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

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Battle With Islamic State Militants Carries Domestic Risks

Despite Western concerns that IS militants are preparing a Jordanian offensive, analysts call the kingdom's solid intel a strong deterrent More

Asian-Americans Assume Office in Record Numbers

Steadily deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Comanche Chief Quanah Parker’s Century-Old House Falling Apart

One of the most fascinating people in U.S. history was Quanah Parker, the last chief of the American Indian tribe, the Comanche. He was the son of a Comanche warrior and a white woman who had been captured by the Indians. Parker was a fierce warrior until 1875 when he led his people to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and took on a new, peaceful life. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Cache, Oklahoma, Quanah’s image remains strong among his people, but part of his heritage is in danger of disappearing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid