Threats to the Electric Grid

The Debate over Responses to Terror

Should our defense be military or legal? Distributed or unified?

BY CounterJihad · @CounterjihadUS | March 28, 2016

Last week saw major news stories on two different Islamic terrorist threats to major Western infrastructure.  The first story was the unsealing of US indictments against Iranian hackers, a state-sponsored terrorist effort to use cyberterrorism against American infrastructure.  The second was the revelation that one of the Brussels cells had been targeting a nuclear power center, having cased the reactor and developed plans for an attack.

Both are forms of Islamist jihad against the West, but otherwise they are quite different threats.  They come from two different wings of the Islamic world, one radical Shia, the other radical Sunni.  The one is state-sponsored terrorism, the other the kind of ‘lone wolf’ terrorism that is inspired but not directed by the Islamic State.  The first is cyber, and would not require any sort of physical infiltration.  The other was intended to be kinetic, so that a separate set of physical security systems would be needed to defend against it.

In the wake of the Belgian attacks, Italy’s Prime Minister has called for a more unified European response to terrorism.  One of the criticisms facing Europe’s response is that it lacks a central police agency like the FBI that can act directly on terror threats across national borders the way the FBI does across state borders.

On the other hand, Marc Tyrell at Small Wars Journal rightly points out that a higher-level bureaucracy is often necessarily blind to street-level indications of danger.  Likewise, the classification of information within major Federal agencies like the CIA and FBI often means that communication doesn’t flow downward to local police agencies either.  There is no guarantee that adding another level of protection will work, especially not if that level of protection is placed behind classification walls.  The threat is distributed and can act independently.  Ossified bureaucracy may simply not be able to respond in time.

The Securing Global Cities project offers another alternative, one led by corporate resources.  Led by retired war on terror veterans Raymond Odierno and Michael O’Hanlon, it could in principle move the kind of information that corporations collect on individuals into the hands of responsible government agencies without the interruptions of classification walls.  Of course, this would require licensing corporations to act as government spies on essentially everyone worldwide.  Privacy rights and legal protections alike would be in danger of withering.  Serious thought needs to go into whether the trade-off is worth it, and if so, into what legal protections are necessary to shore up individual liberty.

There is also a military response, not only to ISIS but in the case of the Iranian hackers.  The military is prepared to use cyber-war techniques to punish Iran, but it requires specific Congressional warrant to do so.  It will also be constrained by the laws of war, so that attacks on civilian targets may be forbidden, as would ‘disproportionate’ responses. Still, there is clearly a military role.

One of the main insights into why the United States is somewhat safer than Europe is that there is less Islamic radicalization here.

Belgium is the European hotbed of terrorism…. It is estimated that about 520 Belgians have gone to Iraq and Syria to fight for ISIS, and over 100 have returned, making Belgium the country with the highest number of ISIS fighters per capita from Europe. According to one estimate, Belgium has 46 foreign terrorists for every one million people, where the U.S. has only 1 per million.

A clear lesson here is to prevent the flows of foreign fighters from Syria and Iraq to the United States.  Controls on who enters the country and who can remain here have to be an important part of the solution.  Likewise, as unpalatable as it may be to many, there is no alternative but to pay attention to whether or not radicalizing messages are being sent to our Islamic community.

There remains a lot to discuss and consider.  The time for taking the threat seriously has long since come.


Basics of Grid Security

An attack on the country's vulnerable electrical grid could potentially wipe-out 90% of our fellow Americans. It's the most serious threat we face.


Obama Issues Executive Order to Protect Grid Against “Space Weather”

Unable to talk about the threat from Iran, the order at least offers some potential to begin addressing the danger posed by long term loss of power.


The Cyber Threat is Bigger Than the Grid — But Don’t Forget the Grid

American politicians are likely to lose sight of the far more dangerous threat to our electrical grid, because the danger of personal political embarrassment scares them more than the danger of millions dead.


Iran Could Use This Catastrophic Tactic to Destroy America

A blue ribbon panel in Congress estimates American casualties at 90%.