May 13, 2021
I’ve written before about the need to protect our grid.
And I’m writing about it again… Because what just happened with Colonial Pipeline is a wakeup call.
Over the weekend, Colonial Pipeline, the company transporting 45% of the fuel consumed by the east coast, was the victim of a ransomware cyberattack. The perpetrator goes by the name “Darkside,” and while it purports to not have any political interests, Western security experts believe the group is based out of Eastern Europe and may have ties to Russian intelligence.
In this week’s podcast, I spoke with Kara Frederick of the Heritage Foundation and John Rossomando from the Center of Security Policy about the hacking group, its origins, and the threat to national security we’re increasingly seeing.
The effects of the Colonial pipeline closure were felt immediately… Oil and gas prices spiked, and all over the news we saw the long gas lines, reminiscent of the 1970s, as people waited patiently to fill up their tanks. At present, many gas stations along the east coast have run out of fuel and, as I go to publish this story, there is no real indication as to when the 5,500-mile Colonial Pipeline system transporting oil from Texas to New Jersey will be back in business.
We have a real problem… The Colonial pipeline attack demonstrates how critical it is to protect our infrastructure. A cyberattack on a pipeline is one thing… but, who’s to say it couldn’t be much worse next time around?
The Threat of an EMP Attack
This recent cyberattack proves key parts of our infrastructure are exposed and vulnerable.
We must put in place measures to safeguard our highly advanced, technology-dependent infrastructure against threats from ransom criminal gangs and terrorists.
If we don’t do more to protect ourselves, our country, and our infrastructure soon, we run the risk that there will be nothing left to protect…
The government-commissioned EMP Task Force has not once, not twice, but three times reported to Congress that in the event of an Electro Magnetic Pulse attack, 90% of the American population would be dead within a year.
So, as much as the administration wants to make room for affordable housing and elderly care in its infrastructure bill, the reality is this… There will be no need for social programs in the event that our electric grids are attacked.
The current infrastructure proposal allocates $100 billion to upgrading the grid, with another $600 billion-plus for social-style infrastructure programs, like upgrades to affordable housing and elderly care. Now, I believe the social programs are noble gestures, but we don’t have the luxury of engaging in noble acts when our country could be easily destroyed by bad actors seeking to hurt America.
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What if We Lost 98% Of All Power?
Last summer, I dealt with the after-effects of a hurricane in my small New England town… 98% of the community was without power.
It got me thinking… What if it was 98% of the country?
I started doing my research and realized a power outage like that was a whole lot more possible than you might think… and the result would be catastrophic.
After all, it’s one thing to go without fuel in 45% of the east coast… It’s another thing entirely to go without all electricity.
We’d have no way to connect with each other… We couldn’t access money from a bank… Food couldn’t be refrigerated or distributed. There would be little access to water.
And, as I mentioned above, a Congressional Report from 2016, and another from 2019, predicts that if we suffered from this kind of mass outage, 9 out of every 10 Americans would die within the year. It’s a terrifying reality. And one that Big Tech apparently doesn’t want the public to hear.
Big Tech Censors the EMP Story
On my “Trish Regan Intel” podcast this past Monday, I posted a clip about the Colonial Pipeline attack and recommended that our government get serious about protecting our key infrastructure… including, most importantly, our grid due to the threat of an EMP attack.
For the record, I am not faulting President Biden for this lack of security… This is an issue for the government as a whole and multiple administrations are to blame. After all, we’ve known about the EMP threat for some time. Congress was even briefed on it back in 2008 when the then-head of an EMP task force told Congressional lawmakers that the statistic of 9 out of 10 Americans dying within a year of an attack was reasonable.
Yet, our government has done nothing. And Big Tech seems to want to cover that up.
Within 12 minutes of posting my clip, Facebook sent my team a note saying the content was “too sensitive in nature” and not appropriate for advertisers. It even said it couldn’t upload the video to my private group.
So, yes… It’s a sensitive topic. But this isn’t a Facebook page for children… It’s for adults focused on economic and political topics.
Meanwhile, no, I was neither overly graphic nor political in the segment. Why would this discussion be so offensive to Facebook, I wondered?
Of course, I’ve seen the tech giant’s censorship before.
Facebook recently went after my segment entitled “Big Tech Rules the World” where I specifically questioned Facebook’s monopoly-like power over information. I guess that hit just a little too close to home for the company… thereby in effect, proving its monopoly-like influence!
But why this EMP segment? I wasn’t talking about Facebook specifically nor was I calling out the Biden administration. Perhaps they think the EMP threat scares people? Well, it should.
