America’s Collision Course With The Debt Ceiling
As the nation counts down to default, Diane talks to longtime Congress watcher Norm Ornstein about the debt limit negotiations, what's at stake and whether he sees a way forward.
Former Nightline anchor Ted Koppel on the latest developments in Paris and his recent research on the vulnerabilities of the U.S. power grid. Koppel’s concerns about cyber warfare, the power grid and what we can do to prepare.
Excerpted from LIGHTS OUT: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath by Ted Koppel. Copyright © 2015 by Ted Koppel. Excerpted by permission of Crown Publishers, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Veteran journalist Ted Koppel has seen firsthand how the world has responded to the new kinds of terrorist threats we face, such as what just happened in Paris. He joins me to talk about his reaction to the attack there, as well as a different kind of threat he says we face, a cyber attack on our nation's power grids. His new book is titled, "Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared Surviving The Aftermath."
MS. DIANE REHMAnd throughout the hour, of course, we'll be taking your calls, comments, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And Ted Koppel, how good to see you here.
MR. TED KOPPELAnd how nice to be seen here and good to see you. It's been a long time.
REHMThank you, Ted. It has been a long time, but it's wonderful to have you here, especially on this day while Paris is reeling from what has happened there. You've been watching these events going way back to Vietnam and then to hostages held and now to what's happening in Paris. Are you surprised to see where we are today?
KOPPELI'm disappointed, but I'm not surprised. We tend to keep making the same mistake and I see us making the same mistakes now in reacting to what happened in Paris.
KOPPELIn the sense that we overreact to things after the happen and we fail to plan for things that may happen or will happen. And I must tell you, as great as the tragedy of Paris is, it's still a conventional form of terrorism that tragically we have grown accustomed to over the years. And what worries me far more is if a group like ISIS, which already has a cyber war capability, and is already probing on the cyber front, they will have the capacity to reach out from wherever they are in the world.
KOPPELWe have this illusion that if we can just physically keep people out of the country, that therefore we will be protected against the worst of what terrorism has to offer.
REHMWhat about the intelligence that the U.S. apparently offered to France early this year, and yet -- and yet, nothing about this particular attack?
KOPPELAnd inevitably, when you're dealing with a group, a small group, of individuals, I mean, the irony of all ironies, Diane, is as we look back, what has arguably been one of the most damaging and one of the most expensive attacks on the United States occurred on 9/11. Our response to 9/11 must have made Osama bin Laden, while he was still alive, just sort of hit his forehead with the back of his hand saying, I never thought they'd go to these extremes.
KOPPELApart from the 7 or 8,000 young men and women who were killed, Americans, and the tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi killed, we've had, what, an expenditure of $3 trillion based on the attack of 20-some odd men. And things are going to get a lot worse. There is no way -- I mean, the notion that we can keep out terrorists when the terrorists end up being 19 and 20 years old and if you ran into them in the street, you know, unless you can look into their hearts and minds and see what's going on there, how can you tell?
KOPPELAnd what ISIS is successfully doing is imbuing in us a sense of fear and suspicion of all Muslims, which is just going to be devastating to the Muslim community, but also devastating to us.
REHMAnd you are a watcher of politics as well. How do you think that what's happened in Paris and the growing threat of international attacks, how do you think that might affect the outcome of 2016?
KOPPELWell, I'm not sure. At the moment, everyone is sort of responding in such a conventional fashion. It's an act of war. Yes, it is an act of war. We have to respond by going to war. I'm not altogether sure that we do have to respond by going to war. We have to respond by being a little bit smarter in terms of preparing for the kinds of attacks. Look, Diane, I realize it's not a totally appropriate analogy, but it is not the number of deaths that outrage Americans.
KOPPELWe lose more than 25,000 people a year on our highways. Nobody thinks about it. Nobody cares about it. The reason I draw that analogy is because in terms of the internet, we have become now so dependent upon so many different aspects of the internet, that we fail to see that the internet has now become a weapon mass destruction.
REHMAnd that is what leads us to your book, "Lights Out." I wonder when and what got you started on this path.
