Former DHS Official Warns of Potential Cyber Attacks on US in Retaliation for Syria

By Melanie Arter | September 11, 2013 | 3:44 PM EDT

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.)

( - Former assistant secretary for policy at the Department of Homeland Security, Stewart Baker, told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Wednesday that the U.S. could be at increased risk of cyber attack if it intervenes militarily in Syria.

“We need to be worried about defensive capabilities, and for the first time, we face the risk that we will have a cyber attack aimed at getting us to quit engaging in military action,” Baker said at a hearing titled, “The Department of Homeland Security at 10 Years: Examining Challenges and Achievements and Addressing Emerging Threats.”

Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) asked the witnesses at the hearing – which included Baker, former DHS Secretary Tom Ridge, and retired Adm. Thad Allen, former commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, what DHS must do to prepare for any “potential consequences” from military intervention in Syria.

“If the president does choose to take limited military action against the Assad regime, what impact do you think that might have on homeland security?” Carper asked. “What should DHS be doing to prepare for some potential consequences that would flow from U.S. action – even limited basis – against Syria?”

“We absolutely need to prepare here,” Baker said. “By taking on Syria, we are also taking on Hezbollah and Iran, the backers of that regime, and if they choose to try to make the United States regret the sanctions it imposes, they have very substantial capabilities.

“Hezbollah has its own cruise missiles, and so a terrorist organization with that kind of capability certainly can develop and use cyber attacks or can send people to the United States to carry out attacks, so we would have to go on a pretty substantial alert basis,” he said.  

“They’d be biting off a lot. They’re already on alert against Israel and fighting in Syria themselves, so they may decide that’s not prudent to attack, but hope’s not a strategy for us,” Baker added.

“Iran is widely blamed for a series of attacks on our financial institutions that have been visibly punch-pulling exercises in which the attackers announced how long the attack will last and what day it will happen. And obviously they could do more and cause more damage,” Baker said.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said Iran has stepped up cyber attacks on the U.S. because of tightening economic sanctions, the Washington Free Beacon reported on July 22.

“We will have to up our game both physically and virtually,” Baker said.