Wednesday, February 05, 2014
Deliberate attack in April 2013 on California power station near Silicon Valley attracts major media attention now
The other day, “BarackObama” on Twitter (an avatar for the White House staff, I presume) tweeted about the value of infrastructure-building jobs for economic recovery. Of course I agree, and I replied “Take care of the power grid. This is serious.”
I suspect that the Secret Service wonders this morning if I had seen in advance, or otherwise heard about, the sensational Wall Street Journal front page article on Wednesday, February 5, 2014, by Rebecca Smith, “Sniper attack: Mystery assault on power grid”, link (paywall) here.
The article has a front page picture of a power station (copyrighted of course) and a map-diagram of the area and an illustration of how a power station works.
The attack apparently began around 1 AM PDT on April 16 when someone broke in to a small facility owned by PGE and cut cables (to cut 911 service). Shortly thereafter, snipers fired at a substation feeding Silicon Valley (the Metcalf Substation). The attack lasted about an hour.
No one has been arrested, and the case remains unsolved, at least as far as the FBI and Homeland Security are willing to talk about it.
If the intention was to cripple major companies in the area (we need not name them here, we know who they are), it was not effective. The utility rerouted power quickly. Furthermore, these companies have huge backup generation capability for their server farms. No major outages were reported in social media companies that week that I recall.
However, some observers fear that the attack could be a prelude to a series of coordinated attacks around the country, what amounts to war. So far, law enforcement has pooh-poohed this idea.
Could the fact that the attack occurred one day after the IRS deadline (a Monday) last year mean anything? Does the fact that it happened one day after the Boston Marathon attack signify anything?
I recall the area, from a trip to California in November 1995, when I was researching for my first book. I visited a friend in Sunnyvale and stayed in a Days Inn not too far from the area where this incident occurred.
It is also quirky how I learned about the article. Despite a mild ice storm, I walked over to a cafeteria at a local hospital for breakfast this morning. The WSJ paper had been left out free, with this story showing, on a table, with the person having abandoned it after eating.
On my Book Review blog, I’ve discussed several books that relate possibilities like this. On Sept. 5, 2013 I reviewed Byron Dorgan’s novel “Gridlock”, where a physical assault on a power center in North Dakota is followed by a cyberattack. In the novel, utility workers become casualties in the attack. On April 13, 2013 I reviewed Michael Maloof’s “A Nation Forsaken”, and it seems curious that the review was posted just two days before the California attack. Google Analytics shows a lot of page requests for these items. On Nov. 15, 2012 I published a review of a National Academy of Sciences booklet that discusses the risk of rogue attacks on power stations, but this review has attracted much less volume of requests. I published a review of William Forstchen’s novel “One Second After” (about a high-altitude EMP attack) on July 20, 2012, and that review has attracted attention. Newt Gingrich wrote a brief introduction for this book and has sometimes mentioned in public.
It’s interesting that the major media has not discussed this attack (as far as I know) until today. But the article mentions numerous other attacks (over 2500) around the world since 1996, most of them overseas.
A YouTube video (by “Biblesnbarbells”) discusses the California attack as well as apparently one or two attacks in Arkansas in the fall of 2013. I think I do recall a brief media story from Arkansas, and perhaps from Missouri, last October. The WSJ article does mention the Arkansas incident. The speaker in the video mentions a major gas line from Texas to the northeast as vulnerable during the winter time.
A technology-driven and society is very good for individualists and for otherwise less socially competitive people, giving them a chance to make names for themselves and become influential as long as they “follow the rules.” This isn’t so good for people whose lives depends heavily on social context and providing for others. This can lead us down a scary line of thinking. This sort of ethical train does drive the "Doomsday Prepper" mentality.
Wikipedia attribution link for Silicon Valley area north of Sam Jose