No simple answers
As Congress prepares for more debate over a new Department of Homeland Security, two foreign policy think tanks warn that the public and private sectors still talk past each other in the war on terrorism.
As Congress prepares for more debate over a new Department of Homeland Security, two foreign policy think tanks warn that the public and private sectors still talk past each other in the war on terrorism. Both the Council on Foreign Relations, New York, and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, DC, recently said that, while there may be no easy way to protect pipelines, refineries, and power grids from terrorists, policy-makers still need to do a better job.
CSIS officials conducted a simulation exercise called "Silent Vector" to reveal vulnerabilities during a "credible" pre-attack threat to energy infrastructure. One lesson CSIS says it learned was that modern terrorism is trans-border, while US intelligence operations are still border-bound. Similarly, it said communication channels among federal, state, and local levels of government remain "insufficient" for dealing with a crisis.
CSIS concluded that the White House's color-coded system for terrorism alertness works for the federal government but is not reliable for the private sector. They said industry preparations are entirely voluntary, and there is no effective "report-back" system to regulators.
CSIS also is worried about the chemical industry, whose security procedures are not necessarily designed to counter terrorism. Protecting chemicals is a "very complex control problem," CSIS said, because of multiple producers, multiple transportation methods, and widely distributed storage locations controlled by many different public and private organizations.
Industry opposes a pending Senate measure directing EPA to play a direct role in overseeing chemical manufacturing. Industry representatives said that proposal is burdensome and redundant to its own security plans with the Department of Energy (OGJ, Oct. 14, 2002, p. 34).
A separate report by the Council on Foreign Relations warns that sabotage to US energy systems could be as disruptive as a military strike against Middle East oil fields.
"The infrastructure for providing energy to end users is concentrated, sophisticated, and largely unprotected," the report found. "Further, some infrastructure lies offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, on the continental shelf, and within the territories of our North American neighbors."
Sixty percent of the refined products marketed in the Northeast are piped from refineries in Texas and Louisiana. A coordinated attack on key pumping stations, which often are in remote areas that are not staffed or have no intrusion detectors, could cause mass disruption, CFR said. California also is vulnerable: About 50% of its electrical supply comes from natural gas-fired power plants, and 30% of the state's natural gas comes from Canada.
CFR said the White House should "move beyond" ranking vulnerabilities of critical infrastructures on a sector-by-sector basis. Instead, it should conduct cross-sector analyses, placing premiums on correcting weaknesses that present the greatest risk of cascading disruption and losses across multiple sectors. The report said the government should fund assessments of energy distribution vulnerability within 6 months. Modular backup components also should be stockpiled to quickly restore operations that may be targeted. The US should work more with Canada on cross-border pipeline security, the report said.