AUGUSTA — One of the greatest threats to the United States is a cyber attack on its financial or energy systems, Sen. Angus King told a crowd of about 140 people on Wednesday morning.

King said the country needs to create a policy of deterrence if it’s going to prevent similar cyber attacks to the one Russian hackers made on the U.S. election system last year.

“I think the next Pearl Harbor will be cyber,” King said, in response to a question about cyber threats. “The vulnerability of our grid, of our financial system, of the gas pipeline system is really, really serious, and I don’t think we’re adequately prepared, and there’s no simple answer to it.”

King, an independent and former Maine governor, made the comment during a wide-ranging set of remarks before a breakfast of the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce, in which he also talked about health care, healing the country’s partisan divides and a law that was recently passed that should clear the way for the long-awaited expansion of a veterans health care clinic in Portland.

King, who sits on the Senate’s intelligence and armed services committees, went on to suggest that the United States needs to create a policy of deterrence for cyber threats, akin to the way it has treated the threat of nuclear attacks since the 1950s.

“This is a criticism of both the Obama administration and the current administration,” said King, who caucuses with Democrats. “We don’t have a cyber policy. We don’t have a strategy. We don’t have a doctrine. Somebody who attacks us via cyber, there’s no expected response, you see what I mean? (With) nuclear weapons, we established in the early 50s, ‘You attack us, we attack you, you’re gone,’ and it’s deterrence. There’s a deterrent. That’s the best way to keep someone from hitting you is, they’re afraid of you hitting them back. … It’s one of the most serious problems we face, and we know it’s coming.”

But after the Russians attempted to influence the 2016 election, King continued, “They really haven’t suffered any consequences, so they’re going to do it again. They’re going to be back in a year and a half, three years.”

During his remarks on Wednesday, King also said that President Donald Trump recently signed a law containing numerous provisions for veterans health care, including the long-awaited authorization of a facility that will be expanded in Portland.

This story will be updated.

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

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Twitter: @ceichacker