02.03.12

So many Doomsdays (working example)

Posted in Crazy Weapons, Cyberterrorism, Imminent Catastrophe at 12:34 pm by George Smith

Working hard at it, another bog standard journalist churns out his bog standard feature on electrical doomsday, at the Boston Globe.

Contained therein, all the assertions and scenarios delivered by authority, again demonstrating what I’ve come to believe is a profound defect in the American national security mind brought on by US paranoia and the growth of the fear-based economy.

From the Globe:

A few months back, I made the mistake of falling asleep with the television on, tuned to C-Span. While a torpid House hearing on finance lulled me to sleep, sometime during my REM rebound I found myself in the middle of a Day After-style nightmare. Turns out, I was emerging from my slumber during a forum dominated by EMPact America, a well-funded advocacy group spreading the word about the looming threats of an EMP attack.

These guys know how to scare the daylights out of you. The most prominent EMP hawk is Newt Gingrich, who peppered some of last year’s presidential debates with mini-lectures about the threat. “Without adequate preparation,” Gingrich said at one EMP conference, “we would basically lose our civilization in a matter of seconds.” There is real science behind the EMP fears, though some energy and national security analysts contend the EMP lobby greatly exaggerates the threat. (Boldface mine. It took years to force this unattributed concession.)

Analyst Sue Tierney is far more concerned about cyber threats. No bomb needed – just serious hacking qualifications, and these days it seems everybody knows a gloomy 17-year-old who’s got those. In what is widely believed to have been an Israeli-American covert effort, the Stuxnet computer worm was unleashed on the Iranian nuclear program in 2010, ruining about a fifth of the centrifuges the country uses to enrich uranium. It would be naive to think our country won’t eventually find itself on the other side of a similar attack.

Several years ago, Tierney was part of a National Academies task force charged with identifying the grid’s vulnerability to terrorists. With the World Trade Center in mind, the task force largely concentrated on trying to anticipate another Al Qaeda-style conventional attack. If Tierney were serving on the task force right now, she says, she would push for even more focus on guarding against cyber threats.

But the chairman of the task force, Granger Morgan, says that what continues to worry him the most is the havoc that bad guys could cause with relatively little technological savvy. “If I’m a terrorist, I can shut down the power system in a lot simpler ways than using a valuable nuclear device,” says Morgan, an engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University and a noted authority on the grid. “All I need to do is destroy a bunch of major substations.” Despite all the talk about strengthening security after 9/11, he says, “big transformers continue to sit there on pads out in the open, with only chain-link fences around them.”

Any way you look at it, these are real threats that need to be treated seriously. Don’t take my word for it. After Morgan’s task force finalized its report, the US Department of Homeland Security swooped in and classified the document. Federal officials didn’t want to give the terrorists any ideas. Not that they need any.

“Don’t take my word for it.” Good advice many sensible people will probably heed.

One would assume the Department of Homeland Security has classified many things. This being the case classification is not necessarily any imprimatur of a dangerous reality waiting to unfold.

Anyway, here again: National security experts like grains of sand on the beach, each with their version of doomsday. Always reliant on argument from authority in a country where the government and business interests aligned with security spending have spent the past decade destroying the legitimacy of such argument.

In a side note it’s worth mentioning the national publicity accruing to Newt Gingrich has actually hurt the relatively insignificant Cult of Electromagnetic Pulse Crazy lobby. It’s easy to see he’s utterly despised by a majority in Washington. So are his ideas.

Even though they may appear on C-SPAN, anyone can really if they throw a luncheon/talk in DC, EMPAct America is so out of power in recent months they resorted to employing a spammer to post backlinks to themselves in the comments sections. My spam filter kept catching them. Eventually they gave up on it. (Oops, spoke to soon. Just spied another in the spam filter for the old blog which stopped updating over a year ago.)


Found in my my inbox yesterday: “It is not difficult, nor does it take a nation-state, to compromise the North American electric grid.”

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