KOPPELWell, you made passing reference to it in your introduction. Leon Panetta, who was then the secretary of defense, spoke about the danger of a cyber Pearl Harbor. People of our generation, yours and mine, know that a reference to Pearl Harbor cannot be lightly used. It was the most devastating attack that had ever taken place. It wasn't the United States back then, but on a U.S. territory.
KOPPELThe president of the United States has twice in his State of the Union addresses, warned about the danger of cyber attacks on our infrastructure, specifically mentioning the power grid. Janet Napolitano, when she stepped down after five years as secretary of Homeland Security, said that this was a great and growing danger. And when I spoke to her and asked her what she thought the likelihood was that an attack on the power grid, a cyber attack on the power grid, could take down the power grid to the point where -- we only have three in this country.
KOPPELTaking down all or part of one of those power grids could leave tens of millions of people without power for weeks or even months at a time.
REHMAnd that, in turn, could lead to...
KOPPELWell, think about it. If we have, depending on when it occurs, if it occurred in winter and we have no heat on the east coast, we have no light, we have no capacity to cook, we turn on the taps and the water doesn't flow. We flush the toilet and it doesn't flush. Simply the health crisis, the hunger crisis, the thirst crisis is going to be enormous. And we have this illusion that somehow all we have to do is move from one state to another.
KOPPELWe are assuming that if hundreds of thousands of us had to move from one state to another or even millions that we would necessarily be welcomed in other states. Other states do not necessarily have the infrastructure or the ability to absorb that many people for an extended period of time.
REHMSo if Leon Panetta talked about it, if Janet Napolitano talked about it and you are not writing about it -- you are now writing about it, what is the U.S. government or those in charge doing about it?
KOPPELWell, not much. I mean, I spent an hour with the current secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, and asked him what the plan was. They have plans for everything. They have plans for a plague of locusts. They have plans for earthquakes. They have plans for every possible natural disaster, but the plan is get yourself a two to three supply of food, make sure you have a radio with adequate batteries. Make sure you have flashlights. Make sure you have water and enough medicine to take care of you for two or three days.
KOPPELWe're talking about something that could last months. And there is -- I have to put it carefully. I don't believe there is any government plan for that, but if there is, my question is, why not share it with us while everything still works, while the electricity still works and we're capable of responding to that plan. We're capable of making preparations of our own. I don't believe there is a plan, Diane.
REHMSo if you've talked with Jeh Johnson, if you've talked with others in the government, what about those on the Hill? What about members of Congress? What do they say?
KOPPELWell, J. Rockefeller, for example, who was chairman of the commerce committee and chairman of the intelligence committee at one point, what he told me was that the chamber of commerce has done such an effective job of blocking cyber regulation because there are concerns the power industry is deregulated. On one level, that's good for all of us because it brings the price of electricity down. But that deregulation means it's not subject to, as the term implies, it's not subject to very much federal regulation.
REHMAnd you have so many smaller companies involved and that is also part of the problem. Ted Koppel is with me, former ABC News man, now the author of a new book, "Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving The Aftermath." Short break, stay with us.
REHMWelcome back. Ted Koppel is with me. He is, of course, a person you know from many, many years as a newsman hosting "Nightline," being present with us night after night. Now he has written a book titled, "Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath." Here's an email from Josh in Portland, Ore., who says, why are the machines running the electrical grid connected to the Internet at all? We powered our country for decades before the World Wide Web. So why not avoid the vulnerability of being on a global network by simply keeping those computers offline or in a closed network and updating the software manually when needed?
KOPPELIt's a perfect question. It's a very smart question, a very insightful question. Some years ago, the power industry was deregulated. Prior to that time, power companies were vertically integrated -- I don't want to get too wonkish on everyone -- but they generated the power, they transmitted the power, they delivered the power. These days, you have different companies doing many of those things, so that you have small companies out there who are simply delivering the power. They don't generate it. They don't transmit it across the country. But there are now 3,200 electric power companies...
