Al Qaeda will enter the cyber world, warns former CIA terrorism chief

Former CIA counterterrorism head Cofer Black predicts that cyberspace is the new battleground

LAS VEGAS—Cyberspace is the new front in the war on terror, Cofer Black, the former head of the CIA Counterterrorism Center, said Aug. 3 at the Black Hat Briefings.

Black, a 28-year CIA veteran who was counterterrorism chief in 2001, said in an address to 6,000 attendees at the cybersecurity conference that the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 marked a shift in terrorism from state-sponsored threats to one of political and religious extremism. The threat landscape has again shifted, he said.

“It’s your turn now,” Black said. Al Qaeda “will enter the cyber world.”

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Stuxnet, the first cyberattack to bridge the cyber and kinetic worlds, was the marker for that shift, he said. “The Stuxnet worm is the Rubicon of our future,” he said. “This is huge.”

Black said he had predicted in August of 2001 that a major attack would occur on American soil and recommended that the United States go on a war footing. But at that time the terrorism focus was on nation states, not on bin Laden or al Qaeda.

“There was a lack of appreciation” of the changing landscape in the incoming Bush administration in 2001, he said. “Men’s minds have difficulty adapting to things with which they have no experience.”

But the intelligence developed in the late 1990s and in 2000 pointed to the new paradigm, he said. “Neither myself nor my people in the Counterterrorism Center were surprised at all,” by the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. “Our people were psychologically prepared."

The United States adapted quickly to the new reality of 2001, but decision-makers today have not yet accepted the new threats, Black warned. “It is fraught with danger.”

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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