Though warnings of cyber Pearl Harbor emerged as early as 1991, former defense secretary Leon Panetta is perhaps best known for promoting the idea, warning in 2012 of an impending “cyber‐Pearl Harbor that would cause physical destruction and the loss of life, an attack that would paralyze and shock the nation.” Such a grand event would be tough to miss.
Last week, Sidney Powell, a one‐time member of the president’s legal team, continued to promote her conspiracy theory that the Venezuelans, the Chinese, and “other countries” had exploited voting machines to rig the election for President‐elect Joe Biden. This fictitious “attack,” she told Fox Business host Lou Dobbs, amounted to nothing less than “cyber Pearl Harbor.” Apparently the rest of us just missed it.
Cybersecurity experts, including Christopher Krebs, the former head of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency who was fired by President Trump in November, have refuted these claims. Krebs called them “farcical” and “nonsensical.” Officials have said there was no interference with voting machines of the kind claimed by Trump supporters and that the election was “the most secure in American history.”
This week began with the news of cybersecurity breaches at a growing list of private companies and government agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security and even the Pentagon, perpetrated by APT29, the Russian SVR. Dubbed SolarWinds after the company whose software served as the vector for the intrusions, the scope of the operation and the fact that it impacted defense and intelligence agencies sparked an online debate as to whether it had constituted an “attack” on the United States. Others did not wait to learn the extent of the damage before declaring that the United States had been “hit with ‘Cyber‐Pearl Harbor.’” Senator Richard Durbin went so far as to call the hack “virtually a declaration of war.”
National Review’s Jim Geraghty implied that the United States missed the SolarWinds intrusions because it failed to take the 2015 Office of Personnel Management (OPM) breach at the hands of Chinese hackers seriously enough, focusing instead on Russian disinformation in the wake of that country’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. The OPM incident, he said, “was widely described as the ‘cyber Pearl Harbor’ and yet…most Americans didn’t notice.”