In the midst of the coldest weather in 25 years, Minnesotans heard more chilling news on Jan. 29 from the country’s top spies.
Buried in the national intelligence chiefs’ 42-page assessments of worldwide threats were several paragraphs that demand urgent attention.
The report says Russia and China have the ability to cripple gas and electric supplies now. Utilities and government need to harden these systems or last week’s cold weather could become deadly instead of just inconvenient.
One Page 5, the report says: “China has the ability to launch cyber attacks that cause localized, temporary disruptive effects on critical infrastructure – such as disruption of a natural gas pipeline for days to weeks – in the United States.”
On the next page, the Russian threat is clear: “Russia has the ability to execute cyber attacks in the United States that generate localized, temporary disruptive effects on critical infrastructure – such as disrupting an electrical distribution network for at least a few hours…Moscow is mapping our critical infrastructure with the long-term goal of being able to cause substantial damage.”
China and Russia could cripple parts of the country without launching one missile or deploying one soldier. A few keystrokes could deliver more damage than ships and tanks.
When natural gas service failed in Princeton during the cold snap, about 150 Xcel customers experienced what life would be like without heat. Unanticipated demand for natural gas led to a drop in pressure and the utility cut off service to isolate the problem. To avoid even more outages, the utility asked customers across the state to lower their thermostats to 63 degrees.
Law enforcement and Xcel workers went door to door to make sure everyone was alright. Some people fled to hotels or stayed with friends. Xcel handed out electric space heaters so residents could keep water pipes from freezing.
But what would happen if, during extremely cold weather, the Russians or Chinese cut gas service not just to 150 customers but to an entire city or region. Imagine what would happen if, along with cutting gas service, enemies also crippled the electric grid? Electric space heaters would be useless. Fleeing to a hotel or a public space such as a school for shelter would be useless. There would be no power there either.
As the report says, the disruption could last for “days to weeks.”
What would you do? Where would you go to keep warm?
The danger faces not only the frozen North in the winter. Imagine life in Phoenix on a July day when the temperature hits 110 degrees and there’s no air conditioning and no pumps to keep the tap water flowing.
Let’s not wait until we’re all huddled in the cold to focus on this threat.
Here’s an idea for Donald Trump and the Congress. Instead of spending $25 billion on a third-century style wall that will take more than 10 years to build, let’s spend $25 billion hardening our power supplies from foreign attack. That’s a real national emergency.