The real threat to American internal security

I’m somewhat bemused by the kerfuffle over the apparent ‘sniper attack’ (it wasn’t – true ‘snipers’ weren’t involved) on an electricity sub-station in California last year.  I won’t repeat all the details, but these three articles provide the background and some of the speculation, in case you’ve missed it:

The problem is, none of the articles (or the bureaucrats and politicians pontificating over the issue) have identified the real problem.  That problem can be simply summed up by asking;  what route does water take when it flows?  The answer is easy – it chooses the route that offers the greatest speed of progress for the least effort (normally downhill).  Terrorists do the same thing.  If you erect a monumental security theater performance (a.k.a. the TSA), and invest billions – even trillions – of dollars in allegedly ‘safeguarding’ high-profile potential targets, terrorists will simply look for easier, more accessible targets, ones that will still cause disruption and inconvenience at best, real economic and political damage at worst.

This power sub-station attack is a classic example.  The perpetrators obviously knew exactly what they were doing.  They selected a target that was insecure and undefended.  They checked it out in advance, identifying the location of all important elements.  They cut the communications lines that would have allowed anyone (or any automated alarms) inside to call for help, then fired over a hundred relatively low-powered rounds of freely-available ammunition at targets that were susceptible to damage from such bullets (ignoring others that weren’t).  Finally, they made a clean getaway before responders could arrive.  The weapons used in the attack were probably disposed of shortly after the incident, if the attackers had any sense.  That’ll leave very little physical evidence to tie them to the crime.

Much US infrastructure is very vulnerable to such attacks.  Fellow blogger Bob Owens pointed out last year ago how easy it would be for internal dissidents to take out such targets. I’m not blaming him in the least for doing so – it was already obvious to anyone (including yours truly) with even a modicum of training and/or experience in counter-terrorist operations.  Nevertheless, the authorities and electrical utilities have been glacially slow in moving to counter such threats.  It’s probably not economically feasible or cost-effective to implement drastic measures, even now.  They would simply cost too much to be affordable.

If water flowing downhill meets an obstacle, it either erodes it away, or fills it up, or finds a way around it, and continues on its merry way.  Even if you build a dam to hold it back, in due course it’ll either bring down enough silt to fill the dam, or erode its wall and its foundations.  The same principle applies to terrorists.  They aren’t like armies, tied to lines of supply and extensive infrastructure.  As Mao said, “The guerrilla must move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea“.  The sea is water.  Terrorists, like fish, go with the flow.  Fish don’t rely on a logistics chain; they get what they need from their environment.  Terrorists don’t need huge stockpiles of weaponry;  they may bring a few basic items with them or rely on local acquisition and/or resupply – even improvise weapons from available materials, if necessary.  In the USA firearms are relatively easy to come by, either by buying them locally, or by smuggling them across our unbelievably porous border with Mexico (follow those four links to get an idea of the scale of that problem).  Other supplies, including the ingredients to make explosives, are freely available.  (For example, see terrorist bombings involving home-brewed PETN explosive.)

My greatest fear for American internal security is that a group of hardened, fanatical terrorists might infiltrate this country, then mount a Beslan-style assault on an elementary or middle school.  The odds of success are frighteningly high.  Even in schools with allegedly ‘good’ security, that’s likely to consist of one or two cops with handguns and an access-controlled entryway.  Any halfway competent terrorist group could deal with that sort of ‘security’ with one hand tied behind their individual and collective backs.  By the time responders arrived in sufficient numbers, and with sufficient weapons, to intervene, the attackers would have taken hundreds of hostages.  Any assault would produce the same results as Beslan.  Such an outcome would shock this country to its core.

Read in full this horrifying account of the Beslan school siege.  It’s worth your time and trouble.  Watch some of the video reports about it on YouTube.  When you’ve done that, ask yourself how Americans would react to something similar happening in their midst.  If anything could lead to a wholesale assault by the ‘nanny state’ and liberal and progressive forces on our constitutional rights, freedoms and privileges, that would do it.  Many, including myself, would never accept such an outcome, no matter what excuses were used to justify it.  It would mean that whether they lived or died, the terrorists had ultimately won.  They would have succeeded in overthrowing ‘truth, justice and the American way’.

That’s the true threat of incidents such as the sub-station attack.  It’s the thin edge of the wedge, a probing of our perimeter.  We have the internal, modern-day equivalent of what Vietnam veterans used to call ‘gooks in the wire‘.  We’d better start paying attention . . . or else.



  1. A fellow called into the talk show I was listening to and described himself as a power company employee who actually works at the sub station in question. He made some excellent points:
    1. The substation is normally unmanned. These are transformers, and don't require people in lab coats to watch them.
    2. Significant layoffs had just been imposed on the workforce by the power company and some of the targets were upset over this.
    3. Anyone who ever spent more than a little time at the station would know about the safeguards and alarms that are normally installed there.

    This points to an inside job by a disgruntled former employee to me and makes the idea that some non-connected terrorist has somehow become an expert on sub station operation seem a bit remote.

    Much was made of the use of an "AK-47" to shoot up the transformers. Keep in mind that the media can't tell an AK-47 from a '71 Gremlin, and that the SKS is every bubbas favorite truck gun. I'm sure that the shell casings were 7.62 x 39 but so what.

    What bugged me was when the employee was asked if the FBI had interviewed him since he was working in the district at the time of the attack, and he answered "no". I suppose that exonerating the IRS was taking up all their resources, and still is.

    Thanks to the scandal-like coverage of the event, every one in the country now knows how to attack a sub station. FWIW: In an earlier report I read, about 2-3 months ago, it was suggested that surrounding substations with opaque fencing and an alarm on the gate would at least provide a credible first line of defense at minimal cost.

    Occam's Razor, folks.

  2. Hey Peter;

    The biggest concern is that there is a school shooting of that scale and the liberal statist use the cascade of human emotions to "outlaw" guns like what happened across the pond and they took advantage of the shooting to run through a major plank of their agenda.

  3. What good does 'attention' do? Any historical examples of relatively open societies that have successfully opposed/defeated similarly fanatical groups?

  4. A Beslan-type siege in the US would likely be a tipping point. But it could go either way. By that I mean it could go full-on police-state, search everyone, everything, attempt to harden and bug and monitor everything and everyone. Which would be massively expensive, intrusive, and fail, and would be a statist's wet dream (for both left and right). It might also tip the other way, and go whole-hog "gotta arm and train everyone, gotta nuke the bastards in the Middle East that inspired and supported this, even turn Mecca into a self-illuminating glass parking lot if needed." Perhaps some of both. But I don't think it's a cut-and-dried nanny-state-on-steroids path.

  5. It's always seemed to me that the fact that the infrastructure has not been attacked in the US is either evidence of exceptional incompetence on the part of the terrorists…or, proof positive that (9/11 notwithstanding) the US's own territory is not their main target or focus, their own countries are. Which makes sense if one accepts that the US is not the center of everyone's world…

  6. G. Gordon Liddy wrote a piece in the 70's describing the vulnerabilities of the onfrastructure , transformers to high velocity rifle fire, gas and oil pipelines, railroad bridges crossing the Mississippi river (2 bridges, if dropped, would stop all rail shipping east and west) , all sorts of mayhem that would end economic activity in large regions at very little cost or effort by a dedicated cadre.

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