August 24, 2018

The Danger to U.S. Electrical Grid Gets Needed Awareness

While no defense mechanism is ironclad, Americans should take some solace.

Modern-day national security entails a plethora of threats, including to electricity. The electrical grid not only is imperative but has become an enticing target for American adversaries. A perfect illustration of this came recently in the form of Russian hackers. In late July, news broke that Russian operatives had compromised some portion of U.S. power utilities, which “could have caused blackouts,” The Wall Street Journal reported. A DHS official confirmed this, saying the perpetrators “could have thrown switches.”

Alarming? Yes. But not unforeseen. A few years ago the power grid was pilloried for its deficient security measures. That’s the perturbing underlying condition that a venture called “Project Spartacus” is looking to resolve.

Both the public and private sectors this week participated in “Project Spartacus.” The Washington Examiner’s Paul Bedard reports that the project’s founder, Lt. Gen. Steven L. Kwast, put together a three-day summit — “the largest official EMP [electromagnetic pulse] meeting of its kind” — at which “government and business leaders gathered … to come up with quick fixes to protect the grid and address the larger issue of the impact a long shutdown would have.”

Former CIA Director R. James Woolsey explained the reality of what a significant attack would cause: “If you have 30 to 40 percent of the electricity, you may end up having cold showers and warm beer but at least you can continue to function and rebuild. If the whole grid goes down, you are back in the dark ages literally and figuratively. If you end up with zero instead of 40 percent, for example, it’s not just that you have a serious problem with rebuilding, it’s that your civilization and constitution are gone. That’s the end of everything.”

He added, “What we’re talking about is a much, much more devastating thing for American society than what happened to Puerto Rico. … That was small compared to what an EMP takedown of the grid would be.”

A serious threat calls for serious preclusion. The good news, though, is that Bedard describes this week’s summit as “potentially game-changing.” While no defense mechanism is ironclad, Americans should take some solace in that a coalition of public and private leaders is being intentional about mitigating the danger to our electrical grid.

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