Washington, D.C. – The Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) hosted Cyber ShockWave, a simulated cyber attack on the United States, yesterday in Washington D.C. providing an unprecedented look at how the government would develop a real-time response to a large-scale cyber crisis affecting much of the nation. CNN will air the event exclusively as “We Were Warned: Cyber Shockwave” on Saturday, February 20 and Sunday, February 21 at 8:00pm, 11:00pm and 2:00am ET each night.
Cyber ShockWave highlighted the immediate, real dangers of cyber-terrorism by bringing together a bipartisan group of former senior administration and national security officials playing the roles of Cabinet members. The simulation envisioned an attack that unfolds over a single day in July 2011. When the Cabinet convenes to face this crisis, 20 million of the nation’s smart phones have already stopped working. The attack, the result of a malware program that had been planted in phones months earlier through a popular “March Madness” basketball bracket application, disrupts mobile service for millions. The attack escalates, shutting down an electronic energy trading platform and crippling the power grid on the Eastern seaboard.
The simulation was created by former CIA Director General Michael Hayden and the BPC’s National Security Preparedness Group, led by the co-chairs of the 9/11 Commission, Governor Thomas Kean and Congressman Lee Hamilton. Cyber ShockWave was developed in partnership with General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems, SMobile Systems, Southern Company, Georgetown University, and PayPal, with contributions from Symantec Corporation.
The Cabinet members, whose mission was to advise the President and mount a response to the attack, did not know the scenario in advance. They reacted to the threat in real time, as intelligence and news reports drove the simulation, shedding light on how difficult, split-second decisions must be made in response to an unfolding and often unseen threat.
In a post-event discussion moderated by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, the participants broke out of their roles to discuss the lessons learned during the exercise. Former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, who chaired the simulated National Security Council, said cyber-terrorism “ought to be treated as a threat of sufficient seriousness that we give it the priority attention we’ve given weapons of mass destruction.” Cyber-terrorism is “more complicated by the fact that it involves every individual. Anybody who has a smart phone, who downloads an app or gets on their PC is engaged in this process.”
“A useful aspect of something like this simulation is it helps people visualize what is realistic and possible in some circumstances. The smart thing is to prepare now, to do the legislation now, to do the bipartisan work now, to do the intelligence work now, the foreign policy work,” said John McLaughlin, playing the role of Director of National Intelligence. “These are all very complicated things and we need to get started on them.”
Stephen Friedman, who played the role of Secretary of the Treasury, said of a potential cyber attack on the U.S., “there is no question in my mind that this is a predictable surprise and we need to get our act together.”
The panel agreed that cyber-terrorism is a national security issue that needs to be addressed quickly in a bipartisan manner. “It raises an issue of the system’s responsibility to be able to come together in a nonpartisan way and figure out the answer to questions as opposed to kicking the can down the road until we’re in an emergency,” said Chertoff.
During the exercise, legal questions were raised regarding personal privacy versus national security. “We have to come to grips with the implications for our personal privacy and the relationship between the federal government and the private sector,” said Jamie Gorelick, who played the role of Attorney General.
“Cyber ShockWave demonstrated the tremendous challenges the government has in dealing with potential cyber attacks,” said Jason Grumet, founder and president of the BPC. “Our goal for Cyber Shockwave was to identify real policy and preparedness issues that need to be addressed in order to combat an attack of this magnitude that escalates rapidly and is of unknown origin.”
Former senior administration officials and national security experts participating in the event included:
Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff as National Security Advisor
Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte as Secretary of State
White House Homeland Security Advisor Fran Townsend as Secretary of Homeland Security
Director of Central Intelligence John McLaughlin as Director of National Intelligence
Senator Bennett Johnston as Secretary of Energy
Director of the National Economic Council Stephen Friedman as Secretary of Treasury
Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick as Attorney General
White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart as Counselor to the President
General Counsel of the National Security Agency Stewart Baker as Cyber Coordinator
Deputy Commander U.S. European Command Charles F. Wald as Secretary of Defense
Cyber ShockWave was sponsored by General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems, SMobile Systems, Southern Company, Georgetown University, and PayPal with contributions from Symantec Corporation.