“Guilty Knowledge”: The media and political establishments remain asleep on power grid security (Oh, do they really know?)
Author(s) or Editor(s): Frank Gaffney, editor; David Reboi and Adam Savit
Title, Subtitle: “Guilty Knowledge: What the US Government Knows about the Vulnerability of the Electric Grid, but Refuses to Fix“
publication date 2013
Publication: Center for Security Press (Amazon), 62 pages, paper, 11 short chapters after Foreword
Link: Secure the Grid
There are some issues which potentially imply individuals and families need to prepare themselves to take on challenges they don’t think they have chosen for themselves. And the media seems loath to talk about these very openly. So are the politicians, except at the fringes. That may be one reason why you get a presidential candidate like Donald Trump.
Such is the nature of the security of our electric power grids – all three of them. A group called “Center for Security Policy” publishes a 62-page booklet (inexpensive, $6 from Amazon), edited by and with Introduction by Frank Gaffney. Jr., “Guilty Knowledge: What the US Government Knows about the Vulnerability of the Electric Grid, But Refuses to Fix”, apparently dated 2013.
The book comprises a Foreword and 11 abstracts, each with a strike page, on the issue, dated from 2004 to 2012. The first two abstracts are Electromagnetic Pulse Commission Reports; other pieces deal with solar storms, cybersecurity, and unconventional weapons. But there is little attention to physical attacks, like the rifle attack on a station in the Silicon Valley in April 2013 (and there have been other small attacks).
The booklet does layout the background setting, that western society (and the individuals pimping themselves out in it) has become “addicted” to technology, especially electricity, whose modern grid developed somewhat by fortuitous decisions by a few early entrepreneurs (as in the History Channel’s Modern Marvels documentary on the topic). That context means that the old “mutually assured destruction” of “Dr. Strangelove” during the Cold War, as applied to nuclear war and thermonuclear weapons (which do emit EMP) doesn’t deter terrorists interested in destroying our way of life but leaving us alive to be conquered and converted.
The Foreword gives us a taste of the problem. In 2014, Fox got a rude memo from the Pentagon, “The Department is unaware of any increase in the threat of a deliberate destructive use of an EMP device. Further, any reporting to the contrary by those without access to current threat assessments is both reckless and irresponsible.”
Oh, we get it. Knowledge of critical national security issues is to be passed down through the cabal of political authority (disguised as security clearances), and the rest of the public goes shopping as usual. No wonder, then, the doomsday prepper crowd guards its “right” to build up caches of assault weapons for a world like NBC’s “Revolution”. The Pentagon is unwittingly feeding the lunatic, right-wing fringe. For power grid security is not a partisan or “right wing” issue, even though Fox News (with Bill Hemmer) and the Washington Times (and probably the Examiner) pay disproportionate attention to it compared to more mainstream media channels.
On Monday, August 8, 2016, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Fox sponsored a “Your Voice Your Future” roundtable on “U.S. Grid Safety” from a Fox studio in Green Bay, WI. I review the broadcast here. On Saturday, August 6, ABC Affiliate WJLA (owned by Sinclair) had promised the forum on Monday. True, the link to the stream was there, but the broadcast was not carried on any DC station (not even on News Channel 8) I had to pseudo-hack for ten minutes to get the stream to work. I could not have watched it if I didn’t know something about how the stations and broadcasts are set up. (Does that make me an “ethical” hacker?) I could not get the system to stream a second hour strictly from the local Fox station in Green Bay. I wonder if it was shown on stations in Milwaukee or (where I used to live) Minneapolis. I’ve contacted several parties at (locally more politically liberal) WJLA and News Channel 8 and nobody wants to talk about this! Sinclair Broadcasting did create a two-minute clip on the issue which WJLA aired just once this summer (my account).
The booklet does cover some critical bases, like the questionable capability of US utilities to replace large transformers should they be damaged by an event. It covers the Carrington Even in 1859, the Quebec 1989 outage caused by a solar storm (with subsequent large coronal mass ejection) along with another incident in the 1920s, and the solar threat in general (although it doesn’t mention Earth’s reported near miss with another Carrington in July 2012). It also covers IEMI, intentional electromagnetic interference, and distinguishes between the acronyms HEMP (high altitude electromagnetic pulse) and HPEM, high power electromagnetics. There are haphazard Youtube videos on how to make HPEM, which hopefully would not work in the hands of amateurs. An HPEM device could disable and fry electronics (like PC’s and smart phones) in a small area (maybe a few city blocks at most) but could be devastating for small businesses affected (a good reason for making not only Cloud backups but also optical CD’s, which would not be affected). It’s possible to imagine an attack like this from enemies as a kind of ransomware, although that right now sounds more like a Hollywood B Movie plot. It’s effect could be compared to a dirty bomb, although it would not leave real estate contaminated or uninhabitable. It could pose enormous public safety problems for people in high rise buildings (like elevators). The military uses HPEM weapons in Afghanistan and has used them in Iraq, but they have not been used in civilian settings (the Washington Times had an article about this in 2009, and there was a controversial Popular Mechanics article back in 2001 just before 9/11).
The booklet anticipates Ted Koppel’s concerns about cyberwar. It does seem that portions of the electric grid are more closely connected to the public Internet than they should be. The power grid needs the same level of cyber security as the Pentagon (which is better than civilian federal agencies and even banks and retail, which do get hacked).
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have finally started talking about “infrastructure banks” which could be used to shore up gird security. One idea could be some decentralization, and Taylor Wilson, who get investments from Peter Thiel (who spoke at the RNC) proposes small underground fission reactors as a way for utilities to become less vulnerable to external events. It mystifies me that Donald Trump, in particular, doesn’t take the opportunity to talk about this issue frankly in his speeches. He could gain credibility as a candidate if he talked about real security threats and solutions and stopped the name-calling and race or religion or ethnicity baiting. Isn’t that true conservatism, what the GOP ought to stand for?
I take this kind of personally. This sounds like an issue of journalists’ “connecting the dots”, which the political establishment is afraid of. I’m told to be quiet, and that my most important concern should be who among my cultural sisters can use the bathroom of her choice in North Carolina, and that if something catastrophic happens, I’ll have to learn to live with less in more intimate settings around others, that all this “external world” (or even outer space) stuff is above our heads and beyond our control. Bull! We can be smart, and prevent most catastrophes. The Neanderthals did not survive because they didn’t innovate, and didn’t understand ego well enough.
I’ve covered other books on my legacy blogs, missives like “One Second After” (William Forstchen), “Gridlock” (Dorgan), “A Nation Forsaken” (Maloof), and “Lights Out” (Koppel). I will review Bakke’s “The Grid” soon. Clynes’s book about Taylor Wilson, “The Boy Who Played with Fusion”, is also relevant. This topic needs a documentary movie from a filmmaker like Morgan Spurlock or Andrew Jenks (not sure Michael Moore would be interested).
Physical security at power plants has a lot to do with protecting "air gaps"
(Published: Friday, August 12, 2016 at 1 PM EDT)