Ryan Gorman reports for the Daily Mail that the FBI was investigating a “military-style” attack on a California electric power facility on April 16, 2013.
Foreign Policy has a detailed account of the well-planned attack, in which as many as two gunmen stormed the PG&E Metcalf substation in a San Jose suburb at 1 a.m., severing landline and cell phone service so that PG&E employees had no means to call for help.
The gunmen fired more than 100 rounds from high-powered rifles at many transformers, damaging 10 in one area and three transformer banks in another. Cooling oil leaking from at least one transformer bank caused transformers to overheat and shut down. This led officials to warn locals to conserve energy, but no major power outages occurred, nor were there major damage or injuries. However, substation equipment was damaged and underground fiber optic cables nearby were severed.
A senior intelligence official told Foreign Policy that “Initially, the attack was being treated as vandalism and handled by local law enforcement. However, investigators have been quoted in the press expressing opinions that there are indications that the timing of the attacks and target selection indicate a higher level of planning and sophistication.”
In an interview in the Wall Street Journal, Wellinghoff called the attack ”the most significant incident of domestic terrorism involving the grid that has ever occurred.” Wellinghoff said he’s going public with his concerns because he believes national security is at risk and that thousands of U.S. electrical utility sites are poorly protected.
Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith told reporters at the time the objective of the attack appeared to have been “shutting down the system.” But the FBI says it does not think a terrorist organization carried out the gunfire attack on the San Jose substation.
Meanwhile, the FBI is also investigating a series of attacks on the Arkansas power grid where multiple high-voltage transmission lines were severed and one substation was set on fire, according to the New York Times.
“You should have expected U.S.” was scribbled on a control panel at the torched substation.
There is no indication the attacks in Arkansas and California are related.
UPDATE (Feb. 7, 2014):
The Wall St. Journal reports (via FoxNews) that Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said she and fellow senators plan to ask the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has jurisdiction over the electric grid’s reliability, to “set minimum security standards for critical substations.” One proposal being discussed in Congress is would give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission the power to write and impose interim rules on grid defenses. The utility industry would still be able to influence any permanent requirements.
Some utility industry executives told the WSJ it would be difficult to come up with rules for improving security that would work in both urban and rural areas. Lisa Barton, executive vice president of transmission for American Electric Power, said increasing protections could be costly and that “One size fits all may not get you true resiliency. I’m not saying it isn’t worth it.”
See also “Terrorists target America’s forests, reservoirs, and power grid,” Feb. 6, 2014.