Richard Clarke, who was the United States’ first special adviser to the president for cyber-security during the Bush administration, believes that cyber-war is a very real threat to the United States. He fears, however that an aversion to government regulation is standing in the way of protecting vital systems.
“Regulation is a dirty word,” Clarke told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Wednesday. “Industries resist. … The government cannot defend cyberspace under existing law.”
Clarke feels that more surveillance of the internet is necessary, but he also believe that telephone companies and internet service providers, rather than the government, need to be the ones filtering for code which indicates attack software. “I’m not going to be the guy who says, ‘Trust the government,'” he emphasized.
The United States currently has no national policy to defend critical systems, even in the wake of a relatively limited North Korean cyber-attack which targeted American financial institutions last July.
“It goes back to ideology and it goes back to the dislike in Washington to regulation,” Clarke said of the current lack of policy. “Regulation in Washington is a dirty word — but if we don’t have some targeted regulation, we’re not going to be able to defend ourselves against North Korea or Iran. If we do sanctions on Iran over their nuclear program and they choose to retaliate by a cyber-attack and we’re defenseless — the day after, people are going to wake up and say, ‘Why couldn’t we defend ourselves?'”
Clarke, who has a new book out on the subject, also blames government indifference for America’s vulnerability. “We better defend ourselves,” he stated, “and we’re not doing that. Unfortunately, the Obama administration’s attitude is ‘we’ll defend the government — the rest of you are on your own.'”
The US military has advanced cyber-warfare capacities, but as Clarke pointed out, “It’s trying to protect the Pentagon. … It doesn’t have the authority and it doesn’t have the capability to defend you and me, to defend the banking system, to defend the power grid, trains, pipelines. No one’s doing that.”
Clarke believes that increased surveillance is the answer, but he made it clear that he is not talking about spying on people’s private communications. “What you do is you look for patterns of ones and zeros that are known to be attack software,” he told Maddow. “And you’re not reading people’s emails. But even then, I don’t want the government doing it.”
“It would be a terrible idea,” Clarke continued, “but one simple way to defend would be to have the government filtering, watching what’s going on on the internet. You know, after the Bush administration warrantless wiretapping with NSA, I don’t think it’s a very good idea. I’m not going to be the guy who says, ‘Trust the government.'”
Instead, Clarke sees the government’s role as one “of doing it by making the telephone companies, making the internet service providers, filter what’s going on on their networks.”
Clarke concluded by brushing aside the possibility that small terrorist organizations or lone wolves could effectively launch massive cyber-attacks. “This is about nation-states,” he insisted, “and that’s, in fact, good news, because if we get our act together, we can move from talking about cyber-war to talking about cyber-peace.
This video is from MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show, broadcast April 21, 2010.