News / USA

Attack Last Year on California Power Station Raises Alarm

FILE - Pacific Gas and Electric's Metcalf power transmission station near San Jose, California
FILE - Pacific Gas and Electric's Metcalf power transmission station near San Jose, California
An unsolved sniper attack last year on an electrical power substation in California that knocked out 17 giant transformers has mobilized industry leaders to beef up physical security at these vital installations. The incident also has some experts worried that parts of the U.S. power grid are similarly vulnerable.

On April 16, 2013, attackers cut fiber optic cables in an underground vault and then fired more than 100 rounds from at least two high-powered rifles on Pacific Gas and Electric's Metcalf power transmission station near San Jose, California.

The attack did not cause major power disruptions because officials were able to reroute electricity remotely during the 27 days it took to repair the installation and get it back on line, according to PG&E spokesman Brian Swanson.

The California power utility had never previously experienced such a large-scale act of aggression.

"Ever since, we've been working very aggressively to improve substation security, not just at Metcalf but throughout our system," Swanson said.

"Its not just PG&E acting alone. The utility industry as a whole is working with stakeholders like the Edison Electric Institute, with policy makers, with government and law enforcement officials at all levels," he added.

An FBI investigation is ongoing, but has so far resulted in no arrests. Swanson declined to speculate on the perpetrators' identity or possible motive.

Criminal Act or Domestic Terrorism

Security experts told VOA the incident was most likely either a criminal act committed by a disgruntled employee or - far more dangerous - an example of domestic terrorism.

"This was likely either a former, or even a current employee, possibly an insider, someone that's left who's disgruntled, on the criminal side," said Daryl Johnson, a consultant with DT Analytics, a Washington, DC-based security firm.

"[Or], on the terrorism side, it could be a domestic, non-Islamic terrorist, or possibly a home-grown Muslim extremist," he said.

A disparate array of domestic groups - ranging from "green anarchists and environmental extremists" that oppose the use of fossil fuels to "anti-government militias" hoping to sow terror and undermine federal authority - could have been responsible, said Johnson.

"We've seen 'chatter' on both of those movements that indicate they're interested in targeting infrastructure," he said.

"And we've actually had cases where people in both the militia-anti-government movements as well as the anarchist-environmental extremist movements have been arrested for targeting critical infrastructure or actually sabotaging the electrical grid," Johnson said.

Larger Concerns

In December, Rep. Henry Waxman (D., Calif.) told a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission oversight hearing that the April incident was hardly the only threat facing America’s electricity grid.

"A few months ago in Arkansas, there were multiple attacks on power lines and grid infrastructure that led to millions of dollars in damage and brief power outages. Independent engineers recently discovered a new cyber vulnerability in the software used by many electric grid control systems," Waxman said.

As part of its detailed investigation of the Metcalf attack published Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal quoted former FERC chairman Jon Wellinghoff as saying it was "the most significant incident of domestic terrorism involving the grid that has ever occurred" in the United States.

The event has received little public attention until now, although as word of the attack spread through the utility industry, some companies moved to review their security policies.

FERC has also initiated an unusual public awareness campaign, holding briefings on the physical security of electricty substations in cities throughout the U.S.

Mark Snowiss

Mark Snowiss is a Washington D.C.-based multimedia reporter.  He has written and edited for various media outlets including Pacifica and NPR affiliates in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter @msnowiss and on Google Plus

You May Like

Brutality Eroding IS Financial Support

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says IS's penchant for publicizing beheadings, other brutal forms of punishment hurts group’s bottom line More

Studies: Climate Change a Factor in Disasters in Syria, California

The studies point to the possibility of clear and present dangers from a threat often considered to be far in the future More

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials and human rights organizations assert that Pakistani authorities are using deadly attack at school in Peshawar as pretext to push out Afghan refugees More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukrainei
X
March 03, 2015 3:11 AM
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video US, Cuba Report Progress in Latest Talks to Restore Ties

The United States and Cuba say they have made progress in the second round of talks on restoring diplomatic relations more than 50 years after breaking off ties. Delegations from both sides met in Washington on Friday to work on opening embassies in Havana and Washington and iron out key obstacles to historic change. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas reports from the State Department.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video NYC's Restaurant Week: An Economic Boom in Fine Dining

New Yorkers take pride in setting world trends — in fashion, the arts and fine dining. The city’s famous biannual Restaurant Week plays a significant role in a booming tourism industry that sustains 359,000 jobs and generates $61 billion in yearly revenue. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports.
Video

Video Brookhaven at Cutting Edge of US Energy Research

Issues like the Keystone XL pipeline, fracking and instability in the Middle East are driving debate in the U.S. about making America energy independent. Recently, the American Energy Innovation Council urged Congress and the White House to make expanded energy research a priority. One beneficiary of increased energy spending would be the Brookhaven National Lab, where clean, renewable, efficient energy is the goal. VOA's Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More