America the vulnerable
Counterintelligence expert Joel Brenner discusses the U.S.' vulnerability to cyber threats
- Duration 12:28
- Date May 9, 2012
Counterintelligence expert Joel Brenner discusses the U.S.' vulnerability to cyber threats
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-- first job is cyber terrorism and they -- al-Qaeda.
Threats and bomb plot.
We have joining us they're very honored to have joining us the former head of US counterintelligence.
Jill -- he's the author of a chilling book America the vulnerable.
Which lays out exactly how vulnerable the United States is.
Civilian and military infrastructure how vulnerable we are to some kind of cyber.
Attackers cyber incidents -- is I've got here and -- chair job -- when I want to charge you about is the latest.
-- that thwarted bomb threat to.
The US and it's supposedly it was now we now find out it was a CIA.
Sting operation there -- a double agent involved.
What you're reading in the papers and -- you know from the background that you have for years and intelligence -- -- what do you make of this.
Well in the first place -- team it was a wonderful operation that really.
Showed how good the cooperation is between our services and some of the foreign services apparently the saudis.
What troubles me about it is the way the story was broken that it was leaked.
Imagine if this fellow instead of having been a -- this way have been rolled off at at the European airport.
Whatever airport he was heading to.
If that had happened.
If it hadn't been leaked in the way it was leaked.
Al-Qaeda in the -- in the -- in in.
In Yemen would not have known whether our equipment was good enough.
To catch their latest and best in they would have had to consider that they'd had a different inside or possibly not this guy.
And that's -- would have shown tremendous decision in their ranks we lost both of those advantages because this thing was -- that's a great -- You know if I think there's a growing concern that all the leaks and we've seen not -- with this one but the bin Laden raid.
Other intelligence operations that have been leaked and talked about her rumored.
-- ball from anonymous sources are mean to a certain extent on one hand we're doing brilliantly our intelligence services.
-- our special operations forces are really -- succeeding in a lot of ways but on the other hand we're taking it away because operational details are being leaked.
Is this thing has always gone out in Washington or do you think there's now a whole new level.
Loose lips that's.
Hard to say one of the things about this operation is there a great many details we don't know.
And we should be grateful if we never -- them they should never be public is that -- further operational details about this one.
On operational details were leaked about the bin Laden -- And -- you know this stuff has gone on for a long time but the problem is worse now because.
Everybody has a means of broadcasting worldwide now.
Anybody can post information.
On on global networks at this point you don't need to go through an editor or publisher or -- -- -- a well known news source so from that point of view the problem has become worse it is harder and harder to keep secrets.
And those things that are secret don't Stacey could very long that's the the world -- it in now.
Okay kids should be about NAFTA put the early part of it aside but about the operation itself and where have we learned anything about the evolving threat of al-Qaeda.
You know we were just we've been.
Hearing from Washington from a number of people well al-Qaeda is honest way out is finished it's over we got bin Laden -- rounding up and killing.
A lot of the senior al-Qaeda leadership not only.
And Pakistan but in Yemen and smile and other places but this -- be an indication that al-Qaeda is by firm.
-- affect -- adapting very cleverly due to our own TSA security.
Well -- still let you advertise we do on this show which is to go beyond the headlines because.
Headlines deal -- sound -- slogans and bumper stickers.
And the truth of the matter is mixed it's complex.
In one regard al-Qaeda is on its heels we have decimated its leadership.
It is no longer able to extend.
-- operations into the United States we think and on the other hand.
The part of all kind of that exists in Yemen.
In the Arabian Peninsula so called a Q8.
It it shows us that there is some there are some very highly skilled people.
Who spend all of their time.
Every day thinking about how to cause a disaster for the United States and and -- came I don't want to say close to pulling it off but they perhaps.
They've they've really certainly showed us that we cannot put our guard down.
And their ability to continue to adapt to look at the measures that were taking and they do work around so so for example like this -- Now metal parts that could have gotten through metal detectors.
What weapons do we have not just military weapons and human intelligence weapons but what -- -- we have to.
-- see what they're gonna do you think ahead of the game get prepared for what's coming next.
Well to some extent we have.
We have both technical means to try to penetrate them we have human means to try to penetrate them as this operation wonderfully -- And we also you know but some of -- tape he just comes down to imagination.
In thinking out of the box.
The technical stuff only gets -- so for.
Information only gets you so far understanding what it means and what's likely to happen next.
Involve human imagination and skill.
And that is a game that goes back and forth -- there's no it doesn't finish it doesn't end you don't.
