Obama Still Pledges More with Iran

This video was released two weeks after the Iran Nuclear Deal (JPOA) was announced.

 Click here to see the White House in action.

Add to Obama’s To-Do List: Regime Change in Iran

President Obama has been thinking a lot recently about his post-presidency. According to a detailed dispatch in the New York Times, he has been meeting with notable authors and business leaders over late-night dinners and discussing what he will do next.

High on his post-presidential to-do list should be regime change for Iran. No, Barack Obama should not press his successor to invade Iran and set up an occupation government. But the president should use his time after office to nurture and support Iran’s democratic opposition in its struggle against Iran’s dictator.

For now, the president should hear from some people who disagree with him. The White House “vision committee” should invite Iranian dissidents who recently signed an open letter opposing the Iran deal. They would have interesting comments over late-night cocktails with the commander-in-chief. Obama’s aides could send for Gene Sharp, the leading theorist of nonviolent conflict, and Michael Ledeen, the conservative historian who has spent the last 20 years trying to foment political warfare against the regime.

As an elder statesman, Obama should busy himself with the fate of that regime’s political prisoners the way Jimmy Carter has taken up the cause of Palestinian statehood. Obama’s legacy in foreign policy depends not on the success of the nuclear deal in the short term, but on the success of Iran’s democracy movement in the long term.

Obama can’t acknowledge this publicly for the remainder of his presidency. He still needs to make sure Iran’s hardliners live up to their end of the bargain, and he can’t afford to provoke Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. And even if his nuclear deal were not tying his hands while he’s in office, history would be. U.S. government programs to support Iranian civil society have not had much success.

George W. Bush authorized U.S. government grants to support Iran’s democratic opposition, but in some cases the receipt of this support endangered Iranians brave enough to accept it. Also many Iranians still remember the role the U.S. played in the 1953 coup that unseated Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh. U.S. government programs to support Iranian democracy unfortunately are interpreted as an official pursuit of regime change. That’s why Obama can be especially helpful once he is out of office — by supporting the Iranian opposition as a private citizen, allied with other private citizens to shame Iran’s government to treat its people better.

Ultimately it’s up to Iranians to rise up against a government that suppresses them. But like any “people power” movement, those activists struggling inside the country need solidarity and support from the outside. Former President Obama would be an ideal person to raise private money and awareness for Iranians who seek the same freedoms we take for granted in the West. Who knows better the dynamics necessary to helping build a coalition for political change? He was, after all, a community organizer.

There are a few doses of self-interest here too. For Obama, a plan to champion Iranian democracy after he leaves office is good politics now, to get his nuclear deal. He could privately assure doubtful Democrats like Senator Chuck Schumer that he would devote his energies during the 10 to 15 years ahead to changing the nature of Iran’s regime.

And once he has that deal, it’s in Obama’s interest to ensure that it succeeds, which can only happen if Iran’s current rulers fall. As Obama himself told NPR in April, after 15 years Iran’s breakout time to produce enough fissile material for a bomb would decrease from around a year to a matter of a few weeks. If in 2030, Iran is ruled by reactionaries as belligerent as today’s reactionaries, Obama’s signature foreign policy initiative will have only given the regime more time to perfect the means by which it can blackmail the rest of the world. Obama needs to worry today about who will replace Khamenei and his ilk down the road.

Fortunately there are many Iranians who don’t want to live under an Islamic police state. Obama can start with the leaders of Iran’s Green movement, like Mir Hossein Mousavi, who took to the streets in 2009 and accused Khamenei of stealing Mousavi’s electoral victory. Mousavi, like the current regime has opposed sanctions and supported the nuclear program. But Mousavi and others in the opposition are better long-term partners because they also challenge the unaccountable power of the ayatollah. Remember that the international sanctions that are to be dismantled in exchange for more nuclear transparency were imposed because Iran’s leaders went forward with a nuclear program condemned by the rest of the world. That kind of defiance is much harder to pull off when leaders have to face an electorate suffering under the resulting sanctions.

Obama would say he is already working with Iranian reformers, like President Hassan Rouhani. But Mousavi remains under house arrest and state executions have gone through the roof, despite Rouhani’s initial promises to free political prisoners.

The truth is, Iran’s opposition needs all the help it can get. The hope from the deal’s proponents is that increased investment and integration into the world economy will open up enough political space for a democratic opposition to thrive someday. But the odds are against them. Before much money trickles down to Iran’s middle class, much more will go to the revolutionary guard commanders who oppress them.

