I’ve said on more than one occasion that if our electoral process is corrupted beyond redemption, extremists may well turn to “kinetic means” to express their anger, frustration and discontent. I’ve cited examples such as the Metcalf attack in California in 2013, and the vulnerability of the US electrical grid to such attacks.
Recent news headlines have pointed out that it’s not just right-wing terrorism we need to worry about. Extremists on the other side of the political spectrum are also involved. For instance, it appears that anti-pipeline activists are trying to disrupt rail transport in Washington state, using so-called “shunts” to cause problems that have gone so far as to derail trains. The most recent example occurred just before Christmas.
Officials are trying to figure out how a BNSF train carrying crude oil derailed in Whatcom County, Wash., on Dec. 22. The accident caused a fire that lasted well into the night.
First responders eventually got the fire under control. About seven railcars left the tracks near Custer, Wash. No injuries were reported and the scene was still being cleaned the morning of Dec. 23.
. . .
The state of Washington has been experiencing deliberate acts to paralyze trains over the past year. Since January there have been 41 incidents of shunts placed on BNSF tracks in Whatcom and Skagit counties. The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force has been investigating the placement of shunts on the BNSF tracks since Jan. 19.
There’s more at the link.
Nor are such incidents confined to railroads, as residents of Aspen, Colorado have just found out the hard way.
The FBI has joined a criminal investigation of what police said appears to be an “intentional attack” on gas service lines in Aspen, Colorado, that left thousands of residents and businesses without heat as temperatures in the skiing mecca plunged to near zero degrees.
. . .
Aspen police said the apparently coordinated acts of vandalism occurred Saturday night at three separate Black Hills Energy gas line sites, one in Aspen and two elsewhere in Pitkin County.
At one of the targeted sites, police said they found the words “Earth first” scrawled, and investigators were looking into whether the self-described “radical environmental group” Earth First! was involved.
. . .
Aspen Assistant Police Chief Bill Linn told reporters that the saboteurs appeared to “have some familiarity” with the natural gas system.
“They tampered with flow lines. They turned off gas lines,” Linn said.
. . .
“It’s almost, to me, an act of terrorism,” Pitkin County Commissioner Patti Clapper, who lost heat in her home due to the vandalism, told The Aspen Times newspaper. “It’s trying to destroy a mountain community at the height of the holiday season. This wasn’t a national gas glitch. This was a purposeful act. Someone is looking to make a statement of some kind.”
Again, more at the link.
In both of the examples cited above, a certain amount of familiarity with the systems involved was required for the attacks to be effective. The same was true of the Metcalf attack, where the snipers knew what to target and what pieces of equipment to hit to have maximum effect. Bold, underlined text is my emphasis.
Nobody has been arrested or charged in the attack at PG&E Corp.’s Metcalf transmission substation. It is an incident of which few Americans are aware. But one former federal regulator is calling it a terrorist act that, if it were widely replicated across the country, could take down the U.S. electric grid and black out much of the country.
The attack was “the most significant incident of domestic terrorism involving the grid that has ever occurred” in the U.S., said Jon Wellinghoff, who was chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission at the time.
. . .
“This wasn’t an incident where Billy-Bob and Joe decided, after a few brewskis, to come in and shoot up a substation,” Mark Johnson, retired vice president of transmission for PG&E, told the utility security conference, according to a video of his presentation. “This was an event that was well thought out, well planned and they targeted certain components.” When reached, Mr. Johnson declined to comment further.
. . .
Utility executives and federal energy officials have long worried that the electric grid is vulnerable to sabotage. That is in part because the grid, which is really three systems serving different areas of the U.S., has failed when small problems such as trees hitting transmission lines created cascading blackouts. One in 2003 knocked out power to 50 million people in the Eastern U.S. and Canada for days.
Many of the system’s most important components sit out in the open, often in remote locations, protected by little more than cameras and chain-link fences.
Transmission substations are critical links in the grid. They make it possible for electricity to move long distances, and serve as hubs for intersecting power lines.
. . .
The country’s roughly 2,000 very large transformers are expensive to build, often costing millions of dollars each, and hard to replace. Each is custom made and weighs up to 500,000 pounds, and “I can only build 10 units a month,” said Dennis Blake, general manager of Pennsylvania Transformer in Pittsburgh, one of seven U.S. manufacturers. The utility industry keeps some spares on hand.
A 2009 Energy Department report said that “physical damage of certain system components (e.g. extra-high-voltage transformers) on a large scale…could result in prolonged outages, as procurement cycles for these components range from months to years.”
Mr. Wellinghoff said a FERC analysis found that if a surprisingly small number of U.S. substations were knocked out at once, that could destabilize the system enough to cause a blackout that could encompass most of the U.S.
. . .
Overseas, terrorist organizations were linked to 2,500 attacks on transmission lines or towers and at least 500 on substations from 1996 to 2006, according to a January report from the Electric Power Research Institute, an industry-funded research group, which cited State Department data.
To some, the Metcalf incident has lifted the discussion of serious U.S. grid attacks beyond the theoretical. “The breadth and depth of the attack was unprecedented” in the U.S., said Rich Lordan, senior technical executive for the Electric Power Research Institute. The motivation, he said, “appears to be preparation for an act of war.”
. . .
After walking the site with PG&E officials and FBI agents, Mr. Wellinghoff said, the military experts told him it looked like a professional job.
In addition to fingerprint-free shell casings, they pointed out small piles of rocks, which they said could have been left by an advance scout to tell the attackers where to get the best shots.
“They said it was a targeting package just like they would put together for an attack,” Mr. Wellinghoff said.
More at the link (article may be behind a paywall).
The Metcalf attack required inside knowledge of how to disable communications lines, select targets in the facility, and work around law enforcement patrols. Security measures at such installations have, of course, been stepped up since then. However, that’s not always the case. Something as simple as shooting at the insulators on electrical transmission towers, or the lines themselves, can produce very damaging and expensive results. No specialist knowledge is required for that, and no special or military equipment need be involved – just the “traditional” hunting rifles owned by tens of millions of Americans.
There are many other potential infrastructure targets:
- The bridges and overpasses on the nation’s highways;
- Natural gas and oil pipelines running from state to state, which have already suffered many damaging accidents;
- Communications hubs such as the AT&T facility targeted in Nashville a few days ago;
- Exposed vital infrastructure such as cellphone towers, radar installations at airports, etc. – all vulnerable to a simple sniper attack, and not requiring sophisticated knowledge or infrastructure to accomplish.
I think we’re likely to see an uptick in attacks on such facilities in the not too distant future. Left-wing-dominated cities are likely to see the worst of them, cutting off power and utilities coming in from outside. When ordinary people see their ability to affect and influence national policies being stolen from them, they’re going to lash out. It happens on both the left and the right of politics; it’s far from new; and in the light of last November’s electoral fraud, it’s likely to get worse in short order.
If you live near any vital infrastructure such as discussed above, you might want to have an evacuation plan in place. You may need it.