Maddow lays out doomsday scenario of foreign power shutting down power system or natural gas during polar vortex
MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow (screengrab)

MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow on Tuesday showed video of a parking lot light pole "shivering" as a fatal polar vortex grips the upper midwest.

"Now imagine -- imagine the impact -- if in these conditions somebody hostile to the United States decided to knock out the power and the heat on purpose, and they wouldn't turn it back on," Maddow said.

Maddow reported on the World Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community (PDF) that was released by Director of Intelligence Dan Coats.

She read two shocking quotes about the power of China and Russia.

"China has the ability to launch cyber attacks that cause localized, temporary disruptive effects on critical infrastructure—such as disruption of a natural gas pipeline for days to weeks—in the United States," the report stated.

"Russia has the ability to execute cyber attacks in the United States that generate localized, temporary disruptive effects on critical infrastructure—such as disrupting an electrical distribution network for at least a few hours—similar to those demonstrated in Ukraine in 2015 and 2016," the report revealed. "Moscow is mapping our critical infrastructure with the long-term goal of being able to cause substantial damage."

"So China could shut off the natural gas pipelines. Russia can just shut off the electricity," Maddow explained. "They have that ability now."

"It is like negative 50 degrees in the Dakotas right now. What would happen if Russia killed the power in Fargo today?" Maddow asked. "What would happen if all the natural gas lines that service Sioux Falls just 'poofed' on the coldest day in recent memory and it wasn't in our power whether or not to turn them back on."

"What would you do if you lost heat indefinitely as the act of a foreign power on the same day the temperature in your front yard matched the temperature in Antarctica?" she continued. "I mean, what would you and your family do?"

For insight, Maddow was joined by Wall Street Journal reporter Rebecca Smith.

"One of the things I found interesting about this year's threat assessment is no longer is the federal government describing these things as a hypothetical," Smith explained. "In the past, the government has said that the threat of U.S. retaliation would keep our foes in check. This year, you know, they've dropped that."

"Now they're saying the Russians and the Chinese are in our networks and they can shut things down if they wish to," Smith continued. "That's really a dramatic turn-about and I think it shows that this is really a matter of utmost national security."