The regime sees the threat coming. On his official website on Monday, Ayatollah Khamenei wrote: “We will permit neither American economic influence, nor political influence, nor cultural influence.”

He has good reason to be worried. A decade ago in Washington, I met the grandson of Ayatollah Khomeini, the cleric who led the original Islamic revolution in 1979. Back then the grandson, Hossein Khomeini, was an outspoken opponent of the Iranian regime. He told me that he couldn’t imagine a scenario where Iran’s rulers gave up power in the face of overwhelming nonviolent resistance, the way Slobodan Milosevic ultimately was forced to give up the Serbian presidency in 2000 after Serbians rose up without violence against him. Khomeini told me that when Iran’s people rebelled, the current leaders would pay with their lives.

Someone like Obama, who understands nonviolent conflict more than his predecessors, could help avoid such a bloodbath in Iran. He owes as much to the Iranian people. He owes as much to the American people. And ultimately, Obama owes as much to his own legacy.

Germany’s Long History with Iran, Surfaced with Jimmy Carter

If you saw the movie Argo, well it appears very little of it was either true or purposely was designed to include Germany’s hidden relationship with Iran. Sheesh…things are for sure coming into play and full understanding given the recent Iran nuclear deal.

Iranian Hostage Crisis: West Germany’s Secret Role in Ending the Drama

By Klaus Wiegrefe

The day after the last day of his presidency, Jimmy Carter flew to Frankfurt to greet 52 American diplomats who had been held as hostages for about a year by radical students in United States Embassy in Tehran. Now they were being attended to in a US Air Force hospital in Wiesbaden, near Frankfurt, and Carter wanted to express his sympathy.

On Jan. 21, 1981, the ex-president had warm, but mysterious, words for his German hosts. At the time, Helmut Schmidt, a member of the center-left Social Democrats, and Hans-Dietrich Genscher, of the liberal FDP, were leading West Germany in the former capital city of Bonn. The Germans, Carter said, “helped us in a way I can never reveal publicly to the world.”

The race to apportion credit began only moments after the words about Germany’s mysterious role had been uttered. Chancellor Schmidt allowed himself to be celebrated by the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, which wrote that “Bonn appears to have played a decisive role.” Foreign Minister Genscher was lauded by the tabloid Bild, which claimed the “release had been negotiated at night at Genscher’s.” And Middle East negotiator Hans-Jürgen Wischnewski was praised in the daily Die Welt.

The occupation of the US Embassy and the 444-day hostage situation remains one of the most dramatic events of the post-World War II era. It represented the Western world’s first encounter with the radical Shiite movement of Ayatollah Khomeini, which was violating the rules of international law. A mob could be seen burning American flags on the embassy property, and for a time Iran and the US appeared to be on the verge of war. In the end, however, everyone claimed to have helped them to reach a peaceful solution.

The details of the German contribution, however, remained unclear. Now historian Frank Bösch, the director of the Center for Contemporary History in Potsdam and SPIEGEL have conducted research in German archives and spoken with period witnesses. This has revealed that the West German government at the time had a “smooth intermediary role,” as Bösch puts it. And one of the key figures, it turns out, is barely known: Gerhard Ritzel, the German ambassador in Tehran.

Witnesses from the time describe the small, portly native of the Odenwald region in central Germany, who died in 2000, as a very sly man. He’s also one whose career is rich in anecdotes. As a young diplomat in the 1950s, he pretended to trip at a reception in Bombay (now Mumbai) so that he could fall on top of a banquet table covered with colored rice kernels in the shape of a swastika. In India, the swastika is a symbol of luck and the thoughtless host had served it up in honor of his German guests. Before a meeting with Soviet diplomats, Ritzel ate sardines and drank his colleagues under the table.

Contact with the Opposition

When Ritzel took his post in Tehran in 1977, the shah, who had a good relationship with Bonn, was still in power. Iran was Germany’s largest source of oil and, in exchange, was pressing Schmidt and Genscher for the planned export of submarines, frigates and nuclear power plants.

At the time, Ritzel was also trying to establish contact with the fundamentalist Iranian opposition. They were adventurous meetings, which he told everyone about afterwards. Before the meetings, a car would pick him up in front of a hotel, and the driver would drop him off somewhere in Tehran with a note pressed into his hand. On it stood: “Wait here, a blue pick-up will come by.” He would then changed cars one more time and ultimately had to cross various courtyards and climb into an upper floor whose wall had been punctured by a mortar. There he met his interlocutors, a group that would soon be taking over power in Iran.