KOPPEL...in this country. And they are all interconnected. Let me give you a -- I have a over-simplistic analogy. If you had a balloon with 1,000 valves and 500 of those valves are admitting air into the balloon, 500 are taking it out, you have to keep the amount of air in perfect balance: too much air, the balloon bursts, too little air, the balloon collapses. With the transmission -- the generation and transmission of electric power, there has to be a perfect balance among everything that those 3,200 companies are doing. That can only be achieved by the Internet.
REHMBy the Internet.
KOPPELBecause if you have all these millions upon millions of interactions that are constantly taking place, you have to have a perfect balance between the amount of power that is generated and the amount of power that is used. If for one reason or another that balance goes out of balance, you're going to have a collapse.
REHMSo far, what we've seen in the way of attacks have been humanly operated: people with guns, people with explosives. And what we've seen in Paris has been devastating. Do you believe that what's happened in Paris makes your concerns about a cyber attack on the nation's electric grid that much more imminent?
KOPPELI don't think it makes it more imminent or less imminent. I think what, you know, inevitably, terror attacks are used by the weak against the strong. When I say the weak, ISIS doesn't have an air force. ISIS doesn't have an army. ISIS doesn't have a navy. ISIS doesn't have any missiles that it can use to attack the United States. So, for the time being, what it uses are explosive vests, suicide vests, or AK-47 rifles. What they do have, however, are laptop computers.
KOPPELI don't want to leave your audience with the impression that getting into the power grid is easy. It's incredibly complicated. But the Chinese and the Russians, for example, are already inside it. And just in case anyone's wondering, yes, we are inside the Chinese grid and we are inside the Russian grid. And all of us could knock one another's grids out. It's unlikely to happen in those cases, because we have too many interlocking relationships with the Chinese, with the Russians. But as you go down the scale of capability: the Iranians, the North Koreans, the Syrians, all have cyber capability. Each one is a little bit more likely to engage in that kind of an attack.
KOPPELAnd when you come down to the level of a terrorist organization like ISIS, imagine their whole stock-in-trade is creating terror, is inflicting as much pain and damage as they possibly can. And if they find a way to do that, long-distance, without having to enter the United States, simply by using a computer in order to bring down a grid or any part of the U.S. infrastructure, do you not think they would do it? Of course they would.
REHMHere's an email from Jake, who asks, what's the technical rationale for thinking the grid could be down for months? New York State and surrounding areas had a catastrophic grid failure some years ago. The bulk of it was back up within two days.
KOPPELAbsolutely true. But that was because of a natural cause. What happened is that some tree branches brushed against some high-power lines and the grid went down. In the case of a cyber-attack, you have a party out there who for one reason or another has been able to get into the grid. You're not necessarily going to know right away where they are. And they can be continuing their activities even as the grid is down. They don't stop just because the grid goes down. They're continuing.
REHMThere are three separate grids...
REHM...in the United States. Define them for us.
KOPPELThe Eastern Interconnect, which goes from the East Coast way past Chicago, it's huge, by far the largest. The Texans, as you would expect, have their own grid. And then there is the West Coast. So those are the three power grids.
REHMSo Texas has its own, all by itself.
KOPPELYes. And, you know, it's sort of an interesting point at which to find out that there are also micro-grids -- in other words, a number of small communities around the country have decided they don't want to be dependent on these large power grids and they have created their own micro-grids, which are not on any one of these three grids and therefore not as vulnerable to attack.
REHMSo that's why you're also concerned about people wanting to move from state to state.
KOPPELWell, and we just assume that each state is going to welcome thousands of refugees. Part of the question becomes -- I mean, what was interesting to me, Diane, is sometimes within the same agency, at the very top of the agency, you had total disagreement about how serious this problem is and what would be done. For example, FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the deputy director of FEMA is a former vice admiral in the Coast Guard -- a very nice man and couldn't have been more gracious to me -- but he said, Ted, I just think you're wrong. I don't think this is going to happen. I don't think we're vulnerable to this kind of an attack.
KOPPELAnd I kept pressing him and saying, well, what if an attack like this were to take out part of the Eastern Connect, taking out, let's say, the City of New York? What would you do? Well, he said, I'd have to evacuate. I said, 8 million people, where are you going to put them? Well, he said, you're not giving me much of an option. On the one hand, you're saying it's going to happen. We don't have the food to take care of all of these people there. We'd have to evacuate them.
