Cohen: Superpower status has a downside
- By Dan Verton
- Aug 28, 2000
Cyberwarfare and other security threats simply come with the territory when
your country is the world's only remaining "superpower," Defense Secretary
William Cohen told a group of veterans last week.
"We're looking at what I call a "superpower paradox,'" Cohen said at
an Aug. 21 speech to the National Convention of the Veterans of Foreign
Wars and the Ladies Auxiliary. "There is no other country that can challenge
us directly. So they look for indirect ways to challenge us.... That can
come in the form of chemical or biological or even cyber [warfare]."
Cohen said it is imperative for the United States to study what it means
to be a superpower in the Information Age. "We know that other countries
are forming cells of professionals dedicated to finding ways to interrupt
our [information] infrastructure," Cohen said.
"If you can shut down our financial system, if you could shut down our
transportation system, if you could cause the collapse of our energy production
and distribution system just by typing on a computer and causing those links
to this globalization to break down, then you're able to wage successful
warfare, and we have to be able to defend against that," he said. "We're
taking these measures."
However, not everyone in the national security community agrees on the
nature of the threats in cyberspace or on what steps should be taken to
defend against those threats.
"There is a gap between that to be defended and that which can be defended,"
said Corey Schou, chairman of the National Colloquium on Information Systems
Security Education and associate dean of information systems at Idaho State
University, speaking at a recent summit on cybersecurity at Carnegie Mellon
University, Pittsburgh. "Not everybody agrees that there's a problem."
Likewise, Richard Clarke, national coordinator for security, infrastructure
protection and counterterrorism at the National Security Council, said in
June that though it would be a "tough call" to tell the difference between
an attack by hackers and one launched by terrorists intent on disrupting
national security, the administration's cyberdefense programs are battling
a perception problem that stems from the misuse of the word terrorism.
"Maybe we shouldn't be saying "cyber-terrorism.' Maybe we should be
saying "information warfare,'" Clarke said.