In January 1979, after millions of people demonstrated against him, the shah left Iran. A few weeks later, Khomeini returned from his Parisian exile and announced the beginning of an Islamic Republic.

Ritzel quickly came to terms with the regime change. The West feared that Iran could slip into the Soviet sphere of influence. Khomeini seemed to be the lesser evil — and the new regime didn’t appear to have much of a future. “The ayatollahs can’t govern the country in the long run,” Chancellor Schmidt prophesized in March 1979. He conveyed to Khomeini that Iran would remain an “important external trading partner, regardless of its form of government.”

Ritzel, however, seems to have truly liked Khomeini. The Shiite leader, he later claimed, was a “humanitarian.” He also argued that the West should be “thankful if he is around for many more years.”

Ritzel as Intermediary

The ambassador purposefully established contact with people in the “Imam’s” milieu. He profited from the fact that Khomeini was partly surrounded by men who had lived in the West Germany, including Sadeq Tabatabaei, who had completed his doctorate at the Ruhr University in Bochum. His sister had married one of the ayatollah’s sons.

Tabatabaei became a senior government official in Tehran and Ritzel’s main interlocutor. After the beginning of the hostage-taking on Nov. 4, 1979, he also became the Germany’s main source of hope in the quickly escalating crisis. Khomeini put his support behind the students, describing the United States as “the great Satan,” while President Carter imposed strict sanctions, demanding that his allies do the same and ordering the preparations for a military attack.

Ritzel was one of the few Western diplomats officials in Tehran would still listen to. In order to safeguard German export interests, the government in Bonn wanted a quick end to the crisis. Ritzel obtained permission for a delegation from the International Red Cross to visit the hostages. He had newspapers brought to the imprisoned Americans, including a January 1979 issue of DER SPIEGEL featuring Khomeini on the cover at the top of the stack. When the revolutionary leader wanted to convince the shah to face the “complaints of the Iranian people,” the relevant letter was given to Ritzel. The shah, however, refused to accept it.

The situation in Tehran was confusing for the Americans, because self-described middlemen were constantly popping up. The Americans first approached Ritzel in May 1980. Together with Genscher, he flew to Vienna to meet with then US Secretary of State Edmund Muskie. There, Muskie and Ritzel had a one-on-one conversation, and when Tabatabaei found out about it, the Iranian declared that he could be of service to the German ambassador.

At the request of the Americans, the German Foreign Ministry passed Ritzel’s situation reports on to the US. The Iranians were worried that a retaliatory military attack would take place if the hostages were released. They also wanted back the deposits of $12 million that Carter had had frozen in US banks and access to the shah’s fortune, which they believed to be in the US. On May 27, the US Embassy in Bonn communicated that Ritzel should tell the Iranians that Carter would “seriously consider” a declaration to this effect.

Ritzel’s Savvy Ploy

In order to get the ayatollahs to compromise, the resourceful Ritzel undertook a journey to the spiritual leader of the holy city of Mashhad. He politely asked for the terms “truth,” “justice” and “hospitality” to be interpreted for him from an Islamic perspective.

After three days of religious-spiritual debate, the ayatollah asked the visitor why he had really come to visit. Ritzel’s honest answer: He was looking for arguments for the release of the hostages. “I will think about this,” answered the cleric. Soon after, a messenger arrived at Ritzel’s, with a document from the cleric for Khomeini that indirectly frowned upon the hostage-taking. Years later, Genscher raved about how the diplomat had created a “basis for the trust” on the part of the Iranians in the German government.

On Sept. 9, Tabatabaei offered to meet with a US delegation in West Germany. Under Khomeini’s instruction, he asked that Germany keep the minutes for the meeting, and that Genscher “be involved” in the discussions for as long as possible.

One week later, the secret negotiations between Tabatabaei and Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher began in the guest house of the German Foreign Ministry in Bonn under Genscher’s leadership. Christopher was surprised when he met Tabatabaei: A good-looking man in his mid-thirties wearing flannel pants and a sporty tweed blazer. He hadn’t thought that a representative of the Khomeini regime could look like that.

His demands, however, posed problems for the US emissaries. Ultimately, Washington couldn’t take control over the now-dead shah’s funds. American creditors were also demanding compensation for confiscated Iranian assets.

