The government must continue to invest in cutting-edge cybersecurity capability that can defend the nation in what will be the “battlefield of the future,” former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said.
Panetta gave the opening keynote Tuesday at the 2014 Symantec Government Symposium at the Renaissance Hotel in Washington, D.C., where he urged current political leaders to put aside differences to give the Defense Department the budget stability it needs to be successful.
“I get the sense that people have somehow given up,” Panetta said to a standing-room only crowd of 2,100 registered attendees. “There is a feeling that we should wait for the next election. Put things off. Now is not the time to do that. We have to keep fighting. Just keep doing what you’re doing and people will wake up.”
Panetta, the secretary of defense from 2011 to 2013 who previously served as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, said the world is at a dangerous place with conditions similar to those that preceded World War I more than 100 years ago with strong nationalism, territorial claims, superpower animosity and deep alliances. All that’s missing is a flashpoint.
Panetta said the nation’s leaders have two choices: govern by leadership or govern by crisis. He said it’s easy to choose the latter, waiting for an issue to arise and letting that dictate the nation’s future, but that causes distrust among the American people.
“Instead, we need to government with leadership,” Panetta said. “We need to make the decisions that may upset some, but are ultimately in the best interest of the country to give us the future that everyone wants. Dreams are just dreams unless you are willing to roll up your sleeves and work at it.”
As for the cyber-domain, Panetta thanked the efforts of DOD, the government as a whole and the private sector for providing the nation with “the security to follow its dreams.”
He said those efforts need to further develop and improve as he continues to worry about a “cyber Pearl Harbor,” which he said could have a more devastating effect than Hurricane Sandy that crippled the critical infrastructure of the Northeast for weeks.
“Governing is hard, because you have to work with people you don’t like,” Panetta said frankly. “I’ve seen Washington at its best when the political leaders put aside minor issues and worked together for the greater good. We need to get back to that point where there is conversation, progress and compromise.”