The 9/11 Commission’s authors placed primary blame for the success of the attacks on “a failure of imagination.” America’s intelligence agencies, with all of their resources, did not awaken to the gravity of such a threat to our nation until it was too late. The authors recently reprised this conclusion in an updated 9/11 Report assessment with a fresh warning:
“We must not repeat this mistake in the cyber realm.”
But if we do not wake up – and quickly – to the very real threat of 9/11-class cyberattacks against the United States, we may soon find ourselves reliving the nightmare of 9/11 all over again.
As jihadists continue their misguided mission to terrorize America, they may very well be turning to the cyber world to unleash their attacks. According to a recent Fox News report, a jihadist cyber warfare effort has most likely been in the works for several years -- Osama bin Laden reportedly cited the importance of electronic jihad months before his death.
The Fox News report stated: “Islamic militants brag that it is only a matter of time before they pull off a highly disruptive attack on America’s infrastructure or financial system.”
Just before his death in 2010, Abu Hamza Al-Muhajir, a leader in the al Qaeda group in Iraq was quoted as saying:
“We believe that electronic warfare is one of the important and effective wars of the future.”
Perhaps by prophecy or even a sense of impending fate, some Americans feel more strongly than others this heat of the jihadist’s breath on their neck. New York State Department of Financial Services chief Benjamin Lawsky says it this way:
“I worry that we’re going to have some sort of major cyber event in the financial system, an Armageddon-type cyber event.”
Mr. Lawsky is most seriously worried about an event that interrupts our financial system, which would disrupt commerce, the flow of goods, money and transportation. This is the economic system from which our nation draws its very ability to function.
Assuming Islamic State would be capable enough to do such harm through cyberattacks, however, has its credentialed detractors. Jim Lewis of the Center for Strategic and International Studies recently emphasized, “Programmers, computers, and attack tools are required. IS doesn’t have those capabilities.” And further, he states, “IS wants to conquer the Middle East, not hack websites in Omaha.”
But if the jihadists are able to mount such attacks, surely we are safe?
Perhaps. Perhaps not. Navy Admiral Michael Rogers, Director of the National Security Agency and head of the US Cyber Command, acknowledged in July that, while U.S. cyber defenses have strengths, our defensive weakness lies in the ability to effectively engage such capabilities. He summed up his feelings in one succinct, chilling sentence:
“Technology has moved much faster than our military’s operational policies for their deployment.”
Admiral Rogers’ sobering statement, taken together with the 9/11 Commission authors’ fresh wake up call, may well crystallize fears that our way of life stands as vulnerable today as were those soaring, glistening towers 13 years ago.
It has been wisely said that those who fail to remember the past are doomed to repeat it in the future. By ignoring or downplaying the Islamic cyber threat facing our country, we are inviting another 9/11 to our doorstep.