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U.S. next “Pearl Harbor” could be a cyberattack, says CIA´s Director and next Defense Minister Panetta.

CIA Director Leon Panetta testifies at his Senate confirmation hearings to become U.S. Secretary of Defense on Capitol Hill Washington, June 9, 2011. Photo Credit to REUTERS/Jim Young

“The next great battle America faces is likely to involve cyberwarfare, the next Pearl Habor that we confront could very well be a cyberattack that cripples America’s electrical grid and its security and financial systems” said Mr. Panetta , the CIA  Director, who was appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee in a confirmation hearing for the post of secretary of defense, and added “it’s going to take both defensive measures as well as aggressive measures to deal with that,”

Before Panetta´s nomination as Defense Minister is approved, the Pentagon already is working on a new cyber doctrine of  national security.

According to the Defense Department new cyberwarfare policies that have yet to be officially unveiled,  any computer-based attack by an adversary nation that damages US critical infrastructure or  US military readiness could be considered as an “act of war.”

The Pentagon worries about a  cybersabotage  in order to attack US infrastructure or military systems. This “cyber doctrine” could trigger an american “use of force”, that means a response in terms of bombs and bullets.  Recently a  Wall Street Journal article revealed the existence of the cyber doctrine document.

The article does not specify if the Pentagon document does indeed lay out what the United States considers an “attack” worthy of an american military response.

It is also important to say that no all cyber attacks are going to be backed by enemy nations, but could be organized by more gray organizations, composed by an anonymous cohort of civilians around the world. Does attacks does not fit within the international Law of Armed Combat.  F.e. if  compared to what happened to Al Qaeda ten years ago, it was reasonably easy for the U.S. to define an enemy state, a casus belli, which was the Taliban regime in Afganistan, who gave shelter to Al Qaeda.  But in the case of a multinational and clandestine organization, the way to counterattack is not so easy to define.   What should the U.S. do in those cases? Black Ops? Should the intelligence community intervene? Or is it more a matter of cyber counter insurgence?

Who does the US retaliate against if an attack comes from a computer in Miami or Washington DC?

One thing is clear: the US are not just going to respond to cyberattacks with just cyber countermeasures. If somebody really cripples the US electric grid, a nuclear power plant, or starts to kill people with cyberattacks the U.S. will retaliate.

The Defense Department will submit this document to the review of Leon Panetta, as soon as he get appointed as the new U.S. Minister of Defense.

In the meantime, the US has created a new Cyber Command in 2010 to defend the nation and conduct offensive cyberattacks.