Defense Secretary Panetta concerned with threats of cyber terrorism, debt and budget cuts

03/01/2012 08:43 PM

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told a crowd in Louisville Thursday that the new threats of cyber terrorism keep him awake at night and that’s one of the reasons why the country can’t afford to dramatically cut military spending.

Panetta, speaking to more than 1,000 people as part of the McConnell Lecture Series at the University of Louisville, said a well-executed cyber attack can “virtually cripple this nation.”

Defense officials don’t yet fully understand how vulnerable the nation’s energy and financial infrastructure can be and are still developing ways to block – and even anticipate – attacks on those networks.

But that becomes exponentially more difficult if Congress further scales back defense resources.

He started his speech with a joking comparison to UofL Basketball Coach Rick Pitino – that both of them believe a strong defense is key to winning.

Panetta, who served as budget director for President Bill Clinton, already has been working to cut more than $480 billion out of the military budget for the next 10 years. And thanks to a provision in a bill to raise the nation’s debt limit last year, the department could be in line for a half-a-trillion dollars more in cuts.

Panetta urged Congress to undo that, although he said he understood the threat the nation’s long-term financial problems cause.

Answering an audience question about the effect of the Arab Spring, Panetta said the effect of the new emerging democracies in Tunisia, Egypt as well as Iraq and Afghanistan, is “an isolated Iran.”

And one UofL student asked Panetta about the effects of climate change on American defense, while also using the question to take a jab at Panetta’s host, Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell over the issue.

- Video by Chris Davidson


Subscribe to email updates.

Subscribe and get the latest political intelligence delivered to your inbox.