But Christopher did offer a guarantee that the US would not attack and held out the prospect that approximately $6 billion in gold and other assets would be released. The gold was to be handed over with the help of the Bundesbank, Germany’s central bank. Christopher also agreed to “help overcome banking secrecy” to access the shah’s fortune. Genscher added that this seemed “exceptionally far-reaching and very substantial,” and that his government could not offer anything on that scale. Even years later, Christopher still seemed convinced that without the help of the foreign minister, the discussions would have fallen apart at this point.

Carter noted in his diary that, for the first time, he was certain that he was “in direct contact” with Khomeini.

An agreement seemed to be close. Over the following weeks, Ritzel met with Tabatabaei almost every day. For reasons of secrecy, the latter was now referred to as “the traveler” in German documents.

Sudden Twist

In early October, the Americans deposited drafts for legislative decrees — with which Carter wanted to resolve the disputed points — in the US Embassy in Bonn. Genscher helped where he could. He offered to Tabatabaei that Germany would take on the “role of guarantor when it comes to Americans’ adherence of their obligations.” He agreed to “positively influence public opinion about Iran” and suggested meetings in Berchtesgaden, Germany, or Saudi Arabia.

Then, suddenly, the Iranian side froze up again, for reasons that have been widely speculated. The American election was set to take place on Nov. 4 — did Khomeini want to prevent Carter from getting a boost in the election if the hostage drama came to an end? Or had another group gotten the upper hand in the power struggle in Tehran?

In any case, Tabatabaei delivered alarming news on Nov. 9. He said he was in danger of being arrested and that Ritzel needed to make sure that all documents testifying to Tabatabaei’s role were destroyed.

That fear ended up being exaggerated: Tabatabaei, who died earlier this year, was later named special envoy. But when the Iranians took up negotiations with the United States again in November, they bypassed him and his German connection. Algeria ended up helping release the Iranian billions and on Jan. 20, 1981, the hostages were flown out of the country. US President Carter’s praise for the Germans, however, endured. Without their prior mediation, Historian Bösch says, the agreement wouldn’t have worked out. Even the suggestion to include Algeria came from Bonn. According to the records, it came from Helmut Schmidt.

Obama’s New War on Oil/Gas, EPA his Weapon

First there was coal….now…it is oil and gas….his weapon? The EPA

Obama has given battle plans to General McCarthy, Secretary of the EPA

The Obama administration’s war on coal continues.

Speaking recently before a D.C. green group, Resources for the Future, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency head Gina McCarthy emphasized her belief that Congressional Republicans would find it difficult to roll back the newly-finalized rules for the Clean Power Plan which will, in effect, largely put an end to the use of coal as a fuel source for electricity generation in the name of doing something meaningful about global warming.

McCarthy projected victory despite the almost certain reality of extensive and lengthy litigation over the rules. To her “the extensive comment record and completed litigation over EPA’s underlying authority to regulate carbon under the Clean Air Act are sticking points for a future Administration intent on reversing the rules,” said an analysis of her remarks by Capital Alpha Partners, a Washington firm producing public policy research for institutional investors.

“The Administration is resolute with respect to climate change, and we think McCarthy’s remarks speak to the survival of the rules as a legacy priority for the President, on par with healthcare reform and Iran diplomacy,” the firm said in a recent update.

Legacy or no legacy, the Clean Power Plan will prove very expensive to implement. It will intrude on the governing authority of the different states, will push electricity rates through the roof (as Obama promised he would do in his 2008 campaign for president), kill countless jobs in coal and related industries, and make a severe dent in U.S. electricity generating capacity. Even without full implementation, because the handwriting is already on the wall Wyoming and West Virginia look like they are slipping into a recession with most of the other big coal states likely to follow within a few quarters.

What we get for that is a scintilla of reduction in the generation of so-called greenhouse gases that is almost certainly not worth the enormous expense and the promise of more, not just where coal is concerned, but across the entire energy sector.

Barack Obama’s quiet war on oil

Politico: The oil and gas industry is in the crosshairs of the administration’s eco-agenda, even if Shell gets its Arctic drilling permit.

President Barack Obama’s enemies have long accused him of waging a “war on coal.” But a very different war on oil and gas is coming next.

The newest phase of Obama’s environmental agenda has the oil and natural gas industry in its crosshairs, with plans to curb greenhouse gas pollution from rigs and refineries, tighten oversight of drilling on public lands and impose a strict ozone limit that industry lobbyists slam as “the most expensive regulation ever.”

