1. The next terrorist attack may turn your lights out for weeks:
Or it may cause a dozen planes to crash at once because the air traffic control system goes haywire. Or it could play havoc with our email, e-commerce, use of credit cards, and the stock markets. Or do all of the above.
Because I’m on the Department of Homeland Security’s press release list, I’m forever seeing announcements of one DHS official or another speaking at some conference on protecting our critical infrastructure. Last week, DHS’s “National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD) Office of Emergency Communications Region IV Coordinator” spoke at one in Tampa, and two other officials will be speaking at conferences on Jan. 23. The problem is that while there are endless forums about the threats, little is being done to deal with them.
Following the September 11 terrorist attacks, many news organizations went back and looked at the scant attention paid to a commission chaired by former Senators Gary Hart and Warren Rudman that delivered a report to the Bush Administration on Jan. 31, 2001, warning that if the country didn’t start shoring up its intelligence and defenses, “America will become increasingly vulnerable to hostile attack on our homeland, and our military superiority will not help us.” Last fall, a series of measures to protect our critical infrastructure – everything from the power grid to electronic systems enabling air traffic control – failed to make it out of Congress despite warnings from Homeland Security and Pentagon officials that, as with the Hart-Rudman prediction, a devastating cyber-attack on our infrastructure was now a matter of when, not if.
Concerned that their systems would be subject to costly new security standards and regulation, the big businesses that operate most of our infrastructure successfully deployed their lobbyists to block congressional action. There was some press coverage of the wrangling on Capitol Hill but not much.
Rather than repeat the 9/11 sequence and do a bunch of stories after a catastrophic cyber-attack chronicling Washington’s failure to act and finding the culprits among all the lobbyists and the interests they represent, why not do the stories now? Why not get out there and spotlight some illustrative vulnerabilities and put the heat on those companies and legislators whose continuing neglect virtually ensures an attack that will cause mass casualties and shut down the economy? The reporting should be specific. Rather than quoting terrorism experts and their general calls for action, take us to the scene of some disaster waiting to happen and describe what the consequences would be, what needs to be done, and who’s neglecting to do it and why. After the attack this will all be headline news for months. Why not before?