In a speech last night aboard the USS Intrepid in New York, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta warned a meeting of Business Executives for National Security about the cyber challenges the United States faces.
“A cyber attack perpetrated by nation states or violent extremist groups could be as destructive as the terrorist attack of 9/11,” Panetta said. “Such a destructive cyber terrorist attack could paralyze the nation.”
Panetta recalled a recent attack against the Saudi Arabian state oil company ARAMCO caused by a computer virus known as “Shamoon” that he described as “probably the most destructive attack that the private sector has seen to date.” In that attack, Secretary Panetta said, the virus self-executed itself and “replaced crucial system files with an image of a burning U.S. flag. It also put additional ‘garbage’ data that overwrote all the real data on the machine. The more than 30,000 computers it infected were rendered useless, and had to be replaced.”
The challenges create a “profound new sense of vulnerability,” Panetta noted. “An aggressor nation or extremist group could gain control of critical switches and derail passenger trains, or trains loaded with lethal chemicals,” he said. “They could contaminate the water supply in major cities, or shut down the power grid across large parts of the country.”
To learn more about America’s cyber challenges, check out CNAS’s Election 2012 National Security Guide to the Presidential Election.
Over the summer, Nancy Brune and I contributed to the National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends 2030 blog, a forum to discuss a range of issues ahead of the NIC’s forthcoming Global Trends 2030 study, to be released after the presidential election this fall.
What is interesting about the NIC’s study is that it focuses on emerging trends and their implications for the security and geopolitical environments. But rather than explore these trends in isolation of each other, the NIC examines different scenarios, and how trends engage one another. Urbanization and climate change are among the trends that the NIC has looked at closely. In separate posts, Nancy and I both examined the security implications of urbanization and climate change for the NIC’s blog.
Urbanization – the shift of populations from rural to urban communities – presents challenges and opportunities for policymakers in developed and developing countries. As I wrote in July:
On the one hand, urban cities have the potential to serve as engines of change, driving economic growth in some of the world’s least developed countries and pulling more people out of poverty than at any other time in history. On the other hand, climate change could undercut all of this by exacerbating resource scarcity and putting vulnerable communities at risk from sea level rise and more frequent and intense storms.
But of course, climate change is not the only other trend that touches urbanization. A range of trends, such as globalization and emerging diseases, combine with urbanization to present dilemmas for policymakers.
Last week, Yale Environment 360 published a piece that explored the challenges that could manifest from urbanization, globalization and emerging diseases coming together in novel ways. See: “The Next Pandemic: Why It Will Come from Wildlife.”
While the United States should make better use of space technologies to advance U.S. interests (particularly for improving U.S. disaster warning and response, as I argued this week in a new policy brief Sentries in the Sky: Using Space Technologies for Disaster Response), ground-based sensors will continue to be important for providing a holistic view of environmental, climate change and other important global trends that can affect U.S. security. The U.S. government needs a suite of tools that include ground- and space-based remote sensing technologies, not one or the other.
In this photo taken on September 4, 2012, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute prepares to launch its research vessel with these buoys that will help scientists measure saline concentrations at sea. According to NASA, “The NASA-sponsored expedition will sail to the North Atlantic's saltiest spot to get a detailed, 3-D picture of how salt content fluctuates in the ocean's upper layers and how these variations are related to shifts in rainfall patterns around the planet.”
This type of expedition can help advance scientists’ understanding of ocean chemistry, which may help improve climate modeling that can provide security practitioners more actionable data about the impact of global climate change on particular regions.
Photo: Courtesy of Bill Ingalls and NASA.
The National Intelligence Council (NIC) recently launched a new blog in advance of Global Trends 2030, which is expected to be published in November just after the presidential election. (The NIC releases a new edition of Global Trends after every presidential election in part to inform the incoming administration about what the world could look like in the future.) The new blog features experts’ commentary on a range of global trends that are expected to shape the future security environment, such as the rise of major non-western economies and the competition over natural resources, trends that readers are likely to read about in the new edition this fall.