We didn't definitively.
As they try to.
Get the better of us and we try to keep them out.
I -- started when I read your -- American the vulnerable which I recommend that everybody -- a keeps you -- -- -- night.
You'll never look at -- it's just that battery life is like -- novel it reads like something out of 24.
Or you know the latest but it's true -- -- for so frightening I've tried what about the cyber threat to the United States.
You -- -- -- the fact is that you know.
This amazes people put into 1992 it was against the law to use the Internet for commercial purposes.
It was originally designed as a collaborative tool for scientists in the government in universities.
To bring together dispersed.
Brain power and focus it on subjects in the wonderful invention.
But the the really brilliant people who designed this and engineered it won't knowledge that they didn't put a security -- -- it because they didn't think was necessary.
Because it was even against the -- to use it for anything other than what it was originally intended for.
What -- -- that's only twenty years ago in terms of a culture that's the twinkling on the nine.
Even ten years ago what were you using the Internet for buying your first book on Amazon or something like that.
In the intervening.
Decade -- Virtually everything we do is no link to this porous insecure.
-- Ruble Internet.
They HE EAC the air conditioning in the building -- it runs on it the of subway switches in -- trains underneath the sidewalks in Manhattan and here in Washington.
All run on it or are exposed to it.
On our communications.
Are exposed to it so -- we not only use the Internet to create store and transmit information we also run all our operations on -- including.
You know -- traffic control Amtrak switching.
And military command and controls also exposed to it.
So we've taken this incredibly.
Mechanism this Internet.
Which is created so much productivity and so much human pleasure but also.
We music now forever -- to connect everything to -- and it's vulnerable is inherently.
Vulnerable in the way it was designed.
When I tried to show in my book and -- completely non technical way was to explain how this evolution has come about.
And why it is that we are.
Because we're so dependent on this for financial transactions and everything.
That we have become.
Terribly vulnerable and I'm I'm -- above all about the electricity grid.
Because the owners and operators of the grid.
Some of them really don't understand -- take this vulnerability.
Seriously and have been connecting.
There -- -- it there industrial control systems.
To -- is support this -- Internet.
And exposing it to public attacks -- rash.
And it's dangerous I I really lay this out and a chapter called dancing in the dark.
On we can only hope that's not going to happen but I think it's a matter of time before we we see.
Some really perhaps a successful attack against that electrical infrastructure.
Okay so there you have -- wished this show who's doing this sort of thing when you're talking about your.
Because potential hypothetical attacks against United States.
-- -- did is that coming from a country is echoing throughout -- is that coming from.
Some guy wearing Spiderman pajamas sitting in -- -- eating cold Chinese food and hacking around on the Internet.
It's not coming from al-Qaeda at this point some of these probes are coming from China summer coming from Russia.
And nobody is taking these.
-- the didn't -- that we we've not seen foreign services trying to take down our electricity grid.
But we have seen him penetrating the grid and exploring it.
And you must ask yourself why is that if not to be able to do that in a time of great stress -- war and what are we gonna protect ourselves.
Well I think you have to ice so to some extent we ought to be isolating.
On aspects of our grid to control sections of -- A very grid from the public Internet that's what I recommend.
-- there are other you know higher levels of security so our operators and owners understand this and that some really don't.
And dumb in it you know there's a bill on the hill the senate right now -- would address this would address this -- people don't want the government.
Creating technical specifications.
For an industry and I don't either.
But the idea of that the grid owners and operators are going to voluntarily.
Bob tighten up I think is there's just no proof that that's likely I'm regret to say that everybody depends on that created.
Right and so what you're saying man is you don't necessarily want the government to do it.
Because -- it gives the government the ability they're really sniff around and everybody's information but on the other hand an individual.
Organization company bank is are they necessarily able to do the protection themselves or is -- -- medium there.
Yeah I think there is -- did -- there are a number of -- of the industries that.
Where we create our standards in which the industry itself has -- a really powerful voice as to what they should be.
And you know sometimes those standards aren't tough enough as a result -- often they're pretty good and having that kind of regime.
-- like we have with the federal.
It putting that the federal it energy regulatory commission giving it some teeth in that regard couldn't -- -- quite well.
You just don't let the industry have the final say about it but you let the industry developed the standards -- -- and there's no reason why we can't do that.
Well we better because as you point out we are America the vulnerable but in talking to Jill Brenner who is their former head of counterintelligence for the United States.
A man who really does know -- remarking about that doesn't do much talking usually about those things thank you so much for joining us off.
You're welcome -- to be with you thank him.