Panetta: Intelligence Community Needs to Predict Uprisings

WASHINGTON, Feb. 11, 2011 — The intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty has to do a bet­ter job col­lect­ing infor­ma­tion that will pre­dict upris­ings like those going on in Egypt, while also treat­ing cyber­se­cu­ri­ty as the next bat­tle­field, CIA Direc­tor Leon E. Panet­ta told a con­gres­sion­al com­mit­tee yes­ter­day.

The CIA filed near­ly 400 reports last year describ­ing the poten­tial for dis­rup­tion in the Mid­dle East, but needs bet­ter col­lec­tion “when it comes to trig­gers that ignite these con­di­tions and cause the events that we’ve seen take place,” Panet­ta told the House Intel­li­gence Committee. 

Regres­sive polit­i­cal regimes, eco­nom­ic insta­bil­i­ty or stag­na­tion, and lack of free­doms are com­mon prob­lems in the Mid­dle East, and civ­il upris­ing becomes more like­ly as cit­i­zens expe­ri­ence unmet expec­ta­tions, young peo­ple can’t get jobs, and the Inter­net allows for demon­stra­tions to be orga­nized quick­ly, Panet­ta said. “That’s some­thing we need to pay a lot more atten­tion to in today’s world,” he added. 

Panet­ta said he has estab­lished a 35-mem­ber task force to focus specif­i­cal­ly on the types of trig­ger points that led to unrest in Egypt and could hap­pen in sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tions to be ready for prob­lems when they occur. 

“Peo­ple can tell you where the tremors are, they can tell you where the fault lines are, they can tell you what the past is, they can even tell you that the threat of some­thing hap­pen­ing is close,” he said. “But they can’t tell you exact­ly when an earth­quake is going to take place. Those are the kinds of things that are obvi­ous­ly very tough for intel­li­gence to pre­dict. But I think our job is to col­lect as much as we can to know those triggers.” 

about the CIA direc­tor called threats to the nation’s com­put­er sys­tems “a real nation­al secu­ri­ty threat that we have to pay atten­tion to.” 

“I’ve often said that I think the poten­tial for the next Pearl Har­bor could very well be a cyber attack,” he said. “If you have a cyber attack that brings down our pow­er grid sys­tem, brings down our finan­cial sys­tem, brings down our gov­ern­ment sys­tems, you could par­a­lyze this coun­try. And I think that’s a real potential.” 

U.S. agen­cies still need to devel­op not only defens­es to such an attack, but also a warn­ing sys­tem for trou­ble, Panet­ta said, not­ing that coun­tries such as Rus­sia, Chi­na and Iran are devel­op­ing capac­i­ty in those areas. 

“We’re now the sub­ject of lit­er­al­ly hun­dreds of thou­sands of attacks that come in [on U.S. com­put­er sys­tems] in an effort to try to get infor­ma­tion,” he said. 

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

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