First look inside the military's cyber war room

The Pentagon has confirmed that some of the nation's closely guarded secrets have been looted wholesale by spies who managed to break into government computers.

Plans for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, secret information about American satellites, and plans for a new fighter plane are gone, vacuumed up in computer hacking apparently by hostile governments.

The confirmation came today in a speech in Washington by Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn. "To date, malicious cyber activity has been directed at nearly every sector of our infrastructure and economy," he said.

CBS News national security correspondent David Martin got the first television camera ever into the Pentagon's Command Center that defends against computer attacks.

FORT MEADE, Md. - The Joint Strike Fighter is the Pentagon's high-priced ticket to air superiority for the 21st century. Except four months ago the designs for that and other sophisticated weapons were stolen from defense industry computers by hackers - 24,000 files in all.

"Designs of satellites, UAV's - the unmanned aerial vehicles - cutting-edge military technology," were stolen Lynn said.

"Is somebody out there robbing us blind?" Martin asked.

"There are lots of people out there taking a lot of information," Lynn replied.

Read the full Defense Department strategy (pdf)
ZDNet's Larry Dignan on the security breach

Lynn told CBS News the U.S. is still not sure who stole the data, although the most likely suspects are China and Russia. But Lynn is sure there is a mismatch between America's dependence on the technology of cyberspace.

"It drives our navigation. It drives our targeting. It drives our communications," Lynn said.

And its ability to defend against cyberattacks.

"The attackers are ahead of the defenders in cyberspace," Lynn said. "The technology for intrusions is far ahead of the technology for defenses and we need to catch up."

"How often are there attacks on the Pentagon's networks," Martin asked.

"There are attempted intrusions thousands of times a day," Lynn replied.

These intrusions are not pranks but espionage conducted by foreign intelligence agencies. Cyber spies could be lurking undetected inside one or more of the Defense Department's 15,000 computer networks.

"They're in and we don't know it?" Martin asked.

"It's entirely possible," Lynn replied. "Three years ago we found that someone had gotten into our classified network and we didn't think that was possible because it's completely separate from the Internet."

A foreign intelligence agency, Lynn won't say which one, penetrated a classified computer network used by the U.S. Central Command which runs the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"How long were they in?" Martin asked.

"It was probably a matter of months," Lynn replied.

"They were in a matter of months undetected?"

"Yes."

"That must have been a wake up call."

"That was a wake up call," Lynn said. "It led us to the creation of the Cyber Command to try and organize our defenses. This can't be a pick up game."

More about Cyber Command

Cyber Command is located inside the headquarters of the top secret National Security Agency. CBS News got an exclusive look at the new command's operations center.

There's a war going on out in cyberspace and this is its nerve center. Cyberspace is now just like air, land and sea -- one more theater in which the U.S. military has to fight.

"There's been very few weapons, probably no weapons in the history of warfare that have been developed and not used," Lynn said.

Right now only states like China and Russia have the capability to launch a cyberattack that could take down this country's power grid or banking system. But once a rogue state or terrorist group with no stake in the world economy gets it, the U.S. will be facing the threat of an attack from cyberspace by a weapon of mass disruption.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.

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