The former U.S. director of intelligence says the country is fighting a cyber-war and losing, and wonders if it will take a “cyber Pearl Harbor” to take the steps needed to protect crucial computer systems.
Mike McConnell, now vice chairman of contractor Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp., told a Bloomberg Government cybersecurity conference today that he has been giving the same speech for 20 years and still not enough has been done.
“We’ll get it right, but it will be messy,” McConnell said. “We have the capability. We do not have the legal framework and we do not have the will.”
Efforts to get businesses to agree to voluntary steps have failed because companies are concerned they could be subject to lawsuits demanding that those rules become permanent, McConnell said.
In addition, privacy advocates want to limit the amount of information the government can collect, he said.
“We can do amazing things,” McConnell said, “The problem is we have to solve the privacy issue. The debate will be privacy versus security.”
Booz Allen employed Edward Snowden as a contractor to the National Security Agency. Snowden leaked top-secret NSA documents about electronic surveillance. Snowden was fired after reports based on the documents appeared in newspapers, and he has been indicted on federal charges of espionage and theft.
“He did a great disservice to this country,” McConnell said. “The sources and methods that he compromised, it is a playbook for those who we would consider adversaries.”
Asked by Bloomberg’s Peter Cook what he would tell Snowden if he saw him, McConnell replied, “Call a lawyer.”