The Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) organized on 16 February 2010 a simulated cyber attack on the United States. The intention was to demonstrate the nation’s critical infrastructure and thus mobilize public opinion, in the wake of National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair’s alarmist declarations before Congress.

Sponsorship and logistical support for this operation were provided by CNN, General Dynamics, SMobile Systems, Southern Company, PayPal, Symantec and Washington University. The scenario was created by Michael Hayden (former CIA Director) and the exercise itself was led by Governor Thomas Kean and Congressman Lee Hamilton (co-chairs of the 9/11 Commission).

The venue was a room at the Mandarin Hotel in Washington, transformed for the day into the White House Situation Room.

Cast of characters:

Role Actor
National Security Advisor Michael Chertoff
Secretary of State John Negroponte
Secretary of Homeland Security Fran Townsend
Director of National Intelligence John McLaughlin
Secretary of Energy Bennett Johnson
Secretary of Treasury Stephen Friedman
Attorney General Jamie Gorelick
Counselor to the President Joe Lockhart
Cyber Coordinator Stewart Baker
Secretary of Defense Général Charles Wald

According to the scenario, the crisis begins when college basketball fans download a free March Madness application to their smart phones. The application hides spyware developped by an Islamist group in the Sudan hosted by a server in Russia. In roughly 45 minutes, it infects US mobile phones, steals passwords and address lists. Soon the perpetrators will be capable of intercepting all e-mails at will and interfere in financial transactions. Wall Street has to shut down and air traffic controllers must cancel nearly all flights. As mobile service is disrupted for millions, traffick switches over to the internet which inevitably clogs up ...

The attack is supposed to unfold during a single day in the summer of 2011. The temperature is very high because of climate change, leading to an air conditioning overload. This is when the terrorists decide to sabotage the nation’s electric grid. Computers are dead ... Not only is the White House overwhelmed, but it is also at a loss on how to retaliate and against whom.

Ah, but none of this would have happened had U.S. citizens purchased SMobile and Symantec antivirus systems; if the Defense Department had acquired the latest gadgets from General Dynamics and if the nation had been equipped with Exelon nuclear power plants and Southern Company electric grids.

The simulation is meant to demonstrate the unpreparedness of U.S. security services and the need to modify legislation conferring special powers on the White House to deal with a cyber emergency. Television programmes have been scheduled to discuss the new concept of "cyber hygiene". An internet martial law bill will shortly be brought before Congress enabling the executive branch to take immediate control of the major private telephone and internet companies in case of national security needs.

The Bipartisan Policy Center is a think tank set up by major business firms in two separate stages (2004 and 2007) to exert pressure on the U.S. government irrespective of the ruling party. It is a screen for a number of multinationals such as Exelon (nuclear power plants), Lockheed-Martin (aeronautics), Johnson and Johnson (pharmaceuticals), Ford (automobiles) and ConocoPhilips (petrochemicals). Some of its lobbyists are deeply embedded inside the Obama Administration (in particular Thomas Daschle et George Mitchell).

In 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008, the Bipartisan Policy Center entrusted to public relations firm Downey McGrath the task of organizing two exercises simulating an "oil shockwave". To shield the sponsors, an ad hoc entity, the Energy Security Leadership Council, was set up under the guidance of General John Abizaid and Admiral Dennis Blair. High profile figures took part in the silulations, such as Richard Armitage, Carol Browner, Robert Gates, Robert Rubin, James Woolsey and the ubiquitous Mr. Philip Zelikow.

The propaganda operation will conclude this weekend with a CNN broadcast of a two-hour documentary (broadcasts have been scheduled at 08:00, 11:00 and 14:00 Eastern Time) on Saturday and Sunday, 20 and 21 February. It’s title: "We were warned".