Familiar faces from the federal government will be tested Tuesday, Feb. 16, to see how well Washington, D.C., would handle a cyber-crisis. Pass or fail, their performance will be seen by spectators -- and then broadcast on CNN for the world to see.

The Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC), a nonprofit that develops multiparty solutions in public policy, will host Cyber Shockwave, a simulated cyber-attack on the United States, during an exercise at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Washington, D.C.

The participants will be former senior administration officials who will be put through their paces, but they won't know exactly how until it actually happens.

"We've basically gathered a great group of former national security officials and administration officials, and we've actually switched up their roles, so I think it's going to be pretty interesting," said Eileen McMenamin, the BPC's vice president of communications.

At least 10 people will perform the test. They include Michael Chertoff, former secretary of U.S. Homeland Security; John Negroponte, former director of national intelligence; and Fran Townsend, former White House homeland security adviser.

"The jobs that they had held are not necessarily going to be the positions that they're holding in this exercise," McMenamin said.

Chertoff will operate as national security adviser for the simulation, and Negroponte and Townsend will play the roles of secretary of state and secretary of homeland security, respectively. They will be performing on a stage set up as a White House situation room, and they'll be watched by the press and other invited guests. CNN will record the happenings and air it as a special the weekend of Feb. 20.

"We have gone to great lengths to work with our sponsors, General Dynamics in particular, to work with experts who have written the scenario to ensure that it is actually realistic and could happen in real life, so they will be reacting in real time," McMenamin said. "We'll have different information coming in on the screens. We'll have runners run up with cards and inject new information into the scenario, and they'll have to react."

After the exercise is completed, the BPC will issue another press release about the results.

The public doesn't get to see what happens in the Pentagon or the White House situation, but the BPC will allow people the rare chance to see how something like this actually unfolds, according to McMenamin. The BPC hosted a similar series of simulations in 2007, Oil ShockWave, which addressed the country's dependence on foreign oil as a major threat.

"I think a large reason that we did this is to educate the public that these threats to exist and that government needs to know how to react in real-time, and hoping to draw a larger awareness to this," McMenamin said. "I think it will also be a good tool for not only government officials, but private-sector companies as well to see what possible threats are out there, and that we really need to be ready in case an attack of this sort occurs."


Hilton Collins, Staff Writer Hilton Collins  | 

Hilton Collins is a former staff writer for Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines.