An interesting segment with friends Schwartau, Steele, and the late Peter Black on emerging threats and scenarios.
BROWN: Tonight we brought together four gentlemen who have been thinking and working on worst-case scenario and solutions for years. Their warnings might have seemed far-fetched on September 10. Nothing seems far-fetched these days.
From Mountain View, California tonight, Peter Black, an expert on warfare targeting the infrastructure in the country. In Tampa, Florida, Winn Schwartau, an expert on cyberwar. Matt Devost in Washington, D.C. He’s at the Terrorism Research Center. And also in D.C. Robert Steele, a former spy and anti-terrorism operations officer. Good evening to all of you.
Let’s just go quickly around the horn. Peter, start with you if we can. two or three things that you find especially vulnerable out there.
PETER BLACK, INFRASTRUCTURE WARFARE EXPERT: I tend to be interested in things that will cause an economic shock to the United States. And the three that I figured would be interesting to discuss this evening are the Alaskan pipeline, the Panama Canal and the natural gas pipeline system.
BROWN: And Winn, we talked a bit about cyberterrorism a few moments ago. Areas you find particularly vulnerable?
WINN SCHWARTAU, CYBERWAR EXPERT: Three main areas. The wireless network — a thorough security disaster. Number two, people. We don’t look enough at people security and how they affect the operations. And number three is electromagnetic weapons. The government calls them due.
BROWN: And Mr. Steele, two or three that jump out at you.
ROBERT STEELE, FORMER SPY: Well, we have already lost the intelligence war. They attacked us and we had six separate failures. We have lost the public relations and cultural outreach war so far. And last but not, least public health. I think the anthrax is local. I think smallpox and the plague carried by living, suicidal bombers is the next step.
BROWN: And we’ll be back with you shortly. Mr. Devost. Matt, a couple or three things that jump out at you.
MATT DEVOST, THE TERRORISM RESEARCH CENTER: Yes. Our organization really isn’t in the habit of naming actual public targets. What we like to do is evaluate the overall approach. And I think what we need to be focusing on now is recognizing that the enemy is looking at how they can weaponize certain elements of our society and use those against us.
They no longer have to build the bombs themselves. They can use currently existing infrastructures and have consequences within our society. That’s kind of the approach that we bring to this.
BROWN: OK. So, Matt, feel free to jump in — all of you feel free to jump in as we go along. Peter, back to you. Why don’t you start on the Alaskan pipeline and we will work with that for a bit.
BLACK: Well, you probably remember there was a story a couple of weeks about a loony up in Alaska who fired a high caliber rifle at the pipeline and essentially dropped it for awhile. And that’s just a guy with a rifle in the outback.
The pipeline itself is highly vulnerable and the key insights that I think needs to be taken here is that it’s impossible to in fact post sentries all along its 800 mile course and at all the pump stations and Valdez and such and the like. The important thing with this system and other critical systems of the infrastructure of the United States is that we be prepared to bounce back if they have been struck. Bounce back quickly. It takes a licking and keeps on ticking should be the watch word for critical infrastructure.
BROWN: And the Panama Canal, the importance — it’s not really American property anymore.
BLACK: It isn’t, although we have treaties that can cause us to take over control again. But a huge amount of raw materials, oil, gas, finished products pass through it on the way to the Gulf — not the Persian Gulf but the Texas Gulf and to the East Coast. And also, the ability of the navy to move men and materiel is still critical — critically dependent upon the Panama Canal. And the Panama Canal is in many ways quite vulnerable.
BROWN: And I believe, Peter, your third one was the natural gas pipelines that work the northeast? BLACK: Yeah, and that’s one — although some of the guys on the panel may have some incremental information to add to this, it’s a system that is largely controlled by computers, operating switches and systems and such and the like. So it’s not just physically vulnerable, it’s cybervulnerable. And if the system were brought down, some studies have indicated that it would not recover quickly. You can imagine how long it would take everyone to get everyone to safely relight their pilot lights.
BROWN: We will revisit the solutions, part of all this, in a moment.
Winn, let me go to you. You laid out three areas as well. Expand on them in 90 seconds or so.
SCHWARTAU: Wireless networks. We have new standards out there. They don’t work. They’ve been cracked as recently as last July, and we’re seeing networks all over the country use them and they should not be. You’re going to break into them, sooner or later.
The electromagnetic weapons systems. This has been an area of U.S., Russian and Chinese research for many years, but there are also terrorist-level home-brew weaponization programs that are capable of causing immense damage to an infrastructure.
