A recent article appearing in the Washington Post got me thinking about the fine line that runs between the public’s right-to-know and the necessity for keeping some information classified for legitimate security reasons.
At issue here is the way the Department of Energy handles sensitive internal information regarding the electric grid. Specifically, a government commission reviewing the facts and circumstances surrounding the disclosure of nonpublic information requested that the Office of Inspector General examine reputed, repeated, instances of revealing the vulnerability of the nation’s electric grid without ensuring that the data was adequately evaluated for sensitivity and classification.
Further, a watchdog group contends that U.S. energy regulators unwittingly provided a road map for wreaking havoc on the nation’s power grid when they released certain information about the network’s vulnerabilities in 2013. The Inspector General, Gregory H. Friedman after investigating these instances of alleged improper disclosure of highly sensitive material determined that documentation with significant national energy security implications was indeed made public without adequate oversight.
“Our review revealed that the [Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, (FERC)] controls, processes and procedures for protecting nonpublic information were severely lacking,” the watchdog follow-up report later said.
Tactical VS. Strategic Intelligence Reports
This topic ties in with the larger discussion on questions of maintaining the proper balance of national security while protecting the citizens’ rights of privacy and the guarantees of 4th Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure. As well, government policy-making issues requiring sufficient transparency and accountability are involved.
Part of the reason why I began writing this blog was my concern that an uninformed public, being unacceptably ignorant about the vulnerabilities of our national grid to EMP, could suddenly find themselves caught in a long term power outage situation with no advance warning or preparedness.
The EMP threat has a low level of probability of happening, but the implicit risk of catastrophe if it does ever occur is very high.
A scenario that puts the lives of many millions of Americans at risk deserves to be discussed openly in the public domain. It is vitally important to the national conversation to determine the appropriateness of publicizing this critical condition of the infrastructures while safeguarding that which needs to remain classified.
We should recognize that the discussion should obviously exclude specific information that would reveal insider intelligence that could be used to plan a precision terrorist attack on targeted portions of the grid.
ProtectGrid talks about the “What” or larger strategic implications of the U.S. grid vulnerability to an EMP event. As an industry and government outsider, I certainly don’t have access to documents/materials that could help anyone plan or conduct a tactical operation striking at those vulnerabilities.
The “what” of grid vulnerability to an EMP threat is generic information belonging in the public domain. The “How-to” information required to take advantage of that fact by our adversaries is perhaps better kept under wraps.
This is an important distinction and should have all the benefit of consideration when authorities meet to discuss future protocols for deciding what is made public and what is kept confidential.
Results of Watchdog Expose’
What resulted is that…
the commission (FERC) agreed with the inspector general’s recommendations, which called for clarifying the roles and responsibilities for classifying sensitive information and applying training to ensure proper handling of such materials in the future”. (1.)
As I see it: The public’s right to know so that American citizens can make informed decisions critical to their individual security continues to be a top priority in these ongoing debates.
(1.) Original article by Josh Hicks for the WashingtonPost.com/blogs/federal-eye