Your new book is rather apocalyptic. You talk about electric grids going down and millions of people evacuating cities. Is it time to panic over a potential cyberattack?
No, it’s time to prepare. The time to panic is if we wait until it happens.
How likely is that?
I’ve talked to experts in the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA. And while there are those who believe it will not happen, the preponderance of those that I spoke to believe not only that it can but that it will. Former Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano told me she thinks the chances are 80% to 90%.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified in February about cyberthreats and said the likelihood of a catastrophic attack was remote.
What Clapper is referring to is the fact that those who have the highest capability–the Chinese, the Russians, for geopolitical reasons–are going to be the least likely to launch an attack. But the danger is as you go down the scale of capability–Iran, North Korea, Syria–the likelihood actually increases.
What are the things that should be done now?
Government agencies need to establish some kind of a plan for the aftermath. As of now, FEMA doesn’t have it, the Department of Homeland Security doesn’t have it, and I see no indication that they’re in the process of developing such a plan.
You reported on Mormons, who have institutionalized disaster preparation, as well as other “prepper” communities. What was the most surprising thing you learned?
I had a tendency to wrap preppers up with survivalists and to think of survivalists as being people who have bomb shelters stocked with machine guns and all kinds of nonsense. But many of the preppers are really very serious people who aren’t waiting for the government to make the plans for them.
Do you have a generator at your house? Have you stocked food?
I have a generator, but we’ve had one for years. I live in a part of Maryland where the power goes out a lot. I did order some freeze-dried food. And I ordered it for my grown kids and grandkids.
What should every person be prepared for?
Having a storehouse of food in your home that will last the family three months is a very, very sensible precaution.
At the heart of the book is the question of whether we have become so fractured in how we digest information that Congress and other institutions aren’t working.
Well, it’s become more difficult because at one end of the spectrum you have MSNBC and at the other end you’ve got Fox, and on all your radio stations you’ve got a variety of highly politicized talk-show hosts who make any kind of movement in the direction of moderation seem like a betrayal.
Could a show like the old Nightline exist today?
In the era when you were on the air, every weeknight, could you imagine an anchor fabricating stories as Brian Williams did and being allowed back on the air?
Look, Brian is an old friend, and I understand what happened to him. There is a difference unfortunately between the kinds of tales that you can tell while sitting at a bar, entertaining your friends, and what you can say when you’re on the air. Brian slipped and took the routine and did it on the air, and he has more than paid the price.
This appears in the November 02, 2015 issue of TIME.