Some of the more alarming international news goes first on this blog.
NBC News, late Thursday, reported intelligence chatter that suggested threats to the Internet and power grid(s) – apparently through cyberwar – on Election Day. I posted this on Facebook and it got reshared a lot very quickly. NBC speculated that the DDOS on Dyn could have been a "dress rehearsal" and seemed to hint that the threats could come from Russia and Vladimir Putin. They could come from non-state actors working for Putin under the table.
But early on Friday, social media started reporting a CBS News story about NDA intercept of Al Qaeda chatter about possible attacks in New York, Texas, and Virginia (apparently including Washington DC) on Monday, within 24 hours of the election. These reports, while vague, would tend to suggest physical attacks of some kind. It’s not clear yet if this is part of the same story NBC had reported, but it appears that the enemies are different (Russia v. radical Islam). Al Qaeda is the older group associated with 9/11, and is not the same as ISIS.
CNN mentioned the CBS story (only) at around 11:45 AM this morning (after heavy commercials). CNN still does not have an obvious link.
WJLA posted a story from its owner Sinclair Broadcasting in Baltimore, which sounded a tad more alarming. Sinclair had reported on the EMP threat problem (rather unusual from major media companies) in July, in a report aired on WJLA briefly; but a subsequent “Your Voice Your Future” on Aug. 1 could be viewed only by streaming (from a Sinclair or Fox studio in Wisconsin) – Wordpress article.
What to make of this? I had reviewed Ted Koppel’s book “Light’s Out” in November 2015. The main way a cyber attack to affect the power grid would be an attack on a smaller utility or cooperative that doesn’t have as good security and that hasn’t properly separately all the power grid devices from the public Internet (as they are supposed to be). Cascading transformer failures in a region are possible. Some entrepeneurs (like Taylor Wilson in Nevada) have proposed solutions that could prevent this possibility altogether but would require hundreds of millions of investment. Why doesn’t Donald Trump talk about this publicly if he wants law, order and security?
Emphasize this again: the mention of Al Qaeda raises the idea of some kind of physical attack, ranging from “infantry” (as in a 2013 attack on a substation in California) or some sort of device. Hopefully NORAD would stop any incoming high altitude missiles launched off-shore (the scenario in the 2009 novel “One Second After”). But localized non-nuclear EMP devices (affecting small areas) do exist, as was once discussed in the Washington Times (2009) and Popular Mechanics (2001, one week before 9/11). See posting on this blog March 4, 2010. The mention of NY and Virginia “obviously” would bring to mind the new WTC site or the Pentagon. Officials say that there are no specifics in the chatter as to exact targets or methods, and the credibility is still being investigated. NYPD has its own separate means of investigating chatter. It's unclear why Texas would appear in the chatter, but Texas Senator Ted Cruz had mentioned the EMP threat to Wolf Blitzer on CNN late March 21, 2016, hours before the Brussels attack. No other candidate (except Newt Gingrich (GA), who had been a possible VP choice for Trump and who had written the Foreword to "One Second After" an op-ed about EMP after the 2012 derecho) has mentioned the idea openly. Hillary Clinton has mentioned power grid security as a general issue at least once. I'd like to hear Donald Trump talk about this -- "stay on point". Actually, I can think of a second reason why Texas is mentioned. The Texas Interconnection is one of the three major power grids -- Texas has its own grid. But no state in the western grid was named.
But another reason could be the Curtis Culwell Center Attack in Garland TX (near Dallas) in May 2015.
I've done my best here to "connect the dots" on what I know. In an alternate universe, I should have had a career in intelligence. There will surely be more coverage of this threat tonight. But could this development simply help Trump get closer? Both stories are drawing considerable attention, almost viral, from the survivalist and doomsday prepper communities on Facebook.
Update: Nov. 5
WJLA-7 in Washington has aired a short film "Cyber Hit Men for Hire" which says that Russian malware called "Black Energy" has been sitting on some US Utility servers since 2012 and can't be removed.