And then the third problem is people. How do we trust the people that are running the critical systems of this country and keep them operating reliably? We have not really combined the cyber and the personal — the personnel end yet.
BROWN: Mr. Steele, weigh in here. Either on anyone said or anything you want to add to the list.
STEELE: Well, all four of us are friends. And I think Winn Schwartau in particular, with Peter Black’s article in “Wired” as well, we are very successful at getting the U.S. government to spend a great deal of money on information operations and electronic issues. And Dick Clark exists today because Winn, among others, finally got Congress to pay attention to this.
What we didn’t realize was that we had allowed our international intelligence system and our domestic counterintelligence system and our domestic public health warning system to atrophy to the point that it simply work. And that really concerns me, because the president is putting good money into bad systems and not doing as Senator Shelby and McCain and Thompson suggest to actually hold hearings, hold the intelligence community accountable and get this stuff fixed.
BROWN: And Matt, I’ve got about a minute or so before I go break. Just take everything you’ve heard, if you the want, and sum it up.
DEVOST: Sure. All very valid concerns on all fronts. I think Peter touched on a very good point, though, and that is in our response and reconstitution of some of these infrastructures. We have to be focusing — when we look at what our threats and exposures are, we also need to focus on what our response would be and what the overall impact would be if a certain infrastructure went down.
We also need to recognize that our response is going to be a potential new target. The enemy will gather intelligence with regard to how we respond to certain events and will use that against us for future attacks.
BROWN: Are they doing that right now with anthrax, do you think?
DEVOST: I’m sure they’re watching with great interest our response to anthrax, recognizing that small traces of anthrax can shut down very large buildings. Now what if we find traces of anthrax in a building that is dealing with human services or health that can’t be shut down, that there are human life consequences if that building is shut down? We need to demonstrate an ability to respond to those types of events as well.
BROWN: And I know the producers are going to kill me now, but I saw you nodding there, Mr. Steele. Did you want to weigh in here just briefly on that point?
STEELE: It’s absolutely essential that the surgeon general seek to increase the public health system, the uniform public health service, by a factor of perhaps five, instead of attending classes and meetings on bullying kids. We have more serious things for him to be doing.
BROWN: There’s just one solution on the table. We will take a look at a number of others. We’ll take a short break first and then rejoin our guests after that.
BROWN: We’re back with our guests as we talk more about scenarios and solutions. Peter, you talked about the Alaskan pipeline, the Panama Canal, natural gas pipelines in northeastern part of the country. Is there a common theme to how you would make them more safe?
BLACK: Well, in the United States we’ve made a practice not of putting arson inspectors in everybody’s home, but rather of having fire departments that can respond quickly when an emergency does occur. There’s no reason why up on the Alaska pipeline they couldn’t have an emergency response team that would be practiced, constantly tested in their ability to identify and repair a damaged portion of the pipeline.
Same thing with the Panama Canal, same thing with the natural gas pipeline system and any number of other components of the critical infrastructure. It’s the ability to bounce back that is going to determine our ability to survive these kinds of attacks, not the ability to prevent them, because fundamentally, it’s impossible to protect against any and all attacks.
BROWN: Winn, same thing. Is there a common theme to how you would deal with the prospects of cyberterrorism? SCHWARTAU: Well, I agree with Peter absolutely. Response is absolutely critical. The term graceful degradation Robert came up with a few years ago, and how to reconstitute — I was at a store the other evening and their computers were down and I could not make a purchase. Now, if this happens systemically across the country we would certainly have some severe problems.
We don’t have the way to fall back right now to something that’s called paper and pencil, where we used to be able to do things. So we need to look at that in terms of how fast we can rebuild the systems and get back online.
The other thing we need to do is realize that cyberspace is not just about the virtual. It is based upon copper and glass and computers that’s physical. And we have to be able to protect the physical aspects of cyberspace as well.
BROWN: Mr. Steele, the other — I think maybe it was last week — we were talking with someone about smallpox. And I said, it struck me that if you could get someone to infect themselves with smallpox, get them into the country and walk him through — just walk him through a big city — you would have yourself an epidemic. How do you solve or protect against something like that?
STEELE: With counterintelligence and with effective clandestine intelligence. We have a decrepit, ineffective counter — counterintelligence and clandestine intelligence cadre today.
We also have not educated the American people. We are at war. The world is at war. There are billions of people that do not like America, and I think we have to help the public understand that we have not been doing our part in terms of getting along with the kinds of people that Senator McGovern pointed out earlier on CNN that harbor and spawn terrorists.
