recommended reading

Defense Leaders Say Cyber is Top Terror Threat

National Security Agency Director Gen. Keith Alexander

National Security Agency Director Gen. Keith Alexander // Susan Walsh/AP

Defense officials see cyberattacks as the greatest threat to U.S. national security, according to a survey released Monday.

Forty-five percent of respondents to the Defense News Leadership Poll named a cyberattack as the single greatest threat—nearly 20 percentage points above terrorism, which ranked second.

The Defense News Leadership Poll, underwritten by United Technologies, surveyed 352 Defense News subscribers, based on job seniority, between Nov. 14 and Nov. 28, 2013. The poll targeted senior employees within the White House, Pentagon, Congress, and the defense industry.

"The magnitude of the cyber problem, combined with declining budgets, will challenge the nation for years to come," said Vago Muradian, the editor of Defense News.

It's not the first time cyber has ranked at or near the top of a list of security concerns. Seventy percent of Americans called a cyberattack from another country a major threat in a Pew Research Center survey released last month.

Defense Department officials, for their part, have warned about the increasing threat. FBI Director James Comey, Rand Beers, the then-acting secretary for the Homeland Security Department, and Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency, each voiced their concerns before Congress last year.

And House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., called it the "largest national security threat to the face the U.S. that we are not even close to being prepared to handle as a country."

Meanwhile, more than half of poll respondents said U.S. Cyber Command and the NSA should have separate leaders, but the Obama administration ruled out such a move last month. Alexander, who is expected to retire later this year, has overseen both agencies since 2010.

Alexander and the NSA have been under near constant criticism since June, when media outlets began to publicly disclose U.S. intelligence-gathering programs, largely using documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

But more than 47 percent of poll respondents said Snowden's disclosures have helped the debate on what limits should be placed on U.S. surveillance, compared with approximately 44 percent that said he has hurt the debate.

The poll also touched on the fiscal challenges faced by the Defense Department. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said last month that the Pentagon still has to reexamine its priorities despite the help provided by the recent budget agreement.

Almost 60 percent of respondents said as the department faces a smaller budget, the Army's budget should be cut. The Air Force had the second-highest number of respondents calling for its budget to be cut, at nearly 34 percent. But roughly three-fourths of respondents said the Army's budget will be cut as the Pentagon faces a tighter budget.

Gen. Raymond Odierno, the Army's chief of staff, told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee last year that further cuts would dramatically impact the force, including readiness and equipment modernization. But with the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan being scaled back, the Army is viewed as the armed service branch that is most likely to face steeper budget cuts. 

Threatwatch Alert

Thousands of cyber attacks occur each day

See the latest threats


Close [ x ] More from Nextgov

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Modernizing IT for Mission Success

    Surveying Federal and Defense Leaders on Priorities and Challenges at the Tactical Edge

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • Effective Ransomware Response

    This whitepaper provides an overview and understanding of ransomware and how to successfully combat it.

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.