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Ed Ross | Monday, April 30, 2012

“There are two types of companies left in America; those that have been hacked and know it, and those that have been hacked and don’t know it.”

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, repeats that sentence at every opportunity. He knows all too well the real and present danger Chinese hacking poses to U.S. national and economic security.

That's why Rogers is the co-sponsor of the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, or CISPA, that passed the House of Representatives late Thursday and is headed for the Senate.

If enacted, CISPA would increase sharing of confidential information between government and technology companies to better ward off cyberthreats. Currently, government information is classified and companies fear violating antitrust laws.

Opponents of the bill, including President Barack Obama, who has threatened to veto it if it makes it through the Senate, say they worry about American citizens’ privacy.

I listened to Chairman Rogers describe how vulnerable American businesses are to hacking attacks by the Chinese government last December at a conference on Capitol Hill. In my case, he was preaching to the choir, as I had received regular briefings on cybersecurity during my time in government.

As he and cybersecurity experts will tell you, every major company in the U.S. has been penetrated by Chinese hackers looking to steal military and financial secrets; and they are very successful at it.

Richard Clarke, former national coordinator for security, infrastructure protection, and counterterrorism, who worked in the administrations of presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton and is now the head of his own cybersecurity company, Good Harbor, agrees.

“My greatest fear," Clarke says in the Daily Mail, "is that, rather than having a cyber-Pearl Harbor event, we will instead have this death of a thousand cuts where we lose our competitiveness by having all of our research and development stolen by the Chinese. And we never really see the single event that makes us do something about it.”

A cyber-Pearl Harbor, however, is not something to be taking lightly. Consider the cyberattacks Iran has experienced recently from the Stuxnet virus which takes over and destroys control systems. The goal there was to impede Iranian uranium enrichment centrifuges. Chinese cyberattacks during a conflict, in the Taiwan Strait for example, could target U.S. power grids and other critical infrastructure.

Nevertheless, those concerned about how sharing cybersecurity information between government and commercial interests threatens Americans oppose CISPA; and their concerns are not without merit.

Rep. Jarid Polis (D-CO) who opposes the bill, as reported by ABC News said; "If this bill is enacted, there is nothing to stop companies from sharing their customers' private information with every branch of the government, including the military. Allowing the military to spy on American citizens, on American soil, goes against every principle this nation stands for.”

Rep. Polis’ statement reminds me of a time, not so long ago, when the U.S. military routinely spied on American citizens. Whistleblower Christopher Pyle’s disclosure of the Army's spying in January 1970 opened a Pandora’s Box of revelations about the military’s surveillance of anti-Vietnam War and other groups and individuals.

I don’t take concerns about spying on U.S. civilians lightly. I was the special agent in charge of the U.S. Army’s Honolulu Field Office of the 500th Military Intelligence Group in 1974-1975.

I spent months reviewing files covering the office’s activities from the period of martial law in Hawaii following the attack on Pearl Harbor through the Vietnam War in response to congressional inquiries. From my personal review of those files I have a clear understanding of what the U.S. military is capable of during times of domestic unrest.

Investigations led by Sen. Frank Church (D-ID) and Sen. Sam Ervin (D-NC) resulted in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) which set forth specific rules regarding DoD’s collecting and storing information on U.S. civilians. The attacks on 9/11 led to the Patriot Act, which many believe rolled back FISA protections, and they don’t want to see them further eroded.

I’m not an expert on cybersecurity, nor do I pretend to be one; but as someone who has had access to detailed information on both sides of the issue, I support government and business sharing cyberthreat information.

Unfortunately, in today’s world, we increasingly find ourselves having to make choices between the lesser of two evils. On one side, we have the Chinese and others who would suck our technological life’s blood dry or exploit our vulnerabilities to catastrophic effect in time of conflict. On the other, we have a large and bureaucratic United States Government with a record of encroaching on the freedom and privacy of its citizens.

Personally, I’m willing to risk giving the U.S. government more flexibility in protecting us from foreign threats, with strong and transparent oversight by our elected representatives.

When our government behaves badly and betrays our trust, we can elect a new one and throw guilty government officials in jail. When a foreign government behaves badly, stealing our secrets and intellectual property, we have little recourse but to defend ourselves or risk losing all we have.


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Related Links

CISPA: Cybersecurity Bill May Pit Online Security Against Privacy

Chairman Mike Rogers Wars of Chinese Cyber-espionage Threat and Discusses His Bipartisan Legislation to Strengthen U.S. Cybersecurity

Every Major Company in the U.S. has been Hacked by China: Cyber-espionage Warning from U.S. Security Chief who Warned of 9/11





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