More than a year ago I wrote Shock the System, a brief description of the inherent fragility of the electrical grid. I thought nothing about it at the time, as the information I’d posted was common knowledge to anyone who had ever worked even on the fringes of public utilities, and attacking these systems has been part of military strategy dating back at least until the Second World War.
Nonetheless, I was immediately made aware of it when someone (or someones) in California decided to put some of those theories to the test in California some three months later in April of 2013.
For whatever reason, the story is in the news again today, which by my estimate, is at least the third time the story a been brought up since the attack took place. This time, they’re revealing a little more detail:
The Wall Street Journal’s Rebecca Smith reports that a former Federal Energy Regulatory Commission chairman is acknowledging for the first time that a group of snipers shot up a Silicon Valley substation for 19 minutes last year, knocking out 17 transformers before slipping away into the night.
The attack was “the most significant incident of domestic terrorism involving the grid that has ever occurred” in the U.S., Jon Wellinghoff, who was chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission at the time, told Smith.
A blackout was avoided thanks to quick-thinking utility workers, who rerouted power around the site and asked power plants in Silicon Valley to produce more electricity. But the substation was knocked out for a month.
The FBI says it doesn’t believe a terrorist organization caused the attack but that it continues to investigate the incident.
Smith and colleague Tom McGinty assembled a detailed chronology of the attack that includes some amazing details, including more than 100 fingerprint-free shell casings similar to ones used by AK-47s that were found at the site and small piles of rocks that appeared to have been left by an advance scout to tell the attackers where to get the best shots.
A U.S. Navy investigation ordered by Wellinghoff determined “it was a targeting package just like they would put together for an attack,” he said.
Personally, I’m underwhelmed.
It sounds to me like authorities are fishing, dribbling out tidbits of information, perhaps hoping to track down who reads all the media coverage, hoping to narrow down a list of suspects… perhaps by taking an existing list of suspects and seeing which ones pour over the news stories of the attack to see if they’ve been compromised.
Nah. Couldn’t be.