In a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, Gen. Alexander pretty much said that everything in the nation–possibly even puppies and kittens–is at risk from cyber attacks.
To start, Gen. A., who also heads the U.S. Cyber Command, said of cyber theft and espionage: "In my opinion, it's the greatest transfer of wealth in history.2" In addition to writing this blog on CIO.com, I also report on finance and economics for CBSNews.com, so I can say with some authority: “Not even close.” There is, for example, the money collected in taxes by our government.
He supported his claim with some wildly estimated statistics: "Symantec placed the cost of IP theft to United States companies at $250 billion a year. Global cybercrime at $114 billion - nearly $388 billion when you factor in downtime. And McAfee estimates that $1 trillion was spent globally on remediation.”
Alexander also took the highly controversial position of saying Congress needs to quit bickering and do something, such as passing some national cybersecurity legislation. As important as that is, I still think the Fiscal Cliff we’re about to fall off gets priority.
The Good General then brought out Al Qaida, of course.3
“I don't personally believe they're a viable threat in that realm right now," he said, but quickly added that the tools to become a threat are available publicly "to anybody who has access to the web and who is semi-literate. So I am concerned that while I don't see it today, that they could very quickly get to that."
Ah, the old they-may-do-something-in-the-future argument. Try using that on Chicago Cubs fans.
He wrapped it all up with a standard-issue denial of spying on U.S. citizens. “We don’t store data on U.S. citizens,” he said. “That’s baloney. … That’s ludicrous.” However, “I’m not going to come out and say what we [at NSA] are doing. That would be ludicrous, too.”
Don't feel too bad about that. It's not just the public he's refusing to tell. Last month the NSA sent refused to tell members of Congress how many Americans the agency has spied on under provisions made in 2008 to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. That legislation lets the government go through correspondence that they believe is being sent overseas. The NSA told Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Mark Udall (D-CO) that informing Americans about any spying they may have been subjected to would be damaging to personal privacy.
I feel better, don’t you?
1 We live in a nation where the government does not even trust its citizens enough to tell them the aggregate amount of money spent on our security bureaucracies.
2 Those who do not study history are doomed to be irritated by people using quotes about not studying history.
3There needs to be an Al Qaida addendum to Godwin’s Law: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.”