The administration still might hand some modest victories to the industry along the way — as early as Friday, for example, the Interior Department may give Shell Oil a final green light for expanded drilling off Alaska’s Arctic coast. And unlike the massive climate rule that the EPA issued for power plants last week, the administration’s actions on oil and gas will be quieter, more piecemeal and harder to track.

Still, the oil industry’s top lobbying group says it’s facing a “regulatory avalanche or a tidal wave” — one that some of Obama’s critics have been bracing for.

The administration has “ridden this horse as far as it wants to ride it,” GOP energy lobbyist and strategist Mike McKenna said in an interview, tying the oil and gas crackdown to Obama’s efforts to make wind and solar power more competitive. He said Obama and his team “have always been very clear-eyed about their strategy: they want to make affordable, dependable, traditional fuels like oil, gas and coal more expensive. … This is just the natural rush at the finish line.”

But greens say it’s past time for Obama to start reining in oil and gas as the next step in the climate legacy that he’s made such a priority for his second term. For these activists, the EPA’s power plant rules represented only a down payment.

“We’ve seen the administration willing to take on King Coal,” Jamie Henn, co-founder of the climate activist group 350.org, said in a recent interview. “They’ve got to go after bigger bad guys, like Big Oil and the Koch brothers.”

Environmentalists say the upcoming actions still won’t hit drillers and refiners as hard as EPA is hitting coal-burning power plants.

For example, the administration promised this year to slash oil- and gas-related emissions of methane — an especially potent greenhouse gas — by as much as 40 percent from 2005 levels by 2025. But that level of reduction is “not hard, nor is it particular costly” to achieve, Environmental Defense Fund Vice President Mark Brownstein said.

Unlike the tectonic realignment away from coal underway in the power sector, thanks in part to the EPA’s rules, “nothing would be required of the oil and gas industry that would cause it to have to fundamentally rethink how it does business,” he added.

Republicans in Congress may yet succeed in stopping or slowing down some of the multiple regulations that oil and gas hate the most during final negotiations on funding the government beyond next month. But GOP leaders have little to no appetite for risking a government shutdown to bury the regulations. And the refinery and ozone regulations are both tied to court-ordered deadlines this fall, making it harder for lawmakers to stop the train.

The limits on toxic air emissions from refineries that EPA proposed last year could cost more than $20 billion to implement, according to industry estimates, though the American Petroleum Institute said on Thursday that it hopes to see the final version significantly scaled back. EPA’s projected price tag was much smaller, at $239 million in total costs for the new emissions standards. Much more here.






U.S. Germany to Remove Missile Defense Systems from Turkey

WTH??? Anyone who believes the reasons for these decisions needs to think again.
I personally will throw in my reason, it is part of the Iran Deal where under the P5+1, John Kerry and Wendy Sherman along with The White House gave up yet another major item….missile defense. Iran and the IRGC must be delighted.
Berlin:  Germany on Saturday said it would withdraw its two Patriot missile batteries from Turkey early next year, ending its role in a three-year NATO mission to help bolster the country’s air defences against threats from Syria’s civil war.

The German army, known as the Bundeswehr, said on its website that the mandate for the mission would run out on January 31, 2016, and would not be renewed.

Germany will also call back around 250 soldiers who are currently deployed in southeastern Turkey as part of the mission, the statement said.

“Along with our NATO partners, we have protected the Turkish people from missile attacks from Syria,” Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen was quoted as saying in the statement.

“We are ending this deployment in January 2016,” she said, adding that the main threat in the crisis-wracked region now came from the Islamic State group.

Turkey turned to its NATO allies for help over its troubled frontier after a mortar bomb fired from Syrian territory killed five Turkish civilians in the border town of Akcakale in 2012.

The United States, the Netherlands and Germany each sent Patriot missile batteries in response. Germany’s Patriot missile system is based in the Turkish town of Kahramanmaras, some 100 kilometres (60 miles) from the Syrian border.

Originally used as an anti-aircraft missile, Patriots today are used to defend airspace by detecting and destroying incoming missiles. NATO deployed Patriot missiles in Turkey during the 1991 Gulf war and in 2003 during the Iraqi conflict.

FNC: The U.S. military is pulling its Patriot missiles from Turkey this fall, the U.S. Embassy in Ankara announced Sunday.

