Inside the Ring: ‘The Next 9/11 Kind of Event’ Could Be a Cyberattack

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Army Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, last week called the threat of cyberattacks against U.S. infrastructure a major strategic vulnerability.

“Eighty percent of the affected areas in our country are what we would call a critical infrastructure, and they’re in the private world,” Gen. Flynn said during a security conference. “They’re not really in the government world. So most of our vulnerabilities are not on the government side, where we do a lot of things to protect ourselves. It’s out there in the private world.”

Cyberattacks are key strategic threats as states such as China and Russia have been detected mapping U.S. electrical grids and financial networks — two of the most critical elements of infrastructure.

Speaking Saturday at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado, Gen. Flynn said U.S. efforts to counter cyberattacks against infrastructure are at the “infant stage.”

“One of these days, we’ll be really good at this,” he said. “We are very good. We are the best at it. But we are still growing and learning, and we’re growing capacity in this country.”

Pentagon cyberdefense and cyberwarfare capabilities are growing but not fast enough, Gen. Flynn said. “And I think all of our leaders in the Department of Defense would absolutely agree with me.”

Additionally, greater government and private-sector cooperation is needed to identify vulnerabilities to cyberattacks.

“Because it’s not just [that] they shut down our telecommunication system, or they shut down our health care system, and it’s not just a nation state like China or Russia or some of these other countries that are a bit more sophisticated. It’s also these non-nation-state actors out there that actually do form as groups at times — Anonymous — that see that one of these groups,” Gen. Flynn said.

“So we have to understand this, and this is a really a big problem.”

The three-star general, who announced in April that he would retire this fall, said his “gripe” is that the country needs to decide what it wants to do in the cybersecurity realm and how to go about it “before we have the next 9/11 kind of event.”

“But it may be time to sit down and — particularly on cyber — and really look at are we properly organized to deal with this threat because it’s coming. It’s here,” he said.

The Obama administration has taken a passive approach by rejecting policies that call for conducting offensive operations aimed at thwarting foreign cyberspies and cyberattackers.

Asked whether the U.S. should scale up it cyberoffensive capabilities, Gen. Flynn gave a one-word reply: “Yes.”

HAMAS TUNNELS SURPRISE

Israeli military intelligence is facing criticism for failing to comprehend the network of tunnels and other underground facilities built by Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip.

Dan Pollak, co-director of government relations for the Zionist Organization of America, said early estimates of Israel’s operation to root out Hamas rockets has diminished the terrorist group’s arsenal. Hamas’ 10,000-rocket arsenal is now believed to be half that number.

“We’ll see when the war was over,” Mr. Pollak said in an interview, “but it is clear that the underground tunnel complex was far more extensive than Israeli military intelligence understood.”

Information that Israel Defense Forces reportedly obtained from captured Hamas fighters revealed that the group was planning to use several Gaza tunnels that extend under Israeli territory for a major attack timed with the beginning of the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah, on Sept. 24.

The plan called for Hamas fighters to surface from the tunnels in Israel and kill as many people as possible. The plot was first reported by the Israeli newspaper Maariv.

Israel’s military operation against Hamas in Gaza has gone on longer than expected because of the discovery of the extensive tunnel network, which is estimated to have cost as much as $2 billion to construct.

Many of Hamas’ longer-range rockets have been destroyed, although the Israeli military is looking for other tunnels in Gaza where rockets could be kept.

‘SEMPER INFIDELIS’ BY CORPS?

A New York lawyer representing the family of a slain Marine recently sent 10-page letter to the commandant protesting how the Corps has characterized the murder and rebutting the claim that it provided survivors with critical information on the case.

The dispute is related to the 2012 premeditated murders of three Marines by an Afghan civilian who had a close relationship with Sarwar Jan, a reputedly corrupt police chief who abused children and collaborated with the Taliban.

The Corps issued a press statement Friday disclosing that the assailant, Ainuddin Khudairaham, received a seven-year prison sentence from an Afghan court. It also addressed complaints from the family of one of the war dead, Lance Cpl. Gregory T. Buckley Jr., that the Corps failed to provide information, such as why Jan and his followers were allowed to operate on the forward operating base Delhi in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.

The Marine statement said attorneys and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service have talked with the families continually and expressed an “unwavering commitment to loyalty” to survivors.

Attorney Michael J. Bowe of the law firm Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman called this version a “callous lie.”

“The sole message touted by this publicity stunt was how well the Marine Corps had treated these Gold Star families,” Mr. Bowe, who represents the Buckleys, wrote July 29 to Marine Commandant Gen. James Amos. “While the press statement trumpets how often the Marine Corps has communicated with the Buckley family, and how many different people have communicated with the Buckleys, it nowhere describes what facts were provided in all these communications. This is because none were provided.

“Instead, for two years, the Buckley family has chased the information to which it is legally and morally entitled and been stonewalled throughout by sympathetic sounding words followed by inaction. The Buckley family is not now, and never has been, ‘informed’ of any substantive information concerning these murders. And they have been repeatedly misled. No amount of lip service, platitudes and rhetorical flourish can overcome these facts.”

Mr. Bowe said Jan had been evicted from his previous Marine forward operating base “because he, and those under his control, were extorting Now Zad residents, keeping Afghan boys as sex slaves, trafficking narcotics, providing arms, munitions and Afghan police uniforms to the Taliban, and otherwise facilitating insider attacks.”

Mr. Bowe said base commanders were warned two weeks before the murders that Jan was a danger, yet they did not act.

CHINA’S ‘ODD’ SPY SHIP

Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, this week called China’s dispatch of a spy ship near Hawaii “a little odd.”

However, Adm. Locklear said the “good news” about the AGI, as electronic listening ships are called, is that China has accepted the legitimate right of nations to conduct intelligence-gathering within the 230-mile exclusive economic zone around a nation’s territory.

China has demanded that all U.S. military flights and ships that conduct electronic surveillance against China leave its exclusion zones.

The four-star admiral said the AGI spying on the Rim of the Pacific exercises, which China’s navy joined for the first time this year, is “an acceptance by the Chinese of what we’ve been saying to them for some time: that military operations and survey operations in another country’s EEZs, where you have national — your own national security interest, are within international law and are acceptable.”

But Adm. Locklear noted: “The introduction of the AGI kind of made it look a little odd, but it hasn’t stopped the exercise and it hasn’t created any difficulties in the exercise.”

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This story first appeared in the Washington Times July 30.