A recent post revealed that there was a terrorist attack against a California electric power substation on April 16, 2013 that was largely kept hidden from the American people by a lack of media coverage about the attack. That attack resulted in 100 rounds of bullets being fired into the substation, destroying many transformers. Thankfully, the power companies were able to compensate for the damage done at this one power substation and there was no widespread blackout.
However, after a long period of silence, the US Congress and electric companies are openly discussing this attack and warning that this attack could have been much worse in its consequences. Majority Leader of the Senate, Harry Reid, even stated that “This incident came uncomfortably close to causing a shutdown of a critical substation, which could have resulted in a massive blackout in California and elsewhere in the west.” That is a very serious assessment. Congress is considering whether to mandate better security at vital substations as the private companies’ voluntary security measures may not be sufficient to guard against such attacks in the future (see the first link and second link for full story).
It seems evident that this attack was a terrorist attack by a team of shooters who had determined that the particular substation they attacked was a critical cog in the electric power system of the west coast. They may have been trying to actually take down the electric grid of the western states or it may have been a “probing” attack that was done to asses the damage it took to take down a substation and how slowly American authorities would respond. The attackers were not amateurs. They have apparently not been apprehended so that indicates that they were trained professionals who knew how to “police their brass” and leave no trace about their identity or escape route. Who might they have been? My personal guess is that they were members of an Iranian/Hezbollah sleeper cell that was temporarily activated for this one attack. However it could have been done by another enemy or rival of the USA.
We now know that the electrical and power infrastructure of the USA is very vulnerable. Our vital infrastructures could be attacked and disabled by any of at least three methods (cyber-attack, an EMP weapon or direct assault on critical substations by trained sleeper cell shooters). My personal belief is that infrastructure companies ought to make a considerable investment in security measures (cameras, motion sensors and armed guards) around those substations, natural gas pump stations, water plants, etc. that would be the likely targets of attacks by sleeper cells conducting a terrorist attack or a coordinated and simultaneous set of attacks to increase the chances of bringing a US power grid down. These same threats should also be considered by European and allied western nations, not just the USA.
It would seem a much wiser allocation of American federal security funds to divert funding from needless searches of belts and shoes at airports to protecting vital infrastructure facilities that are currently unguarded. After all, how many “bomb belts” and “explosive shoes” have been found at airport check-ins by the TSA since these invasive, time-consuming and costly inspections were instituted at US airports were started? I’ll bet the answer is zero. However, since we now know a terrorist attack occurred at a California electrical substation last year and that our nation almost suffered a major electrical grid failure as a result of that attack, our critical infrastructure facilities really need some serious 24/7 protection. Given the institutionalized inertia of Congress and the hitherto unwillingness of power companies to take and fund necessary protective measures, I wouldn’t bet on that needed protection coming anytime soon. However, if such an attack occurs again and many states lose their electrical power as a result, and many lives are lost due to the loss of electricity, many members of Congress will never again be elected and President Obama might find himself impeached for neglecting US national security from a demonstrated and clearly evident threat. Those are motivations for the federal government to act quickly to secure and protect vital infrastructure facilities in the USA. Other nations should do so as well.