OPINION: Energy Regulators Lack A Sense Of Urgency When It Comes To Defending Against China-Russia Tech

Tommy Waller Center for Security Policy
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On Tuesday, a bipartisan group of senators — including members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence — sent a letter to Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to warn of the threat from the Communist Chinese government-backed company Huawei and urge the federal government to consider banning the use of Huawei solar inverters in the United States.

“Congress recently acted to block Huawei from our telecommunications equipment market due to concerns with the company’s links to China’s intelligence services,” the letter stated. The authors urged similar action to protect critical U.S. electrical systems and infrastructure.

The letter added: “Huawei, the world’s largest manufacturer of solar inverters, is attempting to access our domestic residential and commercial markets. Large-scale photovoltaic systems and those used by homeowners, school districts, and businesses are equally vulnerable to cyberattack.”

Unfortunately, DOE and DHS are almost completely powerless to actually ensure that electric grid operators prohibit the use of Huawei equipment and components. That job rests with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), and its track record on cybersecurity is absolutely abysmal.

In a recent hearing, Sen. Angus King of Maine directed pointed questions to senior executives of FERC and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) about the prospect of electric grid operators having Russian Kaspersky or Chinese Huawei or ZTE equipment in their systems. Neither executive seemed motivated to address the threat, despite the senator’s efforts and sense of urgency.

There is a growing awareness of FERC’s failure to effectively regulate the electric grid’s owners and operators in matters pertaining to resilience, safety, and security. Michael Mabee, a retired Army Command sergeant major, has been one of the country’s most vocal critics of the NERC/FERC regulatory structure and what he calls the “Cybersecurity Incident Shell Game.” He makes a compelling argument that secret self-regulation does not work and has recently authored a letter to ranking members of the Senate Energy Committee requesting that they hold a hearing on this critical matter.

Congress and President Trump can help secure the electric grid by filling the two vacancies for FERC commissioners with the right people. President Trump can either appoint industry insiders who will continue secret self-regulation, or he can appoint someone with a focus on national security. Thankfully, Mabee has found just the man for the job — Thomas Popik.

As a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, graduate of both MIT and Harvard Business School, and co-founder of the non-profit Foundation for Resilient Societies, Thomas Popik is uniquely qualified to serve as a commissioner. He would bring a passion for engineering, economics, security and safety to the equation and, most importantly, he’s not an industry insider seeking a high paying job in the industry afterward.

Intel alert for POTUS and Congress: If you’re worried about Huawei and the grid, fill the void at FERC with commissioners who share that concern!

Tommy Waller serves as vice president of special projects at the Center for Security Policy. He also manages the Secure the Grid Coalition, a group of policymakers, defense professionals, and activists working diligently to secure America’s most critical infrastructure. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps as an infantry and recon officer with combat service overseas in numerous theaters.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.