WASHINGTON — Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Tuesday assured the recent breach of more than 24 million Zappos online accounts would not be treated lightly by her department.
,” Napolitano said in between chuckles. “We have intel.”
The secretary’s comment came after former CNN homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve asked her about digital threats affecting everybody, including customers of Zappos, the footwear mega-store. Napolitano struck a more serious tone about cyber security during a panel discussion, calling it one of the issues she intends to be most watchful of in coming years.
The hour-and-a-half talk, hosted by the Aspen Institute Homeland Security Group at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, focused on how the federal agency, created in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, should assert its influence globally – an international footprint. With Meserve serving as moderator, Napolitano was joined on a panel including former CIA acting director John McLaughlin and former national security adviser Gen. James Jones.
Napolitano, homeland security’s third head in 12 years, called domestic and foreign security “inextricably intertwined” and not separate pursuits for a department that has personnel in 75 countries.
“That means that we have to look at our physical borders as our last line of defense and not as our first,” she said. “…It means that we have matured the concept of homeland security to the point that we can dissolve the dividing line between homeland and international security.”
However, the first question directed at Napolitano had little to do with these jurisdictional differences. Meserve asked the secretary how a YouTube video showing Marines urinating on what appears to be Taliban corpses could hurt the country’s international standing.
“That is the kind of thing that in the past has caused violence, and violence against the Western world, and violence against the United States,” Napolitano said of the disturbing clip.
She added her department is “monitoring very carefully what is going on” with the global reaction to the video.
The panelists repeatedly returned to cyber security as the anchoring worry in an intelligence environment where physical borders have become irrelevant against a vast World Wide Web.
Jones described cyber security as “certainly one of the giants coming down the road at us.”
McLaughlin pointed to attention given to the Zappos hacking incident as evidence that public awareness will only grow for Internet-bred threats.
On Sunday night, Zappos customers received an email alerting them that hackers had possibly accessed their account information, including the last four digits of their credit card numbers, home addresses and telephone numbers. On the company’s website that evening, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh wrote the database storing “critical credit card and payment data” was not compromised in the cyber attack.
But “the cyber Pearl Harbor we all worry about will probably happen,” McLaughlin said. “And we’ll have national commissions, and we’ll try to figure out what happened, and we’ll say, ‘Why didn’t we do it 10 years ago?’”
When asked about their top security concerns in the coming years, the speakers all ticked off cyber terrorism along with the continued threat of a debilitated but still functioning al-Qaida.
McLaughlin said the terrorist organization might be less hierarchical and organized today than it was 10 years ago. But that does not mean al-Qaida lacks the structure to forge worrisome connections with other groups, especially along the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen, he added.
“I don’t think we’re out of the woods at all yet with terrorism,” McLaughlin said. It has become “a little too fashionable” to dance on al-Qaida
’s grave, he added.
The panelists didn’t agree on everything. Napolitano and Jones split on a domestic security proposal that the latter admitted is “very controversial:” a national ID card.
Jones said technology has developed to the point that such a protective measure is not out of the question anymore.
Napolitano told Meserve she’s not likely to take on the issue politically, especially considering the wide array of department priorities that precede it.
“I think that’s not in the cards,” Napolitano said of the ID card proposal. “But there is room for a national dialogue on privacy and security.”