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Leon Panetta vows retaliation for cyberattack

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- A pointed warning from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that the U.S. military will strike back against a cyberattack underscores the Obama administration's growing concern that Iran could be the first country to unleash cyberterrorism on America.

Panetta's unusually strong comments Thursday came as former U.S. government officials and cybersecurity experts said the United States believes Iran-based hackers were to blame for cyberattacks over the summer that devastated computer systems of Persian Gulf oil and gas companies.

Unencumbered by diplomatic or economic ties that restrain other nations from direct conflict with the United States, Iran is an unpredictable foe that national security experts contend is not only capable but willing to use a sophisticated computer-based attack.

Panetta made it clear that the military is ready to retaliate -- though he didn't say how -- if it believes the nation is threatened by a cyberattack, and he made it evident that the United States would consider a pre-emptive strike.

"Iran is a country for whom terror has simply been another tool in their foreign policy toolbox, and they are a country that feels it has less and less to lose by breaking the norms of the rest of the world," said Stewart Baker, former assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security.

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