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CIA chief Leon Panetta: The next Pearl Harbor could be a cyberattack

Leon Panetta, at a confirmation hearing for the post of Defense secretary, says the US will need to take 'both defensive ... as well as aggressive measures' to deal with the threat of cyberattack.

By Anna MulrineStaff writer / June 9, 2011

Defense Secretary nominee, CIA Director Leon Panetta, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Thursday, June 9, before the Senate Armed Service Committee hearing on his nomination.

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

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Washington

The next great battle America faces is likely to involve cyberwarfare, Leon Panetta, the Central Intelligence Agency director, warned senators Thursday, predicting that “the next Pearl Harbor that we confront could very well be a cyberattack that cripples" America’s electrical grid and its security and financial systems.

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“It’s going to take both defensive measures as well as aggressive measures to deal with that,” said Mr. Panetta, who was appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee in a confirmation hearing for the post of secretary of defense.

Panetta, a consummate Washington insider, is expected to be confirmed easily as the successor to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, but that did not stop him from receiving a tough – if cordial – grilling from lawmakers Thursday.

His former colleagues – Panetta served in Congress from 1977 to 1993 – pressed him for specifics on US troop withdrawals in Afghanistan. These were specifics Panetta politely declined to provide, saying that any decision on precise troop levels was up to President Obama, though he did allow that he backs Mr. Obama’s plan for a “significant” drawdown starting next month.

In the wide-ranging confirmation hearing, Panetta also warned the Armed Services Committee of the ongoing dangers posed by a sizable contingent of Al Qaeda in Iraq, of the risks of indiscriminate Pentagon budget cuts, and of the consequences of a failure to oust Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.

“This is a time of historic change,” Panetta said. “We are no longer in the Cold War. This is the Blizzard War – a blizzard of challenges that draws on speed and intensity from rapidly developing technologies and the rising number of powers on the world stage.”

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