KOPPELThe next day, I went to see his boss, the administrator of FEMA. Yes, he said, he is absolutely convinced that this can happen and very likely will happen. Well, I said, what happens if the attack targets New York City? Do you evacuate? Oh, no, he said. You can't evacuate New York City. Too many people. Where are you going to put them? Now, here are the two top people at FEMA in total disagreement, A, about whether it can happen and, B, about what you would do if it does.
REHMWhat have you personally done?
KOPPELOh, you mean, apart from the barbed wire, the trenches and the machine gun emplacements?
REHMFor your own family?
KOPPELFor my own family, I have purchased for all of our kids and grandkids, a two-months' supply of freeze-dried food. And that's essentially it. And asked them to make sure...
KOPPEL...asked them to make sure that they have adequate water supplies.
REHMInteresting. All right, let's go to Ray in Orlando, Fla. You're on the air.
RAYThank you for taking my call, Diane. And a pleasure to speak with you, Mr. Koppel. I'm a fan.
RAYMy question is, do you feel that you're basically then preaching to the choir, when most -- I think all of our Republican presidential candidates are screaming for more deregulation in every area and every aspect. And you're asking for regulation in one of the most unregulated areas, the Internet.
REHMIs that what...
REHM...that what you're asking for?
KOPPELI guess I'm not preaching to the choir then, because that sort of implies that they agree with what I'm preaching. I take your point. The power industry, I believe, over the course of the past couple of years, has become much more open to the notion of collaboration with the federal government. They realize they're not going to be able to do it on their own. They are going to be dependent on agencies like the NSA. But you're exactly right. I mean, one of the biggest problems is the issue of privacy. And it's always a question of the balance between privacy and security. And in the wake of something like 9/11, all of a sudden everyone is worried about security and privacy sort of takes a second place.
KOPPELAnd as the years go by, privacy comes back as being more and more important to people, and they pay less attention to security. In the wake of what's just happened in Paris, I suspect that the focus will be a little bit more on the security. But when you have an agency like the NSA, which is -- whatever you may think of the NSA -- and incredibly competent agency, certainly the best in the world when it comes to both cyber offense and even cyber defense. I suspect that people, if they become aware of the danger of a cyber attack, would be more willing to give the NSA a little more leeway.
KOPPELBut at the moment, we have still been in one of those phases where people are focusing more on privacy. And there's no question, the NSA has intruded upon the privacy of American citizens.
REHMHere's an email from Jeffrey, who says, Ted's comment about the electricity being deregulated is not accurate. Though some generations may not longer be subject to price regulation, they are still subject to NERC's rules and the reliability authorities responsible for maintaining reliability also. All transmission facilities continue to be fully regulated.
KOPPELThere's where the rub comes in. He is correct. NERC, N-E-R-C, technically has the right -- I mean, it is the body, the federal body that regulates -- actually, it's FERC, the Federal Energy Reliability Council, I think. It's -- I don't have the acronym exactly down at the moment.
REHMBut isn't NERC the National Electric Regulatory Commission?
KOPPELNo, NERC is actually the industry body.
REHMOh, okay. Gotcha.
KOPPELAnd FERC is the one that regulates. But -- and it's a huge but -- FERC can simply propose regulations to NERC, to the industry body. The industry body then has to approve the regulations that FERC proposes by a 60 percent majority.
REHMSo it's a self-regulating operation.
KOPPELWell, it's not exactly self regulation, but you're exactly right.
KOPPELIt is almost so. That's right.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's take a caller from Pittsburgh, Pa., Karyl-Ana, you're on the air.
KARYL-ANAHi. Back in 1980, I was a consultant to the U.S. Department of Energy and helped supervise a publication titled, "Community Alert: Preparing for Energy Emergencies." That was at the tail-end of the Carter administration. And when the Reagan administration came in, they got rid of every single thing that we had been working on and thing that had been developed in solar and wind and conservation. And basically, the only thing that was left was oil, gas, coal and nuclear.
