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America Takes Mere Cybersecurity Stutter-Steps

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Henry F. Cooper By Monday, 21 December 2020 08:18 AM EST Current | Bio | Archive

The December 16 Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee hearing on election security was informative but not encouraging.

  • It is undeniable that there were multiple cases of fraud in several key states;

  • Nevertheless, that fraud was not taken seriously by most state and federal authorities — and generally was dismissed by the mainstream media;

  • The courts refused to consider these cases of fraud, seemingly because judges did not want to get involved in the controversy; but many Democrats and the mainstream media chose to characterize that refusal as indicating a denial that there was serious fraud;

  • Former Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Christopher Krebs (a J.D. lawyer with an environmental sciences B.S. degree and, immediately before joining the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), a Microsoft executive dealing with cybersecurity issues) claimed the election was the "best ever" — clarified to refer only to cybersecurity, but exaggerated by Democrats, some Republicans and the mainstream media as referring to all aspects of security.

Krebs' adamant claim should have been discounted immediately, for many reasons — e.g., We never know what we don't know. Moreover, within hours after that important hearing, that fact was illustrated by a massive surprise cyberattack on our national security systems and related infrastructure that apparently blindsided the federal government "powers that be."

In fact, Director of National Intelligence (DNI) John Ratcliffe disputed Krebs' claim, by indicating the intelligence community was considering whether China may had meddled in the election, while the massive cyberattack began dominating recent news reports. Shortly afterward, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attributed the massive cyber-hack to Russia. And it should be remembered that China, Iran and North Korea have significant cyberattack capabilities.

It is perhaps instructive that immediately following the attack the DNI, CISA and FBI issued a joint directive, forming a Cyber Unified Coordinating Group to coordinate a "whole of government response to this significant cyber incident." Then the Intelligence Community delayed its report on whether China meddled in the presidential election beyond its December 18 due date.

This directive seems to be a "do-over," since CISA Director Krebs previously had a leadership role in the interagency activities that were supposed to assure the security of our important national security infrastructure against such a major cyberattack, which he has admitted he did not anticipate.

Whatever — given this apparent leadership failure, why should we believe Mr. Krebs' assurances that the election was "safe and secure?"

Moreover, his failure to protect some of our most important infrastructure undermines the credibility of other claims he may have expressed, especially when he played a leading role.

For example, Mr. Krebs also led the interagency efforts to counter the existential electromagnetic pulse (EMP) threat to our electric power grid. This assignment made organizational sense, because the military doctrine of Russia, China, North Korea and Iran all include EMP in their military doctrine and consider it to be a catastrophic cyberthreat.

Though he had no technical background in EMP matters, Mr. Krebs no doubt held this leadership position since DHS was assigned that role by President Trump's March 26, 2019 Executive Order 13865 on Coordinating National Resilience to Electromagnetic Pulses and written into law in the December 20, 2019 National Defense Authorization Act for 2020.

Notably, the Trump administration is many months behind that legislated schedule, while the electric power grid continues in its vulnerable state. How much of this delay is due to Mr. Krebs' leadership and ignorance of the existential EMP threat?

Such delays make no sense, because we learned decades ago how to protect such complex systems against EMP, and the Defense Department applies those methods to protect our most important military systems. The same quite affordable methods should be applied to protect our critical civil infrastructure.

Admiral Bill Gortney provided a pertinent example five years ago, when he discussed spending nearly a billion dollars to protect the Cheyenne Mountain command center against EMP. He later explained that protecting civil infrastructure was not his responsibility as the commander of Northern Command (NORTHCOM) — he had only a supporting role to DHS and the FBI. Such is the disaggregated, dysfunctional federal government.

In my December 7 Newsmax article "Beware Threatening Black Swan Events," I warned a "Black Swan-in-Waiting" EMP attack threatens all Americans, as discussed in the Congressional EMP Commission's authoritative 2004, 2008 and 2017 reports. These well-informed commissioners also criticized the intelligence community's underestimates of this existential threat.

These matters came under the purview of Mr. Krebs; and given his demonstrated inept leadership, they deserve a second look — especially since the reports are notably behind schedule.

We must cease ignoring this urgent problem. Sen. Ron Johnson, chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, aptly observed in his important February 17, 2019 "Roundtable" hearing:

"We have known about the existential threat posed by electromagnetic pulses (EMP) and geomagnetic disturbances (GMD) for decades. Because most people are either unaware of the danger, or view these as very low probability events, there has not been sufficient public pressure to take effective action to mitigate these threats. Instead, we establish commissions and study panels, conduct research, and develop plans to develop strategies. It is way past time to stop admiring this problem, and actually begin to do something concrete to protect our vulnerable electrical grid, control systems and the ever-increasing array of electronic devices our society has become dependent upon."

Nearly two years have passed and so little has changed!

Senator Johnson's important hearing last week was his last as chairman of this important committee. Ironically, the recent massive cyberattack illustrated the vital need to continue relentless congressional oversight. Hopefully, he will stay engaged.

Ambassador Henry F. (Hank) Cooper, Chairman of High Frontier and an acknowledged expert on strategic and space national security issues, was President Ronald Reagan's Chief Negotiator at the Geneva Defense and Space Talks with the Soviet Union and Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) Director during the George H.W. Bush administration. Previously, he served as the Assistant Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Deputy Assistant USAF Secretary, Science Adviser to the Air Force Weapons Laboratory and a USAF Reserve Captain. In the private sector he was Chairman of Applied Research Associates, a high technology company; member of the technical staff of Jaycor, R&D Associates and Bell Telephone Laboratories; a Senior Associate of the National Institute for Public Policy; and Visiting Fellow at the Heritage Foundation. He received B.S. and M.S. degrees from Clemson and a PhD from New York University, all in Mechanical Engineering. Read Ambassador Cooper's Reports — More Here.

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The December 16 Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee hearing on election security was informative but not encouraging.
Monday, 21 December 2020 08:18 AM
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