First the financial system collapses and it’s impossible to access one’s money. Then the power and water systems stop functioning. Within days, society has begun to break down. In the cities, mothers and fathers roam the streets, foraging for food. The country finds itself fractured and fragmented—hardly recognizable.
It may sound like a scene from a zombie apocalypse movie or the first episode of NBC’s popular new show “Revolution,” but it could be your life—a nationwide cyber-version of Ground Zero.
Think of it as 9/11/2015. It’s Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s vision of the future—and if he’s right (or maybe even if he isn’t), you better wonder what the future holds for erstwhile American civil liberties, privacy and constitutional protections.
Last week, Panetta addressed the Business Executives for National Security, an organization devoted to creating a robust public-private partnership in matters of national security. Standing inside the Intrepid, New York’s retired aircraft-carrier-cum-military-museum, he offered a hair-raising warning about an imminent and devastating cyber strike at the sinews of American life and wellbeing.
Yes, he did use that old alarm bell of a “cyber Pearl Harbor,” but for anyone interested in American civil liberties and rights, his truly chilling image was far more immediate. “A cyber attack perpetrated by nation states or violent extremist groups,” he predicted, “could be as destructive as the terrorist attack of 9/11.”
Panetta is not the first Obama official to warn that the nation could be facing a cyber catastrophe, but he is the highest-ranking to resort to 9/11 imagery in doing so. Going out on a limb that previous cyber doomsayers had avoided, he mentioned September 11th four times in his speech, referring to our current vulnerabilities in cyber space as “a pre-9/11 moment.”