Newly-installed Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said Thursday that the threat of a cyber attack shutting down the U.S. electric grid is the biggest worry of the Obama administration, not an electromagnetic pulse like the one the Earth barely avoided two weeks ago.
"What I have to say is that the whole set of issues that could disrupt the grid are ones that we do look at. But our biggest focus, not surprisingly, is on cyber security in terms of disruption of the grid," Moniz told Secrets during a media breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.
Moniz added that the administration's spending focus is on preventing a cyber attack, not an EMP event despite pressure from a new coalition headed by former CIA Director James Woolsey and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
They have been urging the White House and Congress to fortify the electric grid, especially the 2,000-3,000 transformers around the country, in special metal boxes that would protect them from either an EMP event or nuclear attack in the atmosphere that could destroy the grid and shut down electricity to the nation.
Moniz said "I'm always concerned about a nuclear bomb," but it's not his top fear. "The EMP issue is one that, you know, we are looking at clearly, and it is no secret that there has been been from geomagnetic disturbances one already sees implications for operations," he added in noting that the administration isn't shrugging off concerns.
But he said that cyber attacks are by far the biggest focus of the administration and "it will be an elevated focus as we go forward." He noted that the Energy Department is taking it so seriously that he created a cyber council to plan ways to thwart an attack.
Woolsey and other members of the EMP Coalition told Secrets this week that the Earth barely missed a disastrous solar flare that crossed the planet's orbit two weeks ago. He and others said it was so large that had the Earth been in the way, a electricity in an area the size of North America and Europe would have been knocked out.
Paul Bedard, The Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.