SAN ANTONIO (KTSA News) — Intelligence community veteran Rep. Tony Gonzales offered some advice and insight on the growing tensions between Russia and Ukraine this week.
“Not too long ago, I was still active duty. I spent five years in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Gonzales said in an interview with the Washington Post this week. “So I know what conflict looks like — the good parts, the bad parts, the ugly parts.”
Gonzales represents Texas District 23, which stretches from El Paso to San Antonio. He retired from the military in 2019 after a 20-year career as an expert in cryptology.
Last year, Gonzales traveled to Ukraine on an overseas tour and spoke with veterans of the Ukraine-Russia conflict in 2014 after the annexation of Crimea. He said he spoke with a field medic.
“And he goes, the last thing I want is war,” Gonzales said. “But if Russia comes looking for a fight, we’re not going to shy away from one. The other takeaway that I got was that it wasn’t a matter of if, it was a matter of when.”
Gonzales noted he supports President Biden’s decision to send $200 million in military aid to Ukraine as Russia amasses troops at the border between the two countries.
“We have a $200 million package that the president just approved right before Christmas that we are now fulfilling,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told Fox News on Monday. “I think there’s been at least two, maybe three deliveries already just in the last few days. And they will include additional Javelin anti-tank missiles. They will include some air defense systems. They will include small arms and ammunition, certainly medical support, that kind of thing.”
The Texas Congressman had one recommendation for the Biden Administration — cybersecurity.
“This is an instrument in our toolbox that we can use to deter the Russians before there’s a kinetic response,” he said. “So instead of sending tanks and troops and aircraft carriers and planes, you know, why not flip a switch and maybe turn off some oil pumps in Russia and [then say], ‘Look, this is a small taste of what could happen if you go into Ukraine.'”
He noted that the U.S. is home to “top cyber defenses” and “offensive offenses,” and that there is not a close second to the country’s capabilities.
“One thing that we haven’t seen is more is [the country] using our offensive tools as a means for deterrence.”
Gonzales said that cybersecurity should also be more of a consideration at home in addition to abroad.
He said that during a visit with the San Antonio Water System on Tuesday he made it a point to discuss cybersecurity in the context of protecting his constituents from a possible cyberattack on local and state utilities.
“Why is Ukraine important to the people of my district? It’s important because if a conflict comes, it comes in the form of cyber,” Gonzales said. “What happens when somebody turns the water off? What happens when somebody turns the electricity off?”
He noted the historic winter storm from last February that killed nearly 250 Texans after the catastrophic failure of the state’s power grid.
“It didn’t matter how much money you had, no matter how wealthy you were, didn’t matter if you’re in an urban city or rural community, everybody was without power, water, and in some cases, food. These are the type of things we need to prepare for.”
He said the ransomware attacks seen locally in San Antonio and across the country — from water systems to oil pipelines to food processing plants — are just “a taste of what is to come.” Internationally, the healthcare systems in Ireland and the U.K. have seen catastrophic cyberattacks of their own.
In the “cyber world,” Gonzales said, there are no boundaries and everyone is operating in the same place.
Gonzales stressed that cybersecurity should not be a partisan issue.
“We should all be circling behind strengthening ourselves for future cyber attacks.”