When the massive blackout hit the northeastern United States yesterday afternoon, about 30 officials at the Department of Homeland Security immediately looked for unusual surges in Internet traffic, plugged into state and local fire departments, networked with power companies and scoured intelligence reports from a variety of agencies for any signs of attacks or patterns, the Los Angeles Times says.
After about 45 minutes the group determined that no such patterns were emerging. At a closed-door briefing attended by Secretary Tom Ridge, the department decided to issue a public statement that appeared to rule out terrorism.
Later, a senior department official added: “It’s not a for-sure thing that it’s not terrorism. It’s just that initial reports show nothing indicating that it was.”
The FBI formerly helped monitor security problems at computer networks and critical infrastructure, such as the power grids. Those functions were transferred to the Homeland Security Department this spring. A key division of the department is responsible for the protection of the critical infrastructure – keeping energy producers, transportation, computer and water systems safe from terrorist attack and massive technical failure.
Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge has noted that 85% of the nation’s critical infrastructure is owned by the private sector. As a result the government’s protection of such infrastructure would require new levels of cooperation and information-sharing between private industry and government officials. Some industry officials have resisted saying information they would give the government could help their competitors and that conducting vulnerability assessments and beefing up security systems would be costly.