Panetta Discusses Security Challenges in Stratcom Visit

WASHINGTON, Aug. 5, 2011 — Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta today spoke to ser­vice mem­bers about nation­al secu­ri­ty con­cerns and the defense bud­get dur­ing a vis­it to U.S. Strate­gic Com­mand head­quar­ters at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb.

Air Force Gen. C. Robert Kehler, commander of U.S. Strategic Command
Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta walks with Air Force Gen. C. Robert Kehler, com­man­der of U.S. Strate­gic Com­mand, dur­ing an Aug. 5, 2011, vis­it to Strat­com head­quar­ters at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb.
U.S. Strate­gic Com­mand pho­to
Click to enlarge

“It’s a chal­leng­ing time for the Unit­ed States,” Panet­ta said. “But with regard to our mis­sions, they real­ly do relate to mak­ing sure that we secure this coun­try for our chil­dren. We’ve got a num­ber of chal­lenges and threats that are out there that we are respon­si­ble for con­fronting.”

The defense sec­re­tary talked to the troops about progress made since the Sept. 11, 2001, ter­ror­ist attacks on the Unit­ed States.

“We have con­front­ed ter­ror­ists since 9/11, and even before that,” he said. “Since 9/11, we’ve been going after al-Qai­da. And we have made progress in weak­en­ing al-Qai­da.”

U.S. forces have con­duct­ed oper­a­tions against the ter­ror orga­ni­za­tion in Pak­istan, Afghanistan and oth­er parts of the world, Panet­ta said. “But in par­tic­u­lar,” he added, “we have seri­ous­ly weak­ened the abil­i­ty of al-Qai­da to plan attacks on this coun­try.”

Panet­ta said the most sig­nif­i­cant achieve­ment thus far in the fight against ter­ror­ism was find­ing al-Qai­da leader Osama bin Laden.

“That was, for me, prob­a­bly one of the proud­est moments I’ve had, with the abil­i­ty to get the intel­li­gence on where we thought he might be locat­ed, but then to work with the mil­i­tary to devel­op the plans to actu­al­ly go after him,” said Panet­ta, who was CIA direc­tor when bin Laden was killed in Pak­istan. “This was real­ly a tremen­dous exam­ple of the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty and the mil­i­tary com­mu­ni­ty work­ing as a team to accom­plish a very impor­tant mis­sion: to try to rid the world of this crim­i­nal. And we were suc­cess­ful at that.”

That helped to con­tin­ue the effort to weak­en al-Qai­da, he added. “[But it] doesn’t mean that they’re gone,” he said. “They’re still around, and there are ele­ments of al-Qai­da that are still out there whose main pur­pose is to attack our home­land.”

The defense sec­re­tary empha­sized keep­ing pres­sure on the ter­ror­ist net­work no mat­ter where they hide.

“We’ve got to con­tin­ue to put pres­sure on them in Pak­istan. … The biggest con­cerns we have now are the nodes where they’re locat­ed in places like Yemen, Soma­lia, North Africa,” he said. “We’ve got to con­tin­ue to put pres­sure on them, and we will do that. We will do that because our goal is to make sure that some­day we can secure the world from the threat of that type of al-Qai­da ter­ror.”

Panet­ta also dis­cussed oth­er issues he said could affect U.S. secu­ri­ty inter­ests.

“We’re con­fronting the prob­lem of rogue nations today – nations like North Korea [and] Iran, who con­tin­ue to seek a nuclear capa­bil­i­ty,” he said. “And because they are rogue nations, they remain dan­ger­ous in terms of the threat to the rest of the world. So we have to con­tin­ue to focus on that threat as well.”

Panet­ta remind­ed troops that attacks are not just lim­it­ed to places and peo­ple, but also can be mount­ed against crit­i­cal infra­struc­ture.

“We have to con­tin­ue to focus on the threat of cyber attacks,” the sec­re­tary said. “We’re now in a very dif­fer­ent world, where we could face a cyber attack that could be the equiv­a­lent of Pearl Har­bor. Some­one using cyber can take down our pow­er grid sys­tem, our finan­cial sys­tems in this coun­try, our gov­ern­ment sys­tems [and] our bank­ing sys­tems.

“They could vir­tu­al­ly par­a­lyze this coun­try,” he con­tin­ued. “We have to be pre­pared to deal with that. We have to have both a good offense and a good defense with regards to the cyber world.”

Panet­ta not­ed that Strat­com mem­bers work to improve U.S. abil­i­ties to con­front cyber attacks, and he reaf­firmed his com­mit­ment to ensur­ing the U.S. mil­i­tary remains ful­ly mis­sion-capa­ble and that ser­vice mem­bers and their fam­i­lies get the sup­port they need.

“That’s very impor­tant to me,” he said, “because frankly, we can’t defend this coun­try unless we have good peo­ple that are will­ing to take on that job. And for that to hap­pen, you have to know that we are behind you 100 per­cent. So I want you to know that as you go out and fight the wars you have to fight, I will have to fight the wars that I have to fight in Wash­ing­ton to make sure that we pro­tect your back. And you have my guar­an­tee that I will do that.”

Panet­ta also touched on ongo­ing bud­get­ing strug­gles and the deficit.

“This is going to be a dif­fi­cult time, and it’s going to require some very dif­fi­cult choic­es,” he acknowl­edged, adding that the Defense Depart­ment will do its share to reduce the nation’s deficit while con­tin­u­ing to pro­tect the nation.

“Peo­ple are ques­tion­ing the polit­i­cal lead­er­ship,” Panet­ta said. “Peo­ple are ques­tion­ing the eco­nom­ic sit­u­a­tion. The last thing peo­ple should ques­tion is the abil­i­ty of the Unit­ed States to defend itself. And that’s why we have to main­tain a strong defense for this coun­try.”

The sec­re­tary thanked ser­vice mem­bers for uphold­ing the dreams that brought his par­ents to Amer­i­ca.

“I want to thank you, because your pres­ence here tells me that you are will­ing to fight for that Amer­i­can dream that my par­ents came here for: a bet­ter life for our chil­dren, and, most impor­tant­ly, for a gov­ern­ment of, by and for all peo­ple,” he said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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