall” imposed under Ms. Reno that limited intelligence officials from talking to law enforcement officials. The wall was widely blamed for contributing to the intelligence failures related to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The policy wall was erected by Ms. Reno, Deputy Attorney General Jamie S. Gorelick and Justice Department intelligence official Richard Scruggs.
Ms. Townsend “was the main enforcer of the Reno-Gorelick-Scruggs wall,” said a former official who described her as “divisive.”
Other executive branch officials involved in security matters said that while at OIPR, Ms. Townsend blocked a key FBI request for a wiretap on Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist Wen Ho Lee, the chief suspect in a spy case involving the loss of nuclear secrets to China. He was not convicted of spying but pleaded guilty to lesser charges of mishandling classified nuclear information. Officials said the delay in getting the wiretap undermined the FBI’s nuclear espionage case that remains unsolved.
The FBI Agents Association this week added its voice to the debate by calling for the appointment of ex-FBI agent Mike Mason to be the next director.
Ms. Townsend emerged as the top contender for the FBI post after the administration decided against picking Patrick Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney in Chicago who is leading an the investigation into how photos of undercover CIA interrogators were passed to terrorists currently imprisoned at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prison, potentially endangering their lives.
The investigation had been under way for more than a year when Mr. Fitzgerald was called in to take over the probe from Justice Department officials with potential conflicts of interest because of past association with legal groups supporting the terrorists.
A source close to the investigation said investigators are looking into an aide to a Senate Democrat who may have been involved in the affair.
Others mentioned in recent news reports as possible replacements for Mr. Mueller include current Transportation Security Administration Director Tom Pistole; former Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey; New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and former Justice official Ken Wainstein.
Nuclear problems exaggerated
The crisis at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Station remains dangerous, with reactors leaking radioactive material, but the problems and potential radiation leakage are being exaggerated, especially by some cable television and other news outlets, according to a Japanese official.
The official, who is familiar with current details of the complex, said there is no chance the situation will match the 1986 Chernobyl blast in Ukraine because, unlike in that disaster, all the Japanese reactors were shut down.
The problem now is to try to keep the reactors cool, after the post-earthquake tsunami damaged the generators that run the cooling system.
The Japanese assessment appears to be less dire than the view of Gregory Jaczko, chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. He told Congress on Wednesday that damage to one of the complex’s reactors is more serious than Tokyo has acknowledged.
One peripheral problem from the disaster is that component’s for Apple’s iPhone are manufactured in large numbers in the region around the nuclear plant and supplies may be disrupted.
TSA to go Israeli?
The Transportation Security Administration, the much-maligned agency in charge of airport security, is looking into adopting a security screening system used by Israel for decades.
The system’s originator, former Shin Bet internal security official Arik Arad, was in Washington this week to discuss the system that uses highly trained and intelligent screeners, who ask all passengers a series of three to five questions as a baseline for possible further screening.
“I met with the people of the TSA, and I must admit their reaction is good,” Mr. Arad said, noting that Muslims he has met agree on the need to improve the current screening and adopt the Israeli-model based on questions.
One likely problem for making reforms is the Obama administration’s political correctness and aversion to any system that would appear as racial profiling.
Mr. Arad said he agrees that profiling will not work well in anti-terrorism screening because “the profile changes.”
The system uses teams of screeners who review each traveler’s passport or driver’s license and boarding pass and then ask questions related to things such as age and place of birth and other data that could raise doubts. The questions are based on more 100 criteria that have been proven to uncover anomalies that can lead to identifying terrorists through further screening. The criteria remain secret.
But Mr. Arad recalled one case involving Israel’s El Al airline in the 1940s. A British woman who was six months pregnant tried to board a jet at Heathrow Airport bound for Israel. Even though her outward appearance and pregnancy made her an unlikely terrorist, the questioning uncovered the fact that the hotel where she planned to stay in Israeli did not exist.
A search of her luggage turned up a bomb designed to explode at 10,000 feet. The bomber, it was later learned, was a Syrian intelligence officer who duped the woman by befriending and impregnating her and then sending her to Israel with the bomb planted in her luggage without her knowledge.
Mr. Arad calls the system “common-sense” security.
“The way to do it is to recruit smart people, not technicians” who can determine if someone poses a risk to the flight, he said.
“You need smart people who, when you come with your boarding pass or your driver’s license, look at you and say ‘Sir what is your name?’ and by asking you five, six questions determine, with common sense and criteria, whether you need to go through some extended additional security screening, or ‘You’re a good boy, you’re good to go,’ ” Mr. Arad said.
The method will reduce the public backlash and increase security efficiency, he said.
“You have to focus on the problematic people who might pose a risk to the flight,” he said.
Mr. Arad said he believes that it is urgent to improve security system.
“If people won’t move their [rear ends] here, it will happen again,” Mr. Arad said, referring to the Sept. 11 attacks. “I’m determined to make a change.”
• Bill Gertz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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