Sen. Collins warns of cyber warfare, growing debt in Camden speech
Camden — Cyber espionage and computer hacking against the United States are threats to national security and the economy, said U.S. Sen. Susan Collins in her Sept. 4 speech to the Camden Rotary Club.
Perpetrators of these attacks were identified as unfriendly nation-states, terrorist organizations and transnational criminal gangs, the Republican senator said, according to a transcript of the speech. She specifically named Russia, China and Iran as aggressors.
Through hacking, it's estimated by Gen. Keith Alexander, head of the National Security Agency and Cyber Command, that U.S. companies lose billions of dollars each year through cyber thefts of intellectual property, cyber crime and downtime caused by thefts.
Collins said cyber criminals stole more money than Apple Computer earned in annual sales last year.
These cyber attacks resulted in the "greatest transfer of wealth in history," Collins said, citing Gen. Alexander.
She said experts have warned that computer systems that run American infrastructure — the electric grid, pipelines, water systems, financial networks and transportation systems — are vulnerable to attack.
Collins said hackers have infiltrated Citigroup, the International Monetary Fund and the Gmail accounts of high-ranking U.S. officials.
She cited a case last December when several natural gas pipeline companies reported successful and attempted intrusions on their computer systems targeting industrial control systems.
"Are the operators of our critical national assets prepared for a sophisticated cyber attack?" she said.
Collins added that 40 percent of those surveyed in 2011 about cyber attacks targeting infrastructure said they were not utilizing basic measures to protect their systems.
Collins, a member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, re-introduced a bill in July with four co-sponsors to address cyber attacks. The bill fell short of receiving the 60 votes needed to end debate before Congress' August recess.
"Given the significant damage already done to our economy and our security and our clear vulnerability to even worse attacks, this failure to act is yet another example of the Senate's gridlock," she said.
She added that the warnings are loud and clear and must be heeded.
Collins also warned her Midcoast constituents about the growing national debt, totaling $16 trillion.
She said the failure of the Supercommittee to forge a deficit reduction deal last fall will result in automatic budget cuts beginning in January. Military spending accounts for 20 percent of the federal budget, but would bear half of these cuts, she said.
Collins said these cuts would cause harm to America's safety by potentially cutting 100,000 Army soldiers and 18,000 Marines.
The defense industry employs approximately 8,500 Mainers. "Imagine what these deep cuts would do to families and communities throughout the state," she said.
Other programs would also be affected, such as education funding and biomedical research, she said. She urged Congress and the White House to address threats to programs rationally and without political rhetoric.
The tax system also hinders the nation's ability to compete since the U.S. has the highest corporate tax rate in the world, Collins said. "The goal of reform should be a simpler, fairer, pro-growth tax system to encourage economic growth," she said.
Collins said Congress will not tackle these issues "in a constructive way" until after the election. "They are not going away and we must confront their reality," she said.
Courier Publications reporter Juliette Laaka can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 118 or via email at JLaaka@courierpublicationsllc.com.