BROWN: The problem with that in this moment, it would seem to me, is I’m not sure how receptive the country would be to it right now. We are six weeks from the worst terrorist attack imaginable, just about.
STEELE: There are three things the president should be doing. He’s only doing one of them.
The first one is the tactical issue of hunting down and bringing to justice the terrorists that hit us.
The operational or intermediate issue is making America safe. That includes getting control of our visa process. Nobody’s records are truly checked by their host country or anyone else.
And the third strategic level is what approaches should we take to completely transforming the American military so that it can do manhunts, so that it can handle this kind of thing. You cannot send a nuclear carrier or a joint strike fighter against the kinds of bin Ladens that we are going to be fighting for the next hundred years. BROWN: Matt, I’ve been watching you up in the corner of my monitor here. You have got a great poker face. Sum some of this up here. I’m not sure what you are thinking right now.
DEVOST: I actually — we cheated in between — during the commercial break Robert brought up one of my pet issues, and that’s the issue of due diligence. And that kind of applies across all of these solution sets that we are talking about.
I know that particularly in the cyberarena, most of the vulnerabilities that can be exploited are known vulnerabilities for which patches exist. If the companies aren’t out there implementing best practices — that applies to physical infrastructures as well — if they’re not conducting the threat assessments, bringing the experts in, we’re going to continue to be vulnerable.
So we need to foster an environment where due diligence is the norm, and that we eliminate some of the negligence, eliminate some of the inherent vulnerabilities in these infrastructures so that we can all sleep a little easier at night.
BROWN: Winn, real quick…
BROWN: Yeah, go ahead.
BLACK: I’d like to add one thing to this.
BROWN: Please. Please.
BLACK: The four guys you have got on the air tonight are all auslanders. We are all people who are outside the Beltway. We are all people who have talked about this stuff for a decade and have not been part of the governmental process.
STEELE: And are still not being listened to today.
BLACK: Yeah, and that’s true. And one of the key things that the Office of Homeland Security and the Bush administration has to do now is reach out beyond the Beltway, reach out to the people who are extraordinary and unconventional thinkers. And there are a cadre of those people available — we’re not the only four — and bring them into the process.
Think of it this way: the two major attacks that have taken place against the United States in the last seven weeks were not properly anticipated by the conventional thinkers in the government. Unconventional thinking, built around the premise of coming up with fast, agile and unexpected responses to these kinds of attacks, is critical now.
BROWN: Do any of you see in — just in the last seven weeks — that the government is more willing or even eager to work outside its traditional bureaucracies? I’ll take that as a no, I guess. DEVOST: I think I — I actually have encountered that a little. I think we are starting to see a few outreach initiatives. I just don’t think they’re as strong as they should be.
And there are some unconventional thinkers that are being brought in and some ideas being explored, such as the one that you mentioned earlier with Hollywood screen writers and producers and directors being brought in to think about those issues. Those are the things that wouldn’t have been done prior to September 11th that are now starting to make it into the mainstream but it’s certainly not nearly enough.
STEELE: No, now wait a minute. That’s absolutely wrong. There are some good people that are being brought in, but that is one Beltway remove. Calling in RAND or Booz Allen to bring in their resident geek does not cut it with me. The Pentagon has suddenly rediscovered that homeland defense should be its number one mission. They have not moved dollar one. They have not come up with concepts, doctrine. They are not changing anything about how they create a homeland defense command that Tom Ridge can take over.
BROWN: About a half minute. Who wants to take the next shot here?
SCHWARTAU: Security awareness. This has got — a battle that we’ve all been talking about for an awful long time inside the groups — whether we’re in the box or outside the box. But finally — we’ve been preaching for a decade — this is going to hit folks at home. And it’s hitting folks at home right now. Not only from the terrorist attacks we’ve seen, but from the way the cyberattacks are occurring and are going to increasingly occur. We have to get the folks at home to be aware of it, of what can go wrong and to become part of the solution and not part of the problem.
BROWN: I don’t know if the government will call on you guys again, but I will. Thank you very much.
STEELE: The people are what matter.
BROWN: Well, I don’t know if I represent them. But I’ll call. I hope you’ll join us again. You were all terrific today.
STEELE: Thank you.
DEVOST: Thank you.
SCHWARTAU: Thank you.
BROWN: An interesting couple of segments there. Thanks. Just ahead, a relic of the Cold War. Now it’s got the toughest job in America’s new war, very possibly targeting an American airliner for destruction. NORAD, when we come back.