A blog post by Myron Brilliant, a senior vice president for international affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, offers some insights into how the NIC’s study will frame the discussion of natural resources, security and foreign policy by grounding that discussion in the context of other developing trends, such as emerging economic powers. In his post, Brilliant explores how rising economies such as China, India, Russia and Turkey will affect competition over resources. “[W]ill the growth of these economies put an inevitable strain on global resources and increase competition for water, oil and other commodities, culminating in a zero-sum race for resources — or is a collaborative approach possible?” Brilliant asks. “In India and China natural energy and water resources are scarce. Food wastage is a growing problem and developing a farm-to-market supply chain is evolving. Pressure is rising as we see increasing competition for resources (e.g., China’s appetite for securing resources in Africa). Global challenges require global solutions. We need to find ways to address these issues now before they become even more significant.”
A new report from Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE) debunks the myth about America’s oil boom leading to energy independence.
The SAFE study, The New American Oil Boom: Implications for Energy Security, comes on the heels of recent reports that increased domestic petroleum production – made possible through technological innovations such as hydraulic fracturing, enhanced oil recovery and improvements in offshore oil production – could make the United States energy independent over the next few decades. “The nature and meaning of energy independence, however, is widely misunderstood,” the authors of the SAFE report state. “Although increased domestic oil production will have clear positive effects on the U.S. economy, it alone will not insulate America from the risks of oil dependence. This can only be accomplished by reducing the role of oil in our economy.”
The report correctly notes that while increased U.S. domestic petroleum production will have positive benefits for the U.S. economy (e.g., narrowing the U.S. trade deficit), the United States will still be vulnerable to oil price spikes since oil is a globally traded commodity with prices set by the international market. Consequently, while the United States continues to reduce its reliance on Middle East oil, U.S. security will still be tethered to developments in the Middle East given that events in the region can have immediate and lasting impacts on the price of oil, which has implications for the United States. The only solution, the authors note, is to move away from reliance on oil – that is, diversify our liquid fuel sources, particularly in the transportation sector.
Japanese officials shutdown the last of 50 nuclear reactors late Saturday evening, taking the country off of nuclear power for the first time in more than four decades. Most of Japan’s nuclear reactors will remain idle for the foreseeable future as they undergo stress tests to determine their ability to stand up against a major disaster, a measure introduced after the March 2011 triple disaster that crippled the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant and left the country’s nuclear-power future in a tailspin.
Japanese officials remain concerned that the country could experience electricity shortages during the peak summer months without nuclear power, which previously provided approximately 30 percent of Japan’s total electricity demand. A panel of experts reported to Japanese policymakers in April that nine utilities could see electricity shortfalls in August. As a result, Japanese officials may power up two reactors during the summer in order to meet electricity demand. The Japanese Times reports that “Last month, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and key members of his Cabinet decided that firing up the No. 3 and 4 reactors at the Oi power station is essential to ensure a stable supply of electricity in the Kansai region in summertime,” even as the country continues to reduce its reliance on nuclear power. It is not clear if those two reactors will be back online by the summer.
It is always good to be reminded from time to time about why the U.S. national security establishment has a stake in how climate change manifests itself today and in the future. Francesco Femia and Caitlin Werrell of the Center for Climate and Security have an excellent post on their blog that provides a broad overview of why and how the U.S. security community has taken an interest in climate change that is worth reading at length.
According to Femia and Werrell:
The national security establishment in the United States, including the U.S. military and the U.S. intelligence community, understand that climate change is a national security threat, and that we cannot wait for 100% certainty before acting to mitigate and adapt to its effects. But not only do they understand it, they plan for it – considering it’s implications in strategic documents like the Quadrennial Defense Review, and setting up an office within the CIA called the Center for Climate Change and National Security. But why? Why do those organs of government that the public normally associates with fighting wars, devote time and effort to an issue that is branded as hogwash by many on the right of the political spectrum, and the exclusive domain of environmental activists on the left? The simple answer: climate change is, actually, a national security threat. It’s not just a politically expedient narrative politicians use to convince those that couldn’t care less about polar bears, rainforests, or “bugs and bunnies.” It’s actually a problem worthy of attention by those whose primary job it is to protect the United States from harm. The following is a brief outline of how and why the U.S. national security community treats climate change the way it does, starting with:
- The common definition of a national security threat, and how climate change fits into that definition;
- The actual national security implications of climate change;
- Why climate change is a national security threat at least as significant as other traditional threats, such as the proliferation of nuclear weapons and materials.
Continue reading here.