KARYL-ANASo I just want people to realize that back in 1980, there were people in the government who were prepared to think about energy emergencies and they were thrown out of the government. I mean, when I say thrown out, they were fired while I was in the building at the U.S. Department of Energy. But at any rate, the main thing that I think we have to face up to is that if we did have such an emergency, we would have to go under martial law for some period of time.
KARYL-ANAWe would have to have -- food would have to be rationed in such a way that it would be distributed so that people wouldn't be fighting over food in the grocery stores. It would have to be delivered, you know, neighbor -- neighborhood streets. It would have to be done in such a way that you would not have people congregating and fighting over things, you know, like food. And it's so mind-boggling that that's why you're not getting much of a response from people in the government. Because, you know, from their viewpoint, they've got enough on their plate and they simply can't -- it boggles the mind to think of us being without electricity. Because even companies like Verizon, they're getting rid of the copper lines, the landlines.
KARYL-ANASo, but -- in many emergencies today, people's phones don't work. Because if you can't -- if you aren't hooked up to electricity or if you can't get your phones charged...
KARYL-ANA...you don't even have a simple thing like phone communications. And it's...
KOPPELLook, you make a lot of good points. And let me focus on just one of them, which I think is going to scare people a little, but frankly it should reassure them. And that is the notion that if and when something like this happens, the caller is exactly right. We would -- the president would have to declare martial law. Because the Army is, quite frankly, the only body that has the capacity of maintaining order and efficiently distributing food and water at a time like that. But, again, wouldn't it be smart to talk about it? Wouldn't this be the right time of year, when we're just at the beginning?
KOPPELI know it seems as though we've been -- we've almost ended the presidential campaign, but it's just started. This is a good time to talk about it. This is a good time to exchange ideas about what can happen. This is a good time to let the American public consider what would happen in the event of martial law. And, you know, martial law is not necessarily a fix-all answer. The Army is now down to 450,000 men and women. And we keep talking about sending more and more of them overseas.
REHMTed Koppel, his new book is titled, "Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath." More of your calls, your comments, after a short break. Stay with us.
REHMWelcome back. Ted Koppel is with me. We're talking about his brand new book. It's titled, "Light's Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath." Here's an email from Meg, who describes herself as kind of fearful in New Hampshire. She says, "I'm wondering if Mr. Koppel knows something more than the rest of us know about a possible cyberattack on our electrical grid or if he's acting out of an abundance of caution when outfitting his family for a survival situation.
REHM"Does he consider the position he's taking could invoke fear in the public, the same thing ISIS is doing?" And an email of David, who says, "Where is the proper balance between creating public disaster plans and sharing too much information with those who would do us harm?"
KOPPELWell, let me answer the first question first. Am I -- do I know more than you do? I hope so because I've spent the better part of a year and a half interviewing more than 60 people who are specialists in this field. I didn't start off knowing a great deal about it. I started off wondering why there were all these warnings for everyone from the President and Leon Panetta to Janet Napolitano and no one was paying any attention.
KOPPELSo yes, I would hope at this point I know more than most people who have not focused on the subject. Is there a line between alerting people to a likely danger and so frightening people that they're incapable of doing anything about it? I would hope so. I would hope there is a line between that. But in the final analysis what journalism ought to be about is alerting the public to potential danger. If I knew everything I know and just sat there taking care of my own family and didn't tell anybody about it, I think people, after the fact, would be justified in saying what kind of a journalist are you.
REHM"Thoughtful program," says David, in Greensboro, N.C. "Has Mr. Koppel read the speculative fiction title, 'One Second After,' by William Fortune?"
REHM"The scenario discussed by Mr. Koppel would only be marginally better. This is a doleful novel of violent survival and mass die off. In this book an electromagnetic pulse attack takes out only the power grid and electronic devices. America moves to late medievalism."
KOPPELYes. I'm familiar with the book. I've read it. It's actually a very good novel. And I think that Mr. Fortune based it heavily, at least the facts of it, based it heavily on a Congressional committee that was created in 2004 to study the impact of an electromagnetic pulse. I should quickly tell your audience what that involves is the explosion of a nuclear device of 20,000 or 30,000 feet above the United States. And the resulting electromagnetic pulse would, as you correctly point out -- or as he correctly points out, knock out essentially all the electricity in the country.
