Military-style guerrilla raid on Silicon Valley power substation puzzles Feds

Sunday, February 16, 2014 by: J. D. Heyes
Tags: guerrilla attack, power substation, FBI

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(NaturalNews) Some say it could be just a fluke. Others say it might have been a dry run by terrorists. But nearly all analysts agree that, if it occurs on a wider scale, it could cripple the U.S. power grid.

A report by the Los Angeles Times recently said authorities are baffled by a low-tech, but highly coordinated, attack on a power substation in a remote area of California:

They came after midnight, two or more armed individuals so deft that they cut telecommunication cables in an underground vault and outsmarted security cameras and motion sensors at the power substation in a remote corner of Santa Clara County.

At daylight, FBI agents began poring over time-lapse photographs from the surveillance cameras. But the photos revealed only staccato muzzle flashes from a semiautomatic weapon and sparks as shots hit rows of transformers. There was not a face, not a shadow, of who was doing the firing.

The shooters disappeared into the gloom minutes before the first police car arrived.

Not terrorism? Are we sure?

In what authorities are calling a military-style raid last spring - April 16, to be exact - the attackers managed to disable 17 large transformers at the Metcalf Transmission Substation, which just happens to send power to Silicon Valley.

And while the FBI, which is continuing to investigate, doesn't have much in the way of motives, fingerprints or suspects, the government says it is confident the attack was not the work of terrorists.

But then, just what was the attack about? Was it committed by eco-terrorists who are making a statement about American technology and capitalism? Was someone testing the vulnerability of the U.S. power grid? Maybe it was just practice for a larger attack yet to come?

Or, the Times reports, perhaps it was an "inside job by disgruntled Pacific Gas and Electric Co. employees."

Oddly, the attack occurred just 13 hours after the Boston Marathon bombings - which were acts of terrorism. No one yet knows, or more likely, no one in authority is yet talking.

The Times reported that there was no major blackout - utility officials were able to reroute power around the damaged site quickly. That said, it took a month of work by utility crews to repair the damage, and that is the part most disconcerting to homeland and national security experts; imagine what would happen, in the dead of winter or the heat of summer, if large swaths of urban America were without power for a month or more.

Four Democratic senators - to include California's Dianne Feinstein, head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Harry Reid of Nevada, the Senate majority leader - have urged utility companies to beef up security around their power plants and substations (a move that would likely cost billions and, no doubt, be passed on to consumers). Nevertheless, the added security is necessary, said the senators, because of the "sophisticated" nature of the attack to what amounts to critical infrastructure.

Attack was low-tech, but damage was heavy

"We ought to be hyper-alert," said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose), whose district includes the substation. "These were pros."

But not terrorist pros - according to the FBI.

Still, counterterrorism experts have warned, for years, that the nation's electric grid is vulnerable. They have warned, especially, of a different kind of attack - cyber attack - that could crash electric grids and causing widespread outages and billions in damages. In response, the federal government, in conjunction with utilities, has tried to beef up digital defenses (which are, according to cyberterrorism expert Richard A. Clarke, still sorely lacking).

But April's attack was decidedly low-tech. Law enforcement officials told the Times that the gunman fired at least 120 rounds from a high-powered rifle; nearly every shot struck the transformers 40 yards away. The attack lasted about 20 minutes.

As a result of the attack, the huge transformers began to leak tens of thousands of gallons of oil; they proceeded to overheat, but they did not explode. They shut down instead.





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