One of the research areas that we at CNAS have been exploring for the last several years is how the United States can make better use of satellites to enhance its understanding of the environment and the potential security consequences of environmental and climate change. In August 2010, for example, Christine Parthemore and I published a study exploring the decline of America’s Earth monitoring satellite capability and its implications for U.S. national security (See Blinded).
Our research has taken us to new areas of exploration, including how the United States can make better use of satellites to respond to natural disasters and provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HA/DR). Given that climate change could portend a future that may demand increased support from the United States to conduct HA/DR missions, it behooves national security policymakers to identify what tools and techniques the United States should have to adequately respond to future disasters.
Although not linked to climate change, tsunamis are an area that has drawn our attention as of late, especially in the wake of the March 2011 disaster in Japan. With demographic trends in Asia suggesting that more people are moving to coastal communities in seismically active regions (i.e, the Pacific Ring of Fire), more people could be vulnerable to earthquake-induced tsunamis. How should the United States think about ways to enhance its tsunami early warning system that can provide forewarning to coastal residents? NOAA’s Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis (DART) program that relies on a set of floating buoys to provide accurate readouts of tsunamis is facing budget cuts. As a result, the United States may actually be trimming back a critical capability that could be of greater demand in the future.
Could satellites offer an opportunity to enhance tsunami early warning systems that are cost effective and provide efficient notice to vulnerable communities? Potentially. Some of the existing (and interesting) proposals are still largely in research and development, so it is unclear of their costs when brought to scale, but they could potentially make good use of satellite systems to provide better information about an earthquake’s magnitude and the potential size of any tsunami generated by the seismic event – information that is critical to improving evacuation notices and determining the extent of the evacuation zone.
A magnitude 8.6 earthquake struck off the coast of Indonesia’s Sumatra Island today prompting the governments of India, Indonesia and Thailand to issue tsunami warnings for the region. The earthquake revived memories of the devastating magnitude 9.1 earthquake the struck the Indian Ocean in December 2004, killing an estimated 250,000 across the region.
Early reports suggested that the initial earthquake’s depth and horizontal motion lessened the likelihood of a major tsunami. However, strong aftershocks continue to stir concerns about a tsunami forming in the Indian Ocean. At 11:43 a.m. GMT (7:43 a.m. EST), a magnitude 8.3 aftershock struck the region, prompting NOAA’s Pacific Tsunami Warning Center to issue a tsunami watch for the Indian Ocean. According to the warning, “Sea level readings indicate a tsunami was generated. It may already have been destructive along some coasts.” However, there are no reports of a major wave formation or tsunami event at the time of this writing.
Today’s Indian Ocean earthquake is a reminder of the importance of NOAA’s tsunami early warning systems, which are largely unrecognized national security assets. The constellation of buoys around the Pacific Rim and in the Indian Ocean measure changes in wave height that alert experts in Hawaii and Alaska about potential tsunamis forming in the wake of major earthquakes. The information is critical to predicting the size of tsunamis and forewarning coastal communities about when the waves may strike land. The system may seem unremarkable, but it is a critical capability that bolsters coastal states’ resiliency to potentially devastating tsunamis, giving communities ringing the coast time to evacuate and hopefully dampening the impact of these catastrophic events, which can have destabilizing knock-on effects. Despite the tragic loss of life, the tsunami early warning system proved critical in warning Japanese residents after last March’s magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami disasters, giving some residents time to evacuate. They also warned U.S. West Coast residents to evacuate vulnerable waterfront property.
As I mentioned last week on World Water Day, the intelligence community released its assessment on Global Water Security, timed very well I thought with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's launch of the new U.S. Water Program. Special thanks to our friends (and my former colleagues) across the way at the Woodrow Wilson Center's Environmental Change and Security Program for writing this thoughtful piece on the new intelligence community assessment that originally appeared on the New Security Beat blog.
By Schuyler Null, Managing Editor of the New Security Beat
Alongside and in support of Secretary Clinton’s announcement of a new State Department-led water security initiative last week was the release of a global water security assessment by the National Intelligence Council and Director of National Intelligence. The aim of the report? Answer the question: “How will water problems (shortages, poor water quality, or floods) impact U.S. national security interests over the next 30 years?”
1) Over the next 10 years, water problems will contribute to instability in states important to U.S. national security interests. Water shortages, poor water quality, and floods by themselves are unlikely to result in state failure. However, water problems – when combined with poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership, and weak political institutions – contribute to social disruptions that can result in state failure.