STARRED REVIEW
November 2015

The threat of darkness

By Ted Koppel
If anyone is well positioned to convince people that the threat of a blackout-inducing cyberattack on America is real, it’s Ted Koppel. A respected and award-winning journalist, longtime “Nightline” anchor and current news analyst for NPR and the BBC, Koppel has the credibility and visibility to both conduct a thorough investigation and broadcast the results widely. In this clear-eyed analysis of the pending threat of cyberattacks and our government’s shockingly insufficient plans for surviving them, Koppel crunches the numbers that make a doomsday scenario look not only possible, but likely.
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If anyone is well positioned to convince people that the threat of a blackout-inducing cyberattack on America is real, it’s Ted Koppel. A respected and award-winning journalist, longtime “Nightline” anchor and current news analyst for NPR and the BBC, Koppel has the credibility and visibility to both conduct a thorough investigation and broadcast the results widely. In this clear-eyed analysis of the pending threat of cyberattacks and our government’s shockingly insufficient plans for surviving them, Koppel crunches the numbers that make a doomsday scenario look not only possible, but likely. 

What makes Koppel’s numbers digestible—for instance, the highly vulnerable Large Power Transformers that form the backbone of our electrical distribution system cost between $3 and $10 million each, are custom-built and can only be made in 10 U.S. facilities, rendering replacement difficult, costly and time-consuming—is that he doesn’t rely on statistical compilations or government reports. He goes out and talks to the people involved, like Tom Ridge, the first secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and Jeh Johnson, the current head of DHS. Though many interviewees try to dodge Koppel’s astute questions, he keeps on asking; the answers build a convincing picture of a government that reluctantly acknowledges the threat and yet remains woefully unprepared to handle it.

Koppel’s questions don’t stop there. He turns to the folks who think they have some answers, from survivalists, preppers and rural do-it-yourselfers to the American Red Cross and the Mormon Church. Readers may be surprised to hear how difficult it was for Koppel and staff to reach the Red Cross and just how thoroughly prepared the Mormon community is. 

Koppel doesn’t pretend that he can tie up all of these threads into a neat solution. Instead, he turns introspective in the final chapters, remembering the dubious government safety plans of his childhood: backyard bomb shelters and duck-and-cover school drills. With this, he acknowledges the difficulty of planning for the unknown, but he also asks us to keep trying.

 

This article was originally published in the November 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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Lights Out

Lights Out

By Ted Koppel
Crown
ISBN 9780553419962

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