KOPPELThe expected likelihood of that happening I find to be significantly less than a cyberattack. But there are people like former CIA director Jim Woolsey, who is absolutely convinced that this is the greatest danger, the EMP, confronting the United States. The end result would be frightening similar.
REHMAll right. To Nathan, in Raleigh, N.C. You're on the air.
NATHANHi, it's good to speak with you. I work in the industry and I think you're sort of overstating the threat or maybe have missed a little bit of the stuff that's happened in the last few years. Cyber has become a huge issue, especially in the distribution arena. And, I mean, security clearances have been forced upon pretty much everybody that has access to switchyards now.
KOPPELAnd I work in a nuclear power plant and our clearance to get into the switchyard is actually higher and more intense background than it is to get into the nuclear area of the plant. So, and we've done a lot of stuff, as far as air-gapping, taking relay houses and stuff from the internet and really hardening our systems against everything from EMP to cyberattack. And I'll take my answers off the air.
KOPPELSure. And everything you say is absolutely correct. But let me just point out -- and I'm sure you'd be the first to agree. The best firewalls in the world are useless if a worker who works in one of the SCADA systems, the Supervisory Control and Data Analysis -- this is sort of the heart of the internet control. If he takes a thumb drive home or she takes a thumb drive home, plugs it into his or her private computer, it becomes infected and the next day they bring that thumb drive back.
KOPPELWhat I'm saying to you is I understand there is enormous security and huge measures, security measures, have been taken by the biggest and the wealthiest of the power companies. There are 3,200 companies out there and several hundred of them are not that big, they're small. They're not that wealthy. They don't have the money to spend on cybersecurity. And if you can get into one of those -- and that's pretty easy -- then nations like the Chinese and the Russians have learned how to trace it all the way back into the central SCADA systems.
REHMAll right. To Andrew, in Baltimore, Md. You're on the air.
ANDREWThank you, Diane. I appreciate it. And thank you, Mr. Koppel, for bringing this up. I did seven years in the Department of Defense as a cybersecurity expert. And one interesting thing that we see is that the diversification of these networks through deregulation and otherwise actually can help resiliency because if you hit one node and the system, on its own, can move the power generation or internet or any of these other critical infrastructure services, we can move it quickly because it has multiple different avenues.
ANDREWIt actually helps over the long term to bring those power sources back. And I'm curious -- and I agree completely that the federal government really has no good plan. But the reality is service providers do want consistent service. And they do want good service. So do you think that it's actually in the best interest to more centralize these services or should be we let, largely, for lack of a better term, kind of the marketplace say we're gonna let these broad swaths of services provide many different avenues and different options for how service is provided? And I'll take my answer off the air.
KOPPELSure. I'm not sure if I think that allowing the marketplace to determine security considerations is always the best thing to do. Look, again, I'm telling you more than I as an individual know. I am simply telling you -- I just came -- before I came here to visit with Diane I just came from a session where my co-guests on the dais was the former director of the National Security Agency, General Keith Alexander. All I can tell you is he believes it inevitable.
KOPPELAll I can tell you is that the commander of CENTCOM, General Lloyd Austin, believes that it's not a question of if, it's only a question of when. I can't begin to discuss with any great expertise the intricacies of the power system, except to tell you that the experts with whom I've spoken all believe that it is vulnerable.
REHMAnd to St. Louis, Mo. Eric, you're on the air.
ERICYes. What I'm wondering, I guess, is more of a journalistic question. And I'm looking forward to getting the book and reading it. But I wonder how Ted went about weighing the self-interests of the many sources he spoke to, whether they're military or civilian people looking to up their budgets or people who are seeking to enhance their status as sources for other journalistic outlets.
REHMAll right, sir. Your phone is giving us some problems. Go ahead, Ted.
KOPPELI get the question.
KOPPELAnd it's a terrific question. And I had the same concern myself. I mean in the final analysis, Washington is filled with formers, former secretaries of states, former secretaries of Homeland Security, former directors of the NSA, who now have commercial interests in providing cybersecurity. There are all kinds of cybersecurity firms out there now that didn't exist 20 years ago. You know, do these people have a vested interest? Yes.