I can tell you this… I don’t like the topic either, but as a journalist, I believe that this is a conversation that this nation SHOULD be having. Forget whether or not we should be saying “Happy Mother’s Day,” or “Happy Birthing People’s Day” – the vulnerability of the grid is real news. (It’s Mother’s Day, by the way… for the record.)
Look, I get it. I know it’s scary. It’s surreal. It’s unthinkable. And the entire topic makes me uncomfortable, but we need to discuss the threats that exist in the world today because we need to understand our own vulnerabilities and we need to make sure we protect our country.
We cannot bury our heads in the sand… This is real. The naysayers allege that an EMP attack would never happen because no country would do that to another. Yet there’s a simple reality that we need to recognize, and it’s all in the preparation. We need to be prepared and protect our infrastructure. And we need to be five steps ahead of our enemies at all times.
Yet, we’ve done nothing.
Taking out a pipeline is one thing, attacking the grid is another. Given the dated nature of our country’s electrical grid, I’m not convinced we are prepared against an attack from our enemies.
According to the head of the EMP Task Force that authored the 2019 report Dr. Peter Pry, in the event of an EMP attack…
Everything is in blackout and nothing works. The EMP sparks widespread fires, explosions, and all kinds of industrial accidents. Firestorms rage in cities and forests. Toxic clouds pollute the air and chemical spills poison already polluted lakes and rivers. In seven days, the over 100 nuclear power reactors run out of emergency power and go Fukushima, spreading radioactive plumes over the most populous half of the United States. There is not even any drinking water and the national food supply in regional warehouses begins to spoil in three days. There was only enough food to feed 320 million people for 30 days anyway.
As I explained in my article for October’s edition of American Consequences, an EMP is a short burst of electromagnetic energy. My friend Neil Grossman, a mathematician, physicist, constitutional law scholar, global investor, vineyard owner, and former European central banker (yeah, just your all-around basic genius) described it to me like this…
Imagine going to a Rolling Stones concert, standing in front of the speakers and all of a sudden they are turned on for a second at maximum power. Now multiply that by say 100 billion or 100 trillion times, maybe more… It is the shortest, most powerful blast of energy you can imagine.
He elaborated by saying this, “Imagine standing at ground zero when a thermonuclear detonation occurs… What you need to understand is electromagnetic waves are a form of energy.”
In addition, Neil says, “the electromagnetic pulse issue is interesting and quite complicated. Sources can be either natural or man-made. Natural sources would include solar flares, which, when powerful, can be disruptive… as well as high energy cosmological sources like supernovae, collisions of black holes and the like… But, in general, natural EMP sources are so distant that the effect is relatively muted.”
The type to really worry about is the non-natural, or man-made EMP.
That EMP would destroy most of our country’s grid almost instantaneously. We’d have no way to get gas, no way to get money out of banks, no computers, no phones, no lights, no electricity… There would be no way to transport food or care for those in hospitals. It would be, quite literally, lights out. And there would be a massive loss of life as I mentioned before…
Which means what if China, Iran, North Korea, Russia, or a complex hacking group connected to those countries ever wanted to use an EMP to take out the United States? Completely doable.
Far Worse Than Pearl Harbor
According to a 2019 report released this past summer from the EMP Task Force on National and Homeland Security, China now has the ability to conduct a massive EMP attack on the United States.
China has created at least three types of weapons designed to attack our electric grid… And these technologies (all stolen from the U.S.) would enable them to employ a “surprise Pearl Harbor” assault that could send Americans into a deadly blackout.
Fry says China not only has these super-EMP weapons in its arsenal, it knows how to protect itself against an EMP attack from us, and has developed protocols to conduct a first-strike attack – even though it denies it would ever do that.
So if China has first-strike capability and could take out our grid – isn’t this the equivalent of China having a full-on nuclear arsenal and us having none?
Typically in nuclear warfare, there’s deterrence linked to the reality that if they fire on us, we’d fire back… However, according to this new report, we may never have that opportunity.
The EMP Task Force’s June report reveals that China has built a network of satellites, high-speed missiles, and super-electromagnetic pulse weapons that could effectively melt down our electric grid, sizzle our critical communications infrastructure, and even take out the ability of our aircraft carrier and military groups to respond.
