Attack On U.S. Power Station Raises Alarm Over Terror Risk To The U.S. Power Grid

Attack On U.S. Power Station Raises Alarm Over Terror Risk To U.S. Power Grid

Rebecca Smith’s article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal (Wed., Feb. 5, 2014) with the title above is starting to get more attention by the U.S. national security establishment. CNBC is reporting this afternoon that the FBI is now treating the April 16, 2013 sabotage of the San Jose, California power grid as a likely terrorist attack.

Early on that April morning (1am), Ms. Smith reports that “snipers opened fire on a nearby PG&E Metcalf electrical substation, shooting for 19 minutes and knocking out 17 giant transformers that funnel power to Silicon Valley,” then vanishing before police arrived.

No one has yet been arrested, and up till now, law enforcement — to include the FBI — considered the attack not terrorist related, and likely an act of vandalism. That judgment apparently has now changed and the FBI now considers the incident a probable terrorist event.

The attack was “the most significant incident of domestic terrorism involving the grid that has ever occurred,’ said Jon Wellinghoff, who was Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission at the time. According to Ms. Smith, Mr. Wellinghoff gave a series of closed-door, high-level briefings to Federal agencies, Congress, the White House/NSC and others about the sophisticated nature of the attack. “This wasn’t an incident where Billy Bob and Joe decided, after a few brewskis, to come in an shoot up a substation,” said Mark Johnson, retired Vice President of transmission for PG&E. “This was an event that was well thought out, well planned, and they targeted certain components.” he added. “The breadth and depth of this attack was unprecedented” in the U.S. said Rich Lordan, Senior Technical Executive for the Electric Power Research Institute. “The motivation,” he says, “appears to be preparation for an act of war.”

As Ms. Smith notes, “transmission substations are critical links in the grid,’ but are often in remote, isolated areas with little protection. The Metcalf attack lasted slightly less than an hour, but “included the cutting of telecommunications cables in such a way as to make them hard to repair,” she writes, — “in an underground vault near the substation, not far from highway 101 just outside San Jose.” A signal from a waving/blinking flashlight was soon followed by multiple rifle shots aimed at the transformers’ oil-filled cooling systems. Five minutes later, another signal from a flashlight ended the attack.

After learning of the complexity of the attack, Mr. Wellinghoff flew to California, bringing with him experts from the U.S. Navy’s Dahlgren Surface Warfare Center in Virginia, which trains Navy SEALs, according to Ms. Smith. After walking the site with PG&E officials and FBI agents, the military experts told him it looked like a professional job.

The FBI had been reluctant to label or describe this incident as a terrorist attack; but, it seems Ms. Smith’s feature article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal has given the story new impetus and exposure. If it is indeed an act of terror, the worrisome piece would be if this is a dress rehearsal for a much more devastating and lethal attack. V/R, RCP

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