Op-Ed Originally Published in The Hill on April 26, 2012
As the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism, Iran has successfully attacked U.S. interests for three decades, most notably in Beirut in 1983 and at Khobar Towers in 1996, when it killed a combined 260 of our servicemen. It seems willing to do anything to accomplish its goal of securing a nuclear weapon. Last fall, it was revealed that the Iranian government had sponsored a terrorist attack to assassinate the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States in Washington, D.C. This brazen attack, and the growing, unconventional and enterprising Iranian threat, should surprise no one.
Today, we face the latest threat from an emboldened Iran: a cyber attack. While most grasp the cyber threat posed by China and Russia, few are aware that Iran has increased its cyber capabilities, as evidenced by a recent $1 billion investment in new technology.
Our nation’s senior intelligence officials and technology executives have acknowledged the cyber threat posed by Iran. According to the director of National Intelligence, Gen. James Clapper, “Iran’s intelligence operations against the United States, including cyber capabilities, have dramatically increased in recent years in depth and complexity.” Speaking about the general cyber threat, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III forewarned, “…the cyber threat…will be the number one threat to country.” There is every reason to suspect an Iranian cyber attack on the United States could expand from our security and intelligence infrastructure to the personal and financial security of American citizens. In fact, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt recently cautioned, the “Iranians are unusually talented in cyber warfare for reasons we don’t fully understand.”
If Iran is willing to blow up a Washington restaurant and kill innocent Americans, we would be naïve to think Iran would never conduct a cyber attack against the U.S. Homeland. As tensions continue to rise with the West over Iran’s illicit nuclear program, the risk of an Iranian miscalculation also increases. In the event of a U.S. or Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, former Director of the National Counterterrorism Center Michael Leiter assessed that a cyber attack conducted by Tehran against the U.S. would be “reasonably likely.”
Knowing that it cannot compete with the United States military conventionally, Iran has spent the last three decades mastering the use of asymmetric warfare. As technology has advanced, Iran has also taken advantage and placed cyber capabilities into its asymmetric warfare arsenal. This isn’t an academic question. Recently, Iran has tested its cyber attack capabilities on Voice of America, the British Broadcasting Corporation, and a major Israeli financial institution. It is expanding its cyber reach in a very public way. The Iranians feel they “owe us one” because of perceived U.S. involvement in the Stuxnet attack against nuclear facilities throughout Iran.
Given our dependence on computer networks and the increasingly integrated nature of technology for everyday living, we must take the cyber threat from Iran seriously. That is why I partnered with Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection, and Security Technologies to convene a hearing on this important issue. Our goal is to start a public discussion about Iran’s increasing cyber threat to ensure the U.S. government and private industry are aware and take appropriate steps to mitigate the Iranian cyber threat. We underestimate it at our peril.
Rep. Meehan (R-Pa.) is Chairman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence.
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