It is unclear if the decision to pull the missiles is in response to Turkey’s unannounced massive airstrike against a Kurdish separatist group in northern Iraq on July 24. The strike endangered U.S. Special Forces on the ground training Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, angering U.S. military officials.

The U.S. military was taken completely by surprise by the Turkish airstrike, which involved 26 jets, military sources told Fox News.

Patriot missiles have been upgraded in recent years to shoot down ballistic missiles, in addition to boasting an ability to bring down enemy aircraft. The U.S. military has deployed these missiles along Turkey’s border with Syria.

When a Kurdish journalist asked the Army’s outgoing top officer, Gen. Raymond Odierno, about the incident over northern Iraq at his final press conference Wednesday, Odierno replied: “We’ve had conversations about this to make sure it doesn’t happen.”

The Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, has been listed as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department. It is influenced by Marxist ideology and has been responsible for recent attacks in Turkey, killing Turkish police and military personnel. A separate left-wing radical group was responsible for attacking the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul last week.

State Department and Pentagon officials have said in recent days that Turkey has a right to defend itself against the PKK.

A senior military source told Fox News that Turkey is worried about recent gains by Syrian Kurds, some affiliated with the PKK. But the group is seen as an effective ground force against ISIS, helping pinpoint ISIS targets for U.S. warplanes.

The Turks, however, worry Syrian Kurds will take over most of the 560-mile border it shares with Syria.

Currently, ISIS controls a 68-mile strip along the Turkey-Syria border, but Turkey does not want Kurdish fighters involved in the fight to push out ISIS from this portion of the border because it would enable the Kurds to control a large swath of land stretching from northern Iraq to the Mediterranean. Right now Syrian Kurds occupy both sides of the contested 68-mile border controlled by ISIS.

Of the 30 million Kurds living in the Middle East, 14 million reside in Turkey. They are one of the world’s largest ethnic groups without its own country.

Despite Turkey being listed among the 62-nation anti-ISIS coalition, it has yet to be named as a country striking ISIS in the coalition’s daily airstrike report.

A week ago, after months of negotiations, the U.S. Air Force moved six F-16 fighter jets to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey from their base in Italy and several KC-135 refueling planes. Airstrikes against ISIS in Syria soon followed.

The decision to allow manned U.S. military aircraft inside Turkey came days after an ISIS suicide bomber killed dozens of Turkish citizens.

Part of Turkey’s reluctance to do more against ISIS is because Turkey wants the U.S. military to take on the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. But that is not U.S. policy.

“We are not at war with the Assad regime,” Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said recently.

The animosity between Turkey and Syria goes back decades. In 1939, Turkey annexed its southern most province, Hatay, from Assad family land. Syria has never recognized the move and the two countries have been at odds ever since.

There was no immediate reply from the Pentagon or State Dept. when contacted by Fox News asking what prompted the decision to pull the U.S. missiles from Turkey.

Cyber-attack on Power Grid Paralysis

Cyber Attacks on the Power Grid: The Specter of Total Paralysis

Posted in General Security, Hacking, Incident Response on July 27, 2015

The Incidents

Imagine that one day you wake up and trading is halted on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) floor; meanwhile systems at United Airlines and the Wall Street Journal newspaper appear out of order.

It is not a scene from a movie; it happened on July 8, when trading at the NYSE stopped around 11:30 a.m. ET.

According the media, the temporary interruption of the services mentioned was a fateful coincidence and the events are unrelated, but the incidents have raised once again the question of the real security of critical infrastructure.

White House spokesperson Josh Earnest confirmed that the incidents weren’t caused by cyber-attacks. President Obama had briefed on the glitch at NYSE by White House counterterrorism and Homeland Security adviser Lisa Monaco as well as Chief Of Staff Denis McDonough.

“It appears from what we know at this stage that the malfunctions at United and at the stock exchange were not the result of any nefarious actor,” said Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. “We know less about the Wall Street Journal at this point except that their system is back up again as is the United Airline system.”

Which is the impact of a cyber-attack on a critical infrastructure? Are critical infrastructure actually secure?

A major attack on a critical infrastructure like a power grid would cause chaos in the country by interrupting vital services for the population.

The current scenario

The Stock Exchange, transportation, and media are critical to the infrastructure of a country. A contemporary failure of these systems could cause serious problems to the nation, especially when the incident is caused by a cyber-attack.

“I think the Wall Street Journal piece is connected to people flooding their web site in response to the New York Exchange to find out what’s going on.” FBI Director James Comey told the Senate Intelligence committee. “In my business we don’t love coincidences, but it does appear that there is not a cyber-intrusion involved.”

