Will a terrorist with a rifle spark a massive blackout?
While all eyes are on Sochi and the undercurrent of concern about potential terrorism in Russia, there has been a troubling upgrade of an California incident initially deemed vandalism.
A 2013 attack on an electric substation near San Jose that nearly knocked out Silicon Valley’s power supply was initially downplayed as vandalism by Pacific Gas & Electric Co., the facility’s owner. Gunfire from semiautomatic weapons did extensive damage to 17 transformers that sent grid operators scrambling to avoid a blackout.
But this week, a former top power regulator offered a far more ominous interpretation: The attack was terrorism, he said, and if circumstances had been just a little different, it could have been disastrous.
Jon Wellinghoff, who was chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission when the shooting took place, said that attack was clearly executed by well-trained individuals seeking to do significant damage to the area, and he fears it was a test run for an even larger assault.
“It would not be that hard to bring down the entire region west of the Rockies if you, in fact, had a coordinated attack like this against a number of substations,” Wellinghoff said Thursday. “This [shooting] event shows there are people out there capable of such an attack.”
Wellinghoff’s warning about the incident at PG&E’s Metcalf substation was reported this week by the Wall Street Journal, expanding on a December report by Foreign Policy magazine.
FBI officials said they are taking the shooting very seriously.
Given the FBI’s handling of the Internal Revenue Service’s blocking Tea Party tax exemption requests, I am not consoled.
Foreign Policy has a detailed description of the incident entitled ‘Military-Style’ Raid on California Power Station Spooks US. The soon-to-be former Congressman Henry Waxman shared his thoughts about the incident during a recent hearing:
“It is clear that the electric grid is not adequately protected from physical or cyber attacks,” Waxman said. He called the shooting at the the San Jose facility “an unprecedented and sophisticated attack on an electric grid substation with military-style weapons. Communications were disrupted. The attack inflicted substantial damage. It took weeks to replace the damaged parts. Under slightly different conditions, there could have been serious power outages or worse.”
So while our government spent its time spying on our video game habits, it looks like a group of terrorists nearly knocked out the power that makes them possible for a large, populous region of the country. Perhaps we need rethink where our concerns about terror should be?