Truth About Computer Security Hysteria
To foster information sharing, we must destroy democratic information sharing (part 4)George C. Smith, Ph.D., Editor-at-large
Monday, 18 December 2000
RICHARD CLARKE, WILLIAM Clinton's anti-terrorism bulldog in the National Security Council, gave the media a parting gift before the clock runs out on the current administration with still another of his seemingly infinite number of speeches on the ever present danger of "electronic Pearl Harbor."
Unsurprisingly, a two year review of Clarke literature in the news media shows the public record of the National Security Council advisor's speeches and interviews to be almost utterly devoid of substantive discussion on computer security and "cyberterror" but rich in cliche and numblingly over-reliant on simplistic and unsubstantiated claims.
In fact, Clarke's public work resembles looks like nothing more than a ham-handed campaign of threat-mongering propaganda notable for only two features:
Part 4: The real world intrudes
"Well, I can't really promise it's going to be a cold winter, but I can tell you that if we don't protect our nation from the new threat that it faces it could be a very cold winter for a number of years." — Richard Clarke
One of Richard Clarke's favorite mantras is the idea that hackers, cyber-infidels, anonymous national foes, will turn off the electricity. It is an inescapable inhabitant of his speeches — often accompanied by words to the effect that Americans should be prepared to strike back militarily at any who attack our infrastructure.
But Richard Clarke has never made any account for the intrusions of the real world or indicated any appreciation of the true complexity of American techno-civilization and the unpredictable ways in which we can incommode ourselves.
Take for instance the supply of electricity in California during the winter of 2000. Throughout December, the state agency which monitors the supply of electricity in California has issued regular alerts that the power pool would fall below five percent and even three percent of capacity, eventually necessitationg the imposition of rotating black-outs in what is, traditionally, the lowest time of power consumption in southern California.
The reasons for this developing problem are extremely complex and have been discussed in depth in recent issues of the Los Angeles Times. And they are, by most accounts, unpredictable and insoluble in any quick manner. However, they chiefly revolve around the deregulation of the state's electrical utilities in 1999 and the delivery of the power supply into the hands of the private market. When this happened, the state utilities immediately sold many of their power plants to out-of-state companies which where in no way obligated to sell the power these plants made back to California, or even to run them at all.
In the resulting corporate free-for-all, rates to customers doubled and tripled in San Diego (other areas have been protected by a price cap set to be lifted in 2001) and power normally set aside for California was sold in the Pacific Northwest where it commanded more profit but generated the threat of black-outs in the Sunshine State. Eventually, as a stop-gap measure, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson was lobbied by state politicians into declaring the situation an emergency. And he ordered the out-of-state power suppliers to furnish California with its electricity needs.
Your editor-at-large poses the rhetorical questions to Richard Clarke:
"You black out a city, people die. Black out lots of cities, lots of people die. It's as bad as being attacked by bombs." -- Richard Clarke
NEWS ITEM: (Associated Press — December 17) "More than 100,000 people waited Saturday for electricity to be turned back on as the latest in a series of storms blew blinding snow across the nation's heartland ... More than 100,000 homes and businesses across Arkansas still had no electricity for heat and lights Saturday ... some people might not have power until Tuesday said a state official. An additional 30,000 were still without electricity in Louisiana ... three days after the areas was hit with an ice-storm ... and 32,000 other remained in the dark in east Texas."