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Attack on California power station raises concerns about terrorism

A California power station at San Jose was attacked on April 16, 2013, but the incident has not raised the nation's hackles until now. A Feb. 5 NewsMax report describes a secret briefing about the attack to members of Congress, the White House and several federal agencies. The briefing came from then Federal Energy Regulatory Commission chair Jon Wellinghoff.

Comparison between U.S. and European power grids
Dmitry G at Wikimedia Commons

Wellinghoff said last year that the attack was "the most significant incident of domestic terrorism involving the grid that has ever occurred."

A Feb. 5 Wall Street Journal report broke the news of the secret briefing and the earliest concerns about a major terrorist threat.

This threat sneaks up on the U.S. because officials were focused on computer hacking and not on protecting physical plants from relatively low-tech attacks.

The FBI continues to sift through the evidence from last year's power station attack and has never found the culprits. The FBA disagreed with Wellinghoff and does not agree the act was the work of a terrorist organization.

The incident occurred at the AT&T Metcalf facility, beginning with a break in at a separate vault that was located a short distance away. Individuals accessed the underground vault and slashed some fiber-optic telecommunications cables.

A few minutes later, someone fired at the Metcalf facility itself. From outside the facility, they fired AK-47 rifles in an attempt to damage the oil-filled cooling systems. Several AK-47 bullet casings,wiped clean of fingerprints, were found at the scene. The perpetrators disappeared and were never found. Security cameras failed to capture any images of the attackers because the cameras were all directed at points inside the facility.

The first official assessments added a layer of confusion. The attack was first thought to be vandalism, but was later judged to be a professional operation.

The damage put the facility out of business for a total of 27 days. This brings up ideas of similar threats to about 2,000 other major transformers in the U.S. Worse, there could be one concerted attack on multiple facilities, each of which could take a month or longer to repair.

Also, as Sen. Henry Waxman (D,Ca) warns, there has been little effort to create a centralized authority who could manage command, control and communications in the event of a major attack on multiple facilities or on the nation's power grid in general.