The former director of national intelligence says the full cyber capabilities of various US agencies are somewhat curtailed by current legislation.
According to Mike McConnell, the Federal government boasts “unique capabilities” that can help protect American companies from cyber espionage and attack.
However, McConnell emphasized that such capabilities – both defensive and offensive – will probably only be fully activated after a major crisis prompts politicians to alter existing laws.
Indeed, intelligence agencies like the National Security Agency (NSA) operate abroad, but are typically restricted (to a certain extent) from doing the same within the United States.
“Until we have a banking collapse or electric power goes off in the middle of a snowstorm for eight weeks, or something of that magnitude, we’re likely just to talk about it and not do much,” McConnell told Reuters.
“There are unique things that the government can do. For example, code-breaking. The private sector out there does not do code-breaking. [So] how would you harness that capability and then make it available to the private sector in a way that their infrastructure could be better protected?”
McConnell also confirmed that the National Security Agency conducts electronic eavesdropping to detect foreign threats, but could not act against a cyber threat against the US private sector.
“NSA is powerless to do a thing other than issue a report… [But] do we have the ability to attack, degrade or destroy? Sure. If you do that, what are the consequences? That is the question.
“[Obviously], there will be a thousand voices on what is the right thing to do and it will probably require a crisis to reach consensus… All I’m arguing is the government has unique capability, figure out a way to harness the capability in the defense of the nation,” he added.