And China is well aware of the power that it holds…
Chinese military documents contain references to making EMP attacks against the United States as a way to succeed in war. Shen Weiguang’s World War, The Third World War – Total Information Warfare, the People’s Liberation Army’s quasi-textbook on information warfare, argues that China should be prepared to exploit an EMP offensively…
With their massive destructiveness, long-range nuclear weapons have combined with highly sophisticated information technology and information warfare under nuclear deterrence… Information war and traditional war have one thing in common, namely that the country which possesses the critical weapons such as atomic bombs will have ‘first strike’ and ‘second-strike retaliation’ capabilities… As soon as its computer networks come under attack and are destroyed, the country will slip into a state of paralysis and the lives of its people will ground to a halt…
Therefore, China should focus on measures to counter computer viruses, nuclear electromagnetic pulse… and quickly achieve breakthroughs in those technologies in order to equip China without delay with equivalent deterrence that will enable it to stand up to the military powers in the information age and neutralize and check the deterrence of Western powers, including the United States.
And according to the 2019 EMP report, China did just that…
Bottom line: If China has this capability, then we have reason to be extremely cautious and extremely worried. This kind of attack could shut down our country, leaving us in a state of paralysis… and ultimately, whatever is left of our country, would be left hostage to China.
At this point, ensuring the safety of our grid should really be placed in the hands of the Department of Defense. The Biden team wants private companies involved. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said on CBS’s Face the Nation last Sunday that this was an issue for private business.
But this is not entirely just a private company issue. This is now a matter of national security. And government needs to ensure that private companies are protecting their data.
Can We Protect Ourselves?
We haven’t had the best track record preparing for disasters… Nonetheless, I certainly hope we can find a way to protect ourselves.
We should be working overtime to upgrade our power grid and detection equipment to make sure no country catches us by surprise.
Too often, our government fails to be preemptive. Instead, it overreacts after the fact.
Consider the late response to coronavirus… or the delayed reaction to the terror attack on 9/11… The warning signs are always there. Unfortunately, our society has a tendency to focus on gossipy, inconsequential news of the day… The news cycle and most media commentators are engrossed in frivolous moments.
Without pressure from the media and the public, some of these big issues get lost in the midst of everything else. In his most recent book, The Fifth Risk, Michael Lewis explores the different ways the U.S. government manages its portfolio of risks. He concludes the government may be filled with too much bureaucracy and complexity to accomplish much in the way of its most critical missions. Our power grid is one such risk Lewis details…
The safety of the electrical grid sat at or near the top of the list of concerns of everyone I spoke with inside the Department of Energy (“DOE”). Life in America has become, increasingly, reliant on it. “Food and water has become food and water and electricity,” as one DOE career staffer put it…
The DOE had begun to gather the executives of the utility companies, to educate them about the threats they face. “They all sort of said, ‘But is this really real?'” said [the DOE’s Chief Risk Officer] MacWilliams. “You get them security clearance for a day and tell them about the attacks and all of a sudden you see their eyes go really wide.”
(Kind of like mine were one-quarter of the way into my reporting for this story! Perhaps sort of like yours are right now?)
I’ll tell you this… Someone has to understand and talk about the risks we face, even when Facebook or the government doesn’t want to hear them.
We need to comprehend the challenges of an economically successful China and the military implications that brings. We need to understand the threat that is North Korea and Iran. We need to understand the intricacies of Eastern European hacking groups and the political ties that they have.
None of this is happening in a vacuum. We know, for example, there were warnings about pandemics before coronavirus hit… The challenge is that the government is too slow on the draw. Government waits until the last possible moment to do something… anything…
But in the case of an EMP attack, it will be too late. A lack of necessities like food and water, an ability to access money, a national communications cut-off… We are NOT prepared for any of these things. Too often, we take these things for granted. But, if this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the importance of understanding and preparing for the unexpected.
Our government needs to step it up when it comes to protecting our much-needed infrastructure. We cannot live in a world in which our enemies could so easily take us out.
- America’s 21st-century military will wage more battles not on the soil but the screen with code and malware as the weapons of choice instead of battle tanks and automatic firearms.
- Black hat hackers target critical infrastructures like pipelines, grids, water treatment facilities, and hospitals, anyplace relying on reams of data to run and provide services to Americans — taking any opportunity to threaten our way of life.
- Remember the NFL “taking the knee” controversy? Yes, Russian hackers blew on the Facebook flames of that culture war — another case study in how easily and effectively foreign actors pit us against each other in the digital space.
- If you’re in the private sector, assume you’ll get hacked. And when companies are victims of cyber attacks, they need to incentivize to provide transparent incident reports — they’ll worry about stock prices, but national security trumps shareholders’ interests.
- America’s obsessed with the quaint idea of fighting fair, restricting ourselves to mid-20-century war paradigms. But Russia and China have fully embraced unrestricted digital attacks on us, complete all-out gray zone warfare.
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Publisher, American Consequences
With Editorial Staff
May 13, 2021