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-FL, the top Democrat on the cyber-security subcommittee, told Fox News that the NYSE incident has “the appearance” of a cyber-attack and noted the coordination of multiple sites.

Thus far, the temporary outage at the New York Stock Exchange, United Airlines and the Wall Street Journal’s website were the results of tech glitches, but we have to consider the US infrastructure remains vulnerable to cyber-attacks that would cause serious problems and would be costly.

To compound the scenario, there is the rapid increase in the number of cyber-attacks, at least of those we fail to detect, and its complexity.

The DHS’s Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team (ICS-CERT) has issued its new ICS-CERT MONITOR report related to the period September 2014 – February 2015. The ICS-CERT MONITOR report

According to the report, the Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team (ICS-CERT) received and responded to 245 incidents in Fiscal Year 2014, more than half of the incidents reported by asset owners and industry partners involved sophisticated APT. ICS/SCADA system were also targeted by other categories of threat actors, including cyber criminals, insider threats and hacktivists.

“Of the total number of incidents reported to ICS-CERT, roughly 55 percent involved advanced persistent threats (APT) or sophisticated actors. Other actor types included hacktivists, insider threats, and criminals. In many cases, the threat actors were unknown due to a lack of attributional data.” states the report.

Analyzing incidents reported by sector, it is possible to note that the majority of the attacks involved entities in the Energy Sector followed by Critical Manufacturing. About 30 percent of the incidents hit infrastructures in the energy sector, meanwhile Critical Manufacturing (i.e. manufacturing of vehicles and aviation and aerospace components) accounted for 27 percent.

The threat actors used a significant number of zero-day vulnerabilities to compromise industrial control systems through the exploitation of web application flaws.

The most common flaws exploited by attackers include authentication, buffer overflow, and denial-of-service . Noteworthy among ICS-CERT’s activities included the multi-vendor coordination that was conducted for the ”

“Noteworthy among ICS-CERT’s activities included the multi-vendor coordination that was conducted for the “Heartbleed” OpenSSL vulnerability. The team worked with the ICS vendor community to release multiple advisories, in addition to conducting briefings and webinars in an effort to raise awareness of the vulnerability and the mitigation strategies for preventing exploitation” states the ICS-CERT report to explain the coordination activities sustained by the agency to address principal vulnerabilities.

The ICS-CERT MONITOR report confirmed that the attackers used a vast range of methods for attempting to compromise control systems infrastructure, including:

Figure 1 – ICS -CERT Attack Methods

Unfortunately, it is quite difficult to attribute an incident to a specific threat actor. In the majority of cases, these offensives have gone under the radar over the years due to high level of sophistication of the Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTPs).

The victims were not able to identify the threat actors. Neither the attack vector exploited by hackers for 38 percent of the reported incidents,

“Many more incidents occur in critical infrastructure that go unreported,” states the ICS-CERT MONITOR report. “Forensic evidence did not point to a method used for intrusion because of a lack of detection and monitoring capabilities within the compromised network”.

US power grid vulnerable to cyber attacks

The US power grid is a privileged target for various categories of attackers, terrorists, cyber criminals, and state-sponsored hackers. Daily, they threaten the backbone of the American society. Security experts and US politicians are aware that the national power grid is vulnerable to a terrorist attack.

“It’s possible; and whether it’s likely to happen soon remains to be seen,” explained by the former Secretary of Defense William Cohen on “The Steve Malzberg Show.”

Attackers have several options to hit a power grid, from a cyber-attack on SCADA systems to an EMP attack, according to Cohen.

“You can do it through cyber-attacks, and that’s the real threat coming up as well. We have to look at cyber-attacks being able to shut down our power grid, which you have to remember is in the private sector’s hands, not the government’s. And we’re vulnerable,” Cohen added. “It’s possible and whether it’s likely to happen soon remains to be seen.”

“That’s because the technology continues to expand and terrorism has become democratized. Many, many people across the globe now have access to information that allows them to be able to put together a very destructive means of carrying out their terrorist plans. We’re better at detecting than we were in the past. We’re much more focused in integrating and sharing the information that we have, but we’re still vulnerable and we’ll continue to be vulnerable as long as groups can operate either on the margins or covertly to build these kind of campaigns of terror.” said Cohen.

Former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano shared Cohen’s concerns. A major cyber-attack the power grid was a matter of “when,” not “if.”

