Award-winning journalist and longtime Nightline anchor Koppel (Off Camera: Private Thoughts Made Public, 2000, etc.) sounds the alarm over the likelihood of a devastating cyberattack on the infrastructure of the United States.
“We remain distracted to this day by the prospects of retail terrorism when we should be focused on the wholesale threat of cyber catastrophe,” writes the author. His concern is an attack on America’s three “surprisingly vulnerable” electrical grids, which link some 3,000 electric power companies to distribute electricity nationwide. Taking down a grid would leave millions in a desperate search for light and power. Such an attack can be launched from anywhere, would be difficult to trace, and might involve China or Russia (the greatest threats), terrorist groups, or rogue states. In his engaging account, Koppel draws on interviews with cyber and national security experts as well as the several individuals who have served as homeland security secretary, all of whom concede the likelihood of a cyberattack on the grid—and that there is no federal plan for the aftermath. The book sometimes reads like a litany of conflicting risk assessments by national experts, many of whom insist immediate concerns (from natural disasters to conventional terrorism) demand higher priority than speculative threats. The possibility of serious infrastructure damage is made all the more likely because the grid lacks resiliency, with many smaller power companies unwilling to share information critical to disaster planning because of their privacy and liability concerns. Koppel includes excellent sections on the hindrances to replacing power transformers (they are huge, expensive, made abroad, and difficult to transport) and the steps that “preppers” are taking, especially in self-reliant Western states, where Mormons offer a model for disaster preparedness.
Koppel’s case for the cyberthreat is strong; government officials seem (perhaps justifiably) preoccupied by other matters, or clueless, or both.