Sen. Angus King of Maine took to the floor of the Senate on Tuesday to urge his colleagues to develop a national cyber-defense program that could fend off a potential “catastrophic cyberattack” that could disrupt millions of lives and throw the country into chaos.

King urged his colleagues to consider the inclusion of vital cybersecurity amendments in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act.

“I want to describe a hypothetical threat: a threat that throws millions of people out of work almost overnight, causes a stock market collapse, cripples the airline industry, has people afraid to leave their homes, the state scrambling for materials to prepare and cope with the attack,” King said during his speech before members of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission.

“The attack comes in waves. Just as it seems to be receding it comes back,” King told commission members, according to a copy of his speech provided by his staff. “It’s difficult to know the sources of the attack. The country is divided; there are conspiracy theories and polarization and politicization of this awful situation. Madame President, I’m not describing the pandemic. That’s what we’ve experienced. I’m describing a potential catastrophic cyberattack on this country.”

King, who serves as co-chair of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission, a bipartisan commission, said such a cyberattack could disable the nation’s electrical grid, its transportation system and the internet. King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, is also a member of the Senate Intelligence and Armed Services committees.

“I think one of the overall lessons (we’ve learned) from the pandemic is: the unthinkable can happen,” King told the commission. “If you had told any of us a year ago we wouldn’t be leaving our homes, we’d be wearing our masks when we went out, our restaurants and social gatherings would be closed, nobody would believe that. Well, it’s happened. And a catastrophic cyberattack can happen.”

“I believe the next Pearl Harbor will be cyber. That’s going to be the attack that attempts to bring this country to its knees, and as we’ve learned in the pandemic, we have vulnerability, and we have to prepare for it,” he said.

The Cyberspace Solarium Commission was established by statute in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act and was launched in April 2019. The commission’s final report was issued on March 11 and outlines more than 75 recommendations to improve the security of U.S. critical infrastructure.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower created the original Project Solarium in 1953 to develop a strategy to counter Soviet Union threats to the United States and its allies during the early days of the Cold War. The latest iteration of the Solarium seeks to guide the United States through a new age of warfare.

The Cyberspace Solarium Commission consists of 14 members, comprising members of Congress, federal officials and civilians.

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