April 16, 2013 there was an attack on communications in the area near San Jose California. Minutes later there was an attack on a electrical power substation.
Stories on the events are here:
- Bullet holes riddle key California power substation causing heavy damage — 10,000 gallon oil spill — Statewide Emergency Alert to conserve energy — 911 calls not working nearby (April 16, 2013)
- Sabotage: High-powered rifle used in attack on California power substation — Same perpetrators blamed for cutting AT&T fiber optic cables — Objective was “shutting down the system” — FBI now leading investigation (April 16, 2013)
- ‘Military-Style’ Raid on California Power Station Spooks U.S. (December 27, 2013)
- Assault on California Power Station Raises Alarm on Potential for Terrorism (February 4, 2014)
- Sniper Attack On Calif. Power Station Raises Terrorism Fears (February 5, 2014)
The WSJ February 5 version is the most complete. But it requires a subscription. Some of the most insightful information comes from this article, such as:
“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.”
Mr. Wellinghoff, then chairman of FERC, said that after he heard about the scope of the attack, he flew to California, bringing with him experts from the U.S. Navy’s Dahlgren Surface Warfare Center in Virginia, which trains Navy SEALs. 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.
Ry stopped by my office today to discuss something else and we talked about it some. Ry has friends “everywhere”. One of his friends works for one of the companies that owned some of the fiber optic cables which were cut. Indications are the perpetrators had inside knowledge about the communication system.
There have been no arrests to date. The entire operation shows good planning, execution, and post operation discipline at keeping their mouths shut.
But, as Ry repeatedly asked me this morning, what was the end goal? They didn’t really accomplish anything. Power was rerouted and there wasn’t a significant power outage. They knocked out the substation for a month but “so what?”
To me, this sounds more like one of these Patriot militias trying to start something than it does anything else. So where are the rest of the people just itching for a civil war?
Yeah. Right. And how would attacking infrastructure used by everyone help their cause? These weren’t stupid people. Next?
Mark Johnson, quoted above in the WSJ is also quoted in Foreign Policy as saying:
My personal view is that this was a dress rehearsal.
I’m skeptical. If it was a dress rehearsal then why wait so long for the main event? And it wasn’t exactly a ‘dry’ run. A successful dry run would have been undetected. This was not intended to be undetected.
The dominate speculation on the gun email list at work is foreign terrorists.
Maybe. But why not follow it up with similar attacks? It’s been nearly a year now. Does it take that long to train and coordinate a dozen teams to take down a multi-state region?
An additional reason I’m skeptical of any hypothesis of it being a dress rehearsal is that I would think they would have “burned the bridge” to their inside knowledge of the security communications with that attack. They would assume that coupon would expire within a month or two after they used it. The hardening of the electrical power substations to attacks is much more difficult than hardening the communications vaults and plugging information leaks. They would have to do the “live show” within a week or two to use the same methods as in this attack.
I proposed the following two hypothesizes to Ry which he didn’t immediately shoot down:
- They had something additional planned but the power didn’t go out in the target area like they figured it would so the end goal was not attempted.
- Proof of capability for an extortion demand but they very nearly got caught, were spooked, and chickened out on following through.
It is interesting stuff regardless of the objective.
Update: See also the Infogalactic entry.