LIEBERMAN, IN FAREWELL SPEECH, WARNS OF CYBER THREAT@<
(For use by New York Times News Service clients)@<
By CHARLES J. LEWIS@
C.2012 Hearst Newspapers@
WASHINGTON — Retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., in what he called "my farewell homeland security address," on Wednesday warned that cyber attacks are a key threat that the United States has yet to recognize and defend against.
"We're vulnerable," said Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, particularly in the private sector where transportation, finance, energy and communications infrastructures all are controlled by cyber systems.
The United States has improved defenses against cyber attacks on government systems — and has improved its capability for offensive cyber attacks — but the private sector is lagging, he said.
The Obama administration is expected to renew efforts next year for legislation requiring the private sector to bolster cyber security systems. Last August, Senate Republicans led by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., blocked a bill that would have set optional standards for critical computer systems considered vital to U.S. infrastructure.
Lieberman, 70, is retiring in January after serving 24 years in the Senate, including seven years as chair of the Homeland Security Committee. His work in that area will be a key part of Lieberman's legacy.
In remarks to an event sponsored by the George Washington University Homeland Security Policy Institute and Center for Strategic and International Studies, the senator listed cyber attacks as the top homeland security issue facing the United States.
He noted recent cyber attacks on U.S. banks, Saudi Aramco — the world's largest oil company — and the South Carolina Department of Revenue, where hackers stole Social Security numbers of taxpayers and other financial data.
Lieberman also listed violent homegrown Islamic extremism as an ongoing security threat and cited the 2009 massacre of 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas. Army Major Nidal Hasan, an American-born psychiatrist of Palestinian descent, has been charged in the shootings.
The senator said another homeland security problem is that Congress has failed to adopt a recommendation from the 9-11 commission — whose 2004 report he praised as "one of the best" government reports during his years in the Senate. The panel had urged Congress to concentrate its oversight of the intelligence and national security agencies in order to avoid jurisdictional overlap. The legislators haven't acted.
Lieberman cited a sentence from the commission report — that the United States wasn't prepared for the 9-11 attacks because of "a failure of imagination" — to contend that homeland security requires imaginative thinking.
"We couldn't imagine that something like that could have occurred," he said, referring to the 9-11 attacks. "This is the test we need to hold ourselves to in the future: Try to imagine threats, expect the unexpected, and then prepare ourselves to deal with it."
He added that U.S. security officials "need to think like the enemy" in order to discern possible threats.
"Most of the big events in terms our security have been unexpected, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Iraq invasion of Kuwait, the 9-11 attacks and the Arab Spring," Lieberman said. "We did not anticipate these events."
Lieberman noted that last Sunday was the 10th anniversary of the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, established on Nov. 25, 2002 by President George W. Bush and Congress.
In his "plus" column in assessing homeland security:
— Al Qaida has been unable to carry out an attack resembling 9-11.
— In the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, changes were made to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to improve its response to natural disaster.
But, he cautioned, homeland security "has no destination point" — meaning that it requires constant vigilance.
Noting that he was speaking on the George Washington University campus, Lieberman said he thought then-President Washington "was in my subconscious when I decided not to run again because he knew when to quit," a reference to Washington's decision in 1797 not to seek another term as president but, instead, to retire to his Virginia plantation.
Lieberman hasn't announced his future plans.