JBS USA is the American branch of the world’s largest meat producer. The livestock behemoth was forced to shut down all nine of its beef processing plants in the wake of an “organized cybersecurity attack” that targeted its complex computing systems. In the aftermath of the Colonial Pipeline attack that – coupled with other factors – saw a stark increase in gas prices, it’s time to start asking questions about America’s food and energy security.
The CEO of JBS USA, Andre Nogueira, said that he expects the “vast majority” of the facilities to be operational by Wednesday. In a statement released Tuesday, he noted:
“We have cybersecurity plans in place to address these types of issues and we are successfully executing those plans… Given the progress our IT professionals and plant teams have made in the last 24 hours, the vast majority of our beef, pork, poultry, and prepared foods plants will be operational tomorrow.”
Government to the Rescue?
While there is no known connection to the recent Ransomware attacks, the Biden administration suggests that this attack was carried out by Russian actors.
The Department of Agriculture pointed out that it was working with both the White House and the Department of Homeland Security to “mitigate any potential supply or price issues.” The USDA said, “As part of that effort, USDA has reached out to several major meat processors in the United States to ensure they are aware of the situation, encouraging them to accommodate additional capacity where possible, and to stress the importance of keeping supply moving.”
But the fact is that – as in most situations – the government can only do so much to mitigate after the fact.
During the Trump administration, the United States was as close to energy independence as it was possible to get. In 2019, Trump announced that “We are ending decades of foreign energy reliance to unleash the blessings of American energy independence,” highlighting the fact that the country had been a net energy importer since 1953. Although the establishment media attempted to play down the significant swing to energy independence, even Politifact acknowledged that” While it’s not accurate to say the United States has already kicked its reliance on foreign sources of energy, the country is moving in this direction.”
All that seems to have changed under President Joe Biden.
Does Independence Equal Security?
Both with food and energy, it is debatable whether independence (as in not needing to import) is equal to security (as in stable supply at stable prices). But one thing is abundantly clear: Without independence, security is impossible.
The recent major cyberattacks have been largely U.S.-based, meaning that supplies within the continental United States have been impacted. But what would happen if hackers decided to launch an assault on nations that supply America with food and fuel? It is unlikely that a foreign country faced with shortages of its own would honor existing contracts to send scarce resources overseas regardless of political or diplomatic pressure.
So what can be learned from the attack on JBS USA?
An Eye On The Future
With the increasing reliance on computer systems to manage procedures and output that were largely manual tasks even forty years ago, the risk of a cyberattack has exponentially risen. As software and security companies ramp up the development of new programs and safety tech to try and keep ahead of ingenious hackers, it seems like a never-ending arms race that could be – if not avoided- at least ameliorated.
By ensuring that the nation can feed its own citizens and keep the lights on without needing to rely on other countries, the U.S. has a unique opportunity to create securer supply chains less at risk from interference. And by making computer systems localized, foregoing the need for international connectivity, creating safe and relatively unhackable machines becomes a goal that is not beyond the realms of capability.
But perhaps energy and food independence does not fit in well with the image of a globalist America.
Read more from Mark Angelides.