Sunday, February 9, 2014

Was Attack on San Jose Electric-Power Substation Terrorism?

by Peter Vincent Pry

Now making headlines is news that last April unknown parties attacked an electric-power substation outside San Jose, Calif., attempting to black out Silicon Valley.

This underreported story deserved national attention when it happened nearly a year ago owing to major implications for electric-power grid vulnerability to terrorist attack.

The FBI must have read the White House memo that the war on terrorism is over. It says there is “no evidence” the attack was by terrorists. Never mind that a U.S. Navy SEAL team that investigated found it was highly professional, like a military operation.

Never mind that the attackers also knew how to cut telephone cables, understood the importance and vulnerability of transformers, and sprayed them with AK-47 fire, the favorite assault rifle of rogue states and terrorists.

The perpetrators, whoever they were, got away clean, and nearly a year later they have not been apprehended by the FBI.

Whoever attempted to sabotage the San Jose electric substation, whether or not they were terrorists, the incident should be a wake-up call to federal and state governments, and to the electric-power industry, that much more needs to be done to protect the grid.

Six months after the San Jose attack, on Oct. 29, a terrorist drug cartel called the Knights Templar, sabotaged the power grid in Mexico’s Michoacan state, plunging 420,000 people into blackout, cutting off communications and help from federal authorities. They took advantage of the isolation to publicly execute town and village leaders opposed to the drug trade.

The bad guys are learning that the electric grid is a key societal vulnerability.

Those of us who want to protect the national grid need to make common cause and not get distracted over whether our efforts should focus primarily on kinetic attacks or cyberattacks, or on an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) from the sun, or from nuclear or non-nuclear weapons. We need to protect the grid from all the above.

R. James Woolsey, a former director of the CIA, in testimony to Congress in May 2013, warned that military plans by Iran, North Korea, China and Russia would not be limited to computer viruses and hacking in an all-out cyberwarfare operation, but would include grid sabotage, kinetic attacks and nuclear EMP attack.

It is just common sense that if terrorists or rogue states try crashing America with a nationwide blackout, they are going to throw everything at us, including the kitchen sink.

The Congressional EMP Commission advocated an “all hazards” strategy and made recommendations for cost-effective protection of the national grid. By safeguarding the grid from the worst-case threat — nuclear EMP attack — all other threats would be mitigated as well.

The commission estimated the cost of hardening the national grid would be about $2 billion — the amount we give away annually in aid to Pakistan.

In its investigation of the attack on the Silicon Valley grid, perhaps the FBI might want to consider the following: A senior executive at the Electric Power Research Institute was quoted in The Wall Street Journal saying that the San Jose attack “appears to be preparation for an act of war.”

The April 16 attack happened amid a major nuclear crisis. On Feb. 12, 2013, North Korea conducted its third nuclear test, and throughout March and April, it was threatening to make nuclear-missile strikes on the United States.

President Obama took these threats so seriously that he beefed up national missile defense and made demonstrations over the Korean demilitarized zone with B-2 bombers to deter the North.

If the attack on the San Jose substation, which services a nearby 470-megawatt power plant, had been successful, it might have triggered a cascading blackout beyond the Silicon Valley, collapsing the grid in California and the West Coast, which is vital to supporting U.S. military operations in the Pacific.

A few months later in July 2013, a North Korean freighter was intercepted attempting to transit the Panama Canal carrying two nuclear-capable SA-2 missiles with their launchers, hidden in its hold.

The missiles had no warheads, but the EMP Commission’s nightmare scenario is the execution of an anonymous EMP attack by terrorists or a rogue state launching a missile off a freighter near the U.S. coast, such as in the Gulf of Mexico.

Iran has threatened retaliation on the U.S. grid for the U.S.-Israeli cyberattack known as the “Stuxnet Worm” on Iran’s nuclear program. The worm allegedly was developed in the Silicon Valley. Iran and North Korea are strategic allies by treaty.

Maybe all of this is mere coincidence. Maybe not.

Peter Vincent Pry is executive director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security and served on the Congressional EMP Commission.


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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