A year has passed since the terrorist attack on the Metcalf, CA electric substation. These events are significant and experts say that this type of attack will most certainly happen again. Two reports sound the alarm of the vulnerability of America’s electrical grid system. Some portray our grid as “America’s Achilles heel.”
CBS News reports, “PG&E announced Thursday [April 10, 2014] a $250,000 reward for the capture and conviction of suspects responsible for damaging a substation near San Jose last year by using sniper rifles to knock out 17 transformers. Nearly a year has passed since the April 16, 2013, attack on the Metcalf Transmission Substation, but investigators have released few new details since then as to who may have committed the attack or what their motives might have been. The attack caused more than $15 million in damage.”
So what has been done to protect America’s electrical grid? Answer: Not much.
The Center for Security Policy is concerned by the lack of action to protect “the grid.” CFSP warns if the attack had been successful, “The power to Silicon Valley and parts of the San Francisco Bay area could have been disrupted, possibly for a protracted period. And, since the perpetrators got away, it must be assumed that they are in a position to try again with perhaps catastrophic effect against a still-vulnerable electric grid. Preventing such a disruption – whether from man-induced causes or naturally occurring solar storms – must be a national priority.”
CFSP is so concerned that they are hosting a panel on this issue. Panel members include: Hon. Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House of Representatives (by video); Hon. Pete Sessions (R-TX), Chairman, House Rules Committee; Hon.Trent Franks (R-AZ), Co-Chairman, House EMP Caucus (by video); Dr. Peter Vincent Pry, former Staff Member, Congressional EMP Threat Commission; Michael Del Rosso, former Chairman, IEEE Critical Infrastructure Committee; and MG Robert Newman, former Adjutant General of Virginia. The panel will be held at the Reserve Officers Association, 1 Constitution Avenue, NE, Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, April 16, 2014, 3–4:30 pm.
Brian T. Kennedy, President of the Claremont Institute, in a recent speech titled “Early Warning: The Continuing Need for National Defense” notes:
Last April 16, just outside of San Jose, California, a group of terrorists or soldiers, operating on American soil, attacked the Metcalf transmission substation in a military action aimed at disabling a part of America’s electrical infrastructure. The operation began at 1:00 a.m., when the attackers cut underground fiber optic cables, disabling communications and security systems. Thirty minutes later, using high-powered rifles, they began a 20-minute assault on the substation’s extra-large transformer and the cooling system that supports it. Police arrived at 1:50, but the shooters disappeared into the night. To this day there is no trace of them.
John Wellinghoff, then chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, would call this attack “the most significant incident of domestic terrorism involving [America’s electrical] grid that has ever occurred.” Obviously it was a professional operation by skilled marksmen—estimates of the number of gunmen range from two to six—with training in reconnaissance, stealth, and evasion. That the plan went undetected, the casings from the spent shells bore no fingerprints, and the perpetrators have not been caught, suggests a high degree of intelligence. Damage to the facility forced electricity to be rerouted to maintain the integrity of power transmission to the Silicon Valley, and repairs took several months.
The political response to the attack ranged from an immediate dismissal by the FBI of the idea that it was a terrorist act—puzzling given its sophistication and its proximity in time to the Boston bombing—to recognition by a bipartisan but small group of U.S. Senators and Representatives that defending America’s electrical grid is an urgent priority. Although there are over 100,000 transformers of all sizes throughout the grid, the destruction of less than two dozen key large transformers—which weigh hundreds of tons, are transported on special rail cars, and are mostly produced in Korea—would cause a catastrophic failure that would blackout the United States. Such is the vulnerability of the system. [Emphasis added]
Kennedy warns of our vulnerability to attacks by terrorists, Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) from the low air detonation of a nuclear weapon and solar flares. Kennedy fails to mention the higher probability of cyber attacks against our electrical grid.
If you Google the words “cyber attacks” you will get 164 million results. So where is our government on defending you and me against this growing peril? According to experts like John Jorgenson, CEO and founding partner of the Sylint Group, our government is woefully behind the times in capability and capacity to deal with the threat of cyber attacks let alone the cyber warfare being conducted on a global scale by nation states such as China, Russia, North Korea and Iran.
Today the cry across America is the cyber attacks are coming, the cyber attacks are coming! But no one is taking action. No one that is except those few who, like Jorgenson, truly understand the catastrophic nature of the threat.
Jorgensen states, “America’s electrical grid has been compromised.” What does this mean? It means that foreign entities have placed malware on computers that control American electrical power stations, including nuclear power plants.
If the power goes out at any nuclear power plant, which depends on electrical pumps to cool the reactors, then – well you get the picture!
Kennedy ends by quoting a speech given by Abraham Lincoln in 1838:
All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Bonaparte for a commander, could not by force take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.
At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.
“As a nation of freemen today, we are courting suicide by ignoring clear and present dangers. Our elected representatives have eyes but do not see, and they have ears but do not hear. We must awaken ourselves, and then awaken them, before it is too late,” warns Kennedy.
About the Center for Security Policy
The Center for Security Policy is a non-profit, non-partisan national security organization that specializes in identifying policies, actions, and resource needs that are vital to American security and then ensures that such issues are the subject of both focused, principled examination and effective action by recognized policy experts, appropriate officials, opinion leaders, and the general public. For more information visit www.centerforsecuritypolicy.