Several GOP presidential candidates rushed in the last minutes of Tuesday evening’s CNN-sponsored national security debate to address an issue not otherwise mentioned: cybersecurity.
During closing remarks Texas Governor Rick Perry, Herman Cain and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich rounded out the evening — which largely focused on Iran, Pakistan and the Patriot Act — by telling debate watchers that they believed cyber attacks were an emerging threat.
CNN moderator Wolf Blitzer, and audience questioners, steered clear of the issue of cybersecurity during the evening. In response to conservative columnist Marc Theissen’ question about which foreign policy or national security issue the candidates felt was important but not spotlighted, both Cain and Gingrich mentioned cyberattacks as a primary concern.
Cain told viewers that he believed cyberattacks were an “emerging issue.”
Gingrich echoed Cain’s concerns, mentioning that weapons of mass destruction, cyberattacks and electromagnetic pulse attacks were all outside of the United States’ current ability to defend itself.
Fox News pundit Dick Morris tweeted, “Great answer by Cain on cyberattacks. Newt is also right on elctromagnetic pulse attack.”
Perry told viewers that he believed that China was on the ash heap of history, and mentioned the cybersecurity activities of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) — the Chinese army. His press shop quickly sent out a statement that said Perry “believes cyberattacks are an emerging threat, and as president, he will view them as seriously as a physical attack.”
“Rick Perry believes cyber attacks are an emerging threat, and as president, he will view them as seriously as a physical attack,” said the statement. “Cyberattacks could target our military, important utilities, and the countless computer systems upon which our economy depends.”
“The Obama administration has failed to implement a coherent approach to cybersecurity, and the existing and pending defense cuts threaten any future capability,” said Perry’s statement.
This past summer Defense Department officials said that cyber attacks would be viewed as an act of war. In July, the Pentagon released its first ever coherent cyber strategy as part of a larger effort by the Obama administration to take cyber threats more seriously.
The Obama administration, some cyber analysts contend, has bolstered America’s ability to address cyber threats more than previous administrations: from coordination with NATO, the creation of USCYBERCOM, and DHS and DOJ attempts to deal with organized crime and online threats from Russia and China.
James Jay Carafano, director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation, wrote an article in preparation for the debate, however, that stated the U.S. could be doing more.
“Certainly it’s a security challenge that requires presidential leadership,” wrote Carafano. “Currently, at least 18 major cyber bills are pending in Congress. Lawmakers are less of one mind on cyber than they are on how to balance the budget. America needs savvy cyber-strategic leaders.”