Panetta: Cyber warfare could paralyze U.S.

CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley speaks with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta about the threat of cyber warfare to the U.S.

Back in 2010, the Pentagon established cyber command to wage war and defend America's computer systems. It's a top priority for Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. In an interview for "60 Minutes," CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley spoke with Panetta while he was touring the Middle East last month, flying in a command post that's rigged to conduct nuclear war if need be. The Secretary told CBS News cyber war is one of his biggest worries.

Panetta: The reality is that there is the cyber capability to basically bring down our power grid to create ... to paralyze our financial system in this country to virtually paralyze our country. And I think we have to be prepared not only to defend against that kind of attack but if necessary we are going to have to be prepared to be able to be aggressive when it comes to cyber efforts as well. We've got to develop the technology, the capability, we've got to be able to defend this country.

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Pelley: Is it fair to characterize your cyber command as currently engaged in battle every day?

Panetta: That's one of the interesting questions. What constitutes an act of war when it comes to cyber warfare? Countries use cyber as a way to exploit information. I think the Chinese use it as a way to gain information in the business arena. But if a cyber effort were made that, in fact, crippled this country or paralyzed this country or hit a major grid system then you have to ask the question does this constitute an act of war?

Secretary Panetta is Bob Schieffer's guest this Sunday on "Face the Nation."

  • Scott Pelley

    Correspondent, "60 Minutes"