Surveillance video: Is nation’s power grid at risk?


In an effort to catch the shooter, the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office posted on YouTube surveillance video taken at a PG&E substation in Northern California about 1:00 a.m. on April 16, 2013. Bullets hit the fence, causing sparks, which can be seen at minutes: 1:542:072:102:57 and 3:01.

It wasn’t a cyber attack. And it doesn’t appear to be the work of vandals. A congressman fears that it was a “military-style” raid. To the nation’s electric grid regulator, it was nothing less than “domestic terrorism.”

What we know is this: In April last year, several transformers at a power substation in Silicon Valley were targeted. Fiber cables were cut. More than 100 rounds were fired from a high-powered rifle. Who was behind the attack and why the shooter(s) did it remain a mystery.

Seventeen transformers were taken offline, The Wall Street Journal reports, delving into the attack that has stumped experts. Officials had to reroute power and it took 27 days to make repairs, according to the Journal.

In December, a California congressman made this a national story during a hearing, Foreign Policy reported that month.

Rep. Henry Waxman described the shooting at the Metcalf station southeast of San Jose as “an unprecedented and sophisticated attack on an electric grid substation with military-style weapons. Communications were disrupted. The attack inflicted substantial damage. It took weeks to replace the damaged parts. Under slightly different conditions, there  could have been serious power outages or worse.”

Jon Wellinghoff, the nation’s top electric grid regulator at the time, called it “the most significant incident of domestic terrorism involving the grid that has ever occurred.”

But the FBI maintains that is was not the work of a terrorist organization, according to the Journal.

A former PG&E executive begs to differ. “These were not amateurs taking potshots,” Mark Johnson told a conference on grid security in November. “My personal view is that this was a dress rehearsal.”

Read more at Foreign Policy and the Wall Street Journal (warning: paywall).