State-sponsored hackers, cyber terrorists are the main threat actors, but as confirmed by a recent research conducted by TrendMicro, also the cybercrime represents a serious menace.

Former senior CIA analyst and EMP Task Force On National Homeland Security Director, Dr. Peter Vincent Pry, told Newsmax TV that that a cyber attack against the power grid could cause serious destruction and loss of life.

Not only US power grid are under attack. In January 2015, the British Parliament revealed that UK Power Grid is under cyber-attack from foreign hackers, but the emergency is for critical infrastructure worldwide.\

Figure 2 – SCADA control room

Arbuthnot confirmed the incessant attacks on national critical infrastructure and he doesn’t exclude a major incident, despite the enormous effort spent at the National Grid.

“Our National Grid is coming under cyber-attack not just day-by-day but minute-by-minute,” Arbuthnot, whose committee scrutinized the country’s security policy, told a conference in London last year. “There are, at National Grid, people of very high quality who recognize the risks that these attacks pose, and who are fighting them off,” he said, “but we can’t expect them to win forever.”

The power grid is a vital system for our society and the cyber strategy of every government must consider its protection a high priority, a terror attack would leave entire countries sitting in the dark.

A hypothetical attack scenario and estimation of the losses

What will happen in case of a cyber-attack on a critical infrastructure in the US? Which is the economic impact of a cyber-attack against a power grid?

According to a poll conducted by researchers at the Morning Consult firm from May 29 to May 31, cyber-attacks are just behind terrorism attacks on the list of biggest threats to US. The research allowed the experts to estimate that the insurance industry could face losses of about $21 billion. That poll was conducted by interviewing a national sample of 2,173 registered voters.

Nearly 36 percent of voters consider acts of terrorism at the top of a list of major security threats, followed by cyber-attacks at 32 percent.

Figure 3- Morning Consult firm poll results

The Lloyd’s of London has conducted a very interesting study, Business Blackout, that describes the impacts of a cyber-attack on the national power grid.

It is the first time that the insurance industry has elaborated on a similar report. Obviously, the estimates provided are merely indicative due to the large number of factors that can influence the costs.

According to the report prepared by Lloyd’s of London in a joint effort with the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Risk Studies, cyber-attacks would have a catastrophic impact on multiple types of insurance.

The attack scenario described by Business Blackout illustrates the effects of a malware-based attack on systems that controls the national power grid. The attack causes an electrical blackout that plunges 15 US states and principal cities, including New York City and Washington DC, into darkness. Nearly 93 million people will remain without power in the scenario hypothesized by the study.

The attackers spread the ‘Erebos’ Trojan through the network with the effect of compromising the electricity generation control rooms in several locations in the Northeastern United States.

According to the researchers, the attack will cause health and safety systems to fail, disrupting water supplies as electric pumps fail. The chaos will reign causing the failure of main services, including transportation. The malware is able to infect the Internet and search and compromise 50 generators that it will destroy, causing prolonged outages in the region.

The total of claims paid by the insurance industry has been estimated to be included in the interval comprised between $21.4b and $71.1b, depending on the evolution of the scenarios designed by the researchers.

The researchers involved in the simulation have calculated the economic losses could range from $243 million to $1 trillion, depending on the number of components in the power grid compromised by the attack.

“Economic impacts include direct damage to assets and infrastructure, decline in sales revenue to electricity supply companies, loss of sales revenue to business and disruption to the supply chain. The total impact to the US economy is estimated at $243bn, rising to more than $1trn in the most extreme version of the scenario.” states the report.

The experts analyzed the historical outages, estimating that currently the power interruptions, most of which last five minutes or less, already cost the US about $96 billion. The cost related to a prolonged outage is likely to be included in the range of $36 billion to $156 billion. The Commercial and industrial sectors are the sectors most impacted by the attack on the power grid due to their dependency on the electricity supply.

“Evidence from historical outages and indicative modelling suggests that power interruptions already cost the US economy roughly $96bn8 annually.9 However, uncertainty and sensitivity analysis suggest this figure may range from $36b to $156b.” continues the report. “Currently over 95% of outage costs are borne by the commercial and industrial sectors due to the high dependence on electricity as an input factor of production.”

As explained in the report, it is important to identify the risks related to a possible cyber-attack and adopt all the necessary measures to mitigate them. The protection of critical infrastructure like a power grid is an essential part of the cyber strategy of any Government.