KOPPELAre they making up the fact that there is, you know, as Keith Alexander said just a couple of hours ago, there are only two kinds of businesses out there. Those that have been hacked and those that don't yet know that they've been hacked. The average length of time for a company to find out that it has been hacked is 279 days.
KOPPELRight. So there are people like Janet Napolitano, who is now the president of the University of California, who has no vested interest in telling me that this, you know, about the likelihood of this kind of an attack. She put the likelihood at 80 to 90 percent.
REHMWow. By the way, Eric also wanted to say that he's desperately missing the Koppel version of "Nightline."
KOPPELWell, that's very nice, Eric, thank you. If we had about 10 million others…
REHMAll right. And to Tom, in Nashua, N.H. You're on the air.
TOMThank you. So, Ted, you've really had an unparalleled level of access with senior government officials. We have on one hand, the president of the United States saying we have a very significant exposure for the power grid to cyberattack and other attack. And yet we have political appointees one level down who -- if you read your book, they don't seem that they actually believe we have a threat, or perhaps maybe personally they do believe we have a threat, but they're not being full candid with the public.
TOMI'm wondering if you might be able to give us some more insight into the thinking of these senior officials. Do you think they really believe that we just need a few days of food and a radio or perhaps are they maybe not being as candid as they could be?
KOPPELNo. I think it was sort of summarized by a former Army general who told me, you know, so many of these people are up to their rear ends -- and he didn't say rear ends -- in alligators. We've got the ISIS alligator. We've got the Syrian alligator. We've got the Iranian alligator. We've got alligators all over the world and they're all snapping at our backsides.
KOPPELAnd it becomes very, very difficult to get people to focus on a problem that hasn't yet happened. Tom Ridge, the first secretary of Homeland Security, said we're great as a people, at being reactive. We are not very good at being preemptive.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Ted, where do you think we go from here? You said that considering what's happened in Paris, this becomes more relevant. Where do you think we should be going from here?
KOPPELWell, I think we should make it a topic of this presidential campaign. I think it needs to be debated. And as I say, I don't think this is an issue that should divide Democrats and Republicans or liberals and conservatives. It's a question of security for the United States. I really believe this is one area where hands could reach across the aisle and where we could come up with some solutions. And when I say solutions, I mean, for example, the government doesn't have enough food to supply tens of millions of people for a period of a month or two.
KOPPELEven if they were to invest, let's say, $100 billion in buying freeze-dried foods, which keeps for 25 to 30 years, it would take years before that much food could be grown, harvested, processed and accumulated. We need to start beginning. We need to start doing something. We need to talk to people about what would happen if one region of the country were blacked out and how we would accommodate those people if they needed to move to another region of the country.
KOPPELWithout plans we can't do it.
REHMWhat about investing greater resources into our own cybersecurity?
KOPPELI think those of us -- I'm not sure that we can individually protect ourselves in the context of cybersecurity. Can we protect ourselves in terms of having adequate food and water available? Look, I'm aware of the fact there are millions of people in this country who can't put food on the table every day.
KOPPELBut those of us who can afford to have a supply, if we did and if we began rotating that supply -- so it's not a question of sitting on a three-months supply and never using it, rotating, eating it, consuming it and then replacing it, then at least if the government steps up to help those who can't afford it, it would be a lot easier and there would be fewer people to take care of.
REHMBut wait a minute, are you saying that there is nothing that the US government can do within its own cyber resources to protect against this happening to the grid?
KOPPELWhat I'm saying is that the internet was never designed to be protected. The internet was designed, as one senior Army intelligence officer told me, for professors to exchange good ideas. When you take a mechanism like the internet that was never designed to be protected and you try, after the fact, to superimpose 100 percent effective defenses, they're not gonna work.
REHMAnd that's the last word from Ted Koppel about his brand new book, "Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath." I hope that hearing this, Ted, many people who can do something will begin doing it.
KOPPELI hope we begin talking about it. That's a…
REHMThank you for being here.
KOPPELThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks, all, for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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