< meta name="DC.Date.Valid.End" content="20050825"> Amendment Nine: CEO COM LINK

Wednesday, November 02, 2005


You don't hear much about this, but the Department of Homeland Security, in conjunction with the Business Roundtable Security Task Force, has established a secure telecom network for CEOs to communicate together and directly with the federal government in the event of a threat or crisis situation. Its called CEO COM LINK (*.pdf).

Of course, this is the sort of conspiracy crap left wing quacks just love. A bunch of CEOs sitting around getting warnings about which subway is going to blow up, or which plane is going to be hijacked, and a bunch of campaign donations going to the President's party to make sure that phone doesn't suddenly disconnect just before their flight to Cairo.

But when you look into this secure telephone line, you find out A) it is just a password protected conference call (i.e., not really that secure) and B) CEOs really are getting advance notice of things (and have gotten such notice at least four times).
Since its creation, COM Link has been used at least four times (and probably many more) to give corporate officials advance warning of increases in the terrorist threat level. But in the wake of any future terrorist strikes, Ridge, within minutes, will be able to speak directly with the Roundtable's entire CEO membership, whose companies oversee a significant amount of U.S. critical infrastructure and collectively account for an estimated $3.5 trillion in annual revenues.
You also find out that the single biggest argument for it is based on a wargame simulation with parameters set up by Homeland Security and, you guessed it, the Security Task Force at the Business Roundtable.
Speaking at the McGraw-Hill Homeland Security Summit and Exposition in Arlington, Va., in May, Armstrong raved about COM Link's performance in the April war game. "The difference between doing it [using COM Link] and not doing it saved over a million lives in the war game," Armstrong said.
Well, sure it did. You designed the simulation. The GovExec article is pretty detailed and I recommend you read the whole thing. At the end of the day, this really doesn't sound too good to me. I realize there is a need to make sure information flows freely and unimpeded from government to the operators of critical infrastructure, but to be honest, CEOs (for all their lavish pay) aren't exactly at the operator level. Moreover, when only seconds between information and catastrophe exist it seems more than a little impractical to try and track down CEOs on their email and cell phones only so they can turn around and inform the operators (or more likely, have someone else inform someone else, etc. etc.).

Most importantly though, the secrecy of the whole thing is really bad in my opinion. We still don't know who is "on" the CEO COM LINK list and who isn't. We don't know what the criteria for being on that list is. We also don't know what is discussed and how far in advance these warnings are given. And finally we don't know what the quality and quantity differences are in the information between what CEOs receive, and what the general citizenry receives.

In addition to those questions, I'm really curious to find out whether CEO COM LINK was activated during Katrina. Is that why Wal Mart's response was so much better than say, FEMA? And if it wasn't activated during Katrina, why not?