On February 16, at about 10:00 am ET, the U.S. will be hit by a massive, crippling cyber attack from an unknown entity. Key players will convene in the White House situation room and plan the response, from mitigation to (possibly) retaliation. It'll be live on television -- G.N.N.
Of course, my knowledge of this attack will not add me to the radar screens of the FBI -- they know about it too. The reason I felt compelled to write a pseudo-serious lead to this post is because, for the first time, a cyber attack is going to be war-gamed, in public, for all the country to see. The war-game is not being put on by the Department of Homeland Security or the Obama administration: it is being run independently and will include former officials who are not part of the federal government. It will be quite realistic, featuring senior intelligence and national security officials, including former directors of intelligence agencies and combatant commands and homeland security advisers. A production company has been hired to re-create a White House Sit Room in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, and professional scriptwriters have been working with experts to create a real-life scenario.
The sponsors of the event include companies with financial stakes in the future of cyber defense -- General Dynamics is one -- but also companies whose transactions are the lifeblood to the American economy, and who want to foster a greater sense of urgency among the public and policymakers. (PayPal has joined as a sponsor.)
Actual participants don't know what's going to happen. I have a general idea, but I have been sworn to keep the scenario a secret until it unfolds. It will be, I can say, dynamic -- runners with cards will enter the "Sit Room" with new information. It is not obvious. And it will not be easy to mitigate.
At the end, participants will step out of their roles for a hotwash -- open to the press and the experts.
At least three times this year, the U.S. government has held private versions of cyber wargames. This will be open to the press. CNN has agreed to record the event for broadcast later in the week.
Participants include John Negroponte, the first DNI, who will be the fictional Secretary of State. (Intel insiders will enjoy this role change.) Ex-DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff will be the National Security Adviser. Fran Townsend, the former White House Homeland Security Adviser, will be the secretary of DHS. Former CIA deputy director John McLaughlin will be the Director of National Intelligence. Other big-name participants include Jamie Gorelick, Stewart Baker, Joe Lockhart and Bennet Johnson.
The Bipartisan Policy Center, which has ported over the 9/11 Commission co-chairs, Lee Hamilton and Tom Keane, is coordinating the event.