Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Politics Of: The Electrical Grid Substation Attack

In case you were not aware, around 1:00 AM, April 16 2013, person or persons unknown entered an underground vault in California and cut telephone cables to knock-out 911 and some cell phone services. Shortly there after, an estimated 2-6 men fired more than 100 rounds of 7.62 ammunition into Pacific Gas & Electric's Metcalf transmission substation, a part of the Silicon Valley electrical grid, knocking out 17 transformers and 6 circuit breakers with precision shooting.

When authorities arrived, a surveillance camera caught what appeared to be a flashlight beam warning others to evacuate. The attack lasted almost 20 minutes, caused 15.4 million dollars worth of damage, and took 27 days to repair.

Authorities found no fingerprints or DNA on any of the rounds or shell-casings and found evidence (small piles of rocks) that they think may have indicated the shooting positions were scouted and prepared previously to the attack: the signature of a professional operation.

The electrical grid was able to handle the loss of that substation--but the nation's electrical grid is not universally redundant. There are a set of stations (dozens, not hundreds) that, if attacked, would cripple the nation's infrastructure. Some of the key components (the 'big transformers') are hand-built, take months to assemble, and require special train-cars and trucks to move around the country. They could not be replaced rapidly.

If we saw this attack on a mass scale, done with inside knowledge of the grid, it could be devastating for the United State's economy and security.

This Happened In April of 2013! Why Am I Just Hearing About It Now!?
That's a good question. Some in the conservative media thinks it has been 'kept quiet.' Indeed, despite the military precision, elite operational discipline, sophisticated coordination of the attack it has been termed 'vandalism' and the FBI doesn't think "it is related to terrorism." According to The Blaze:
The lag in attention could be linked to the initial assessment by the Santa Clara County’s sheriff department and Pacific Gas & Electric, who owns the station that was attacked near San Jose. According to the Sheriff’s press release and a PG&E spokesman, both the local law enforcement agency and the company dubbed the act “vandalism.”
Vandalism!? What gives? According to an expert interviewed by the Washington Times, this is "preparation for an act of war."

The Politics Of The Grid Attack
The politics surrounding the attack are the allegations of a code of silence on terrorist activity driven from the White House. The Blaze (a conservative news site) calls the attack "Underreported." The Lid (a Jewish / Conservative blog) wants to know why the attack is just being exposed now? Indeed, it was the Wall Street Journal that (re)broke the story on Feb 4th. What's going on?

Looking at various conservative site's comment sections, we see stuff like this:
AnAmerican111  Feb. 12, 2014 at 8:08am
Ft Hood classified as “Work place violence”
Calculated attack on the Power Grid called “Vandalism”
A Fraud and a Liar as a president called OBAMA……
Really? Wake up America!
GreenDroll 4 days agoWhen elitenIranial troops are patrolling our streets our gov/media will still refuse to admit there is anything going on. We are being led to the slaughter.........
WhoBeen 7 days agoRef: "The FBI says they don't think it's terrorism..."
With guns ablazing at multiple targets in one compound...what was it, some schoolyard prank...gimmee a break!
As Hillary Clinton would say, "At this point in time what difference does it make."
The politics around this event fit into an existing narrative of semantics being used strategically by the administration to deflect blame and minimize the discussion of terrorist activity. To wit:

  • The Ft. Hood shootings were classified as "workplace violence" rather than a terrorist attack
  • Benghazi was blamed on an anti-Muslim video and not referred to as terrorist activity until the administration was forced to do so (the Rose-Garden speech certainly notwithstanding)
  • Military aid to Libya and Syrian intervention was designed to arm Al Qaeda terrorists while claiming only to arm moderates
  • Refusal to acknowledge the terrorist implications of the Iranian nuclear enrichment program by allowing them to get close to bomb-grade enrichment

Fitting into this narrative, a substantial and effective attack on the nation's infrastructure being classified as terrorism and downplayed by the administration is another attempt to keep the American people in the dark about the real threats that surround us--possibly because we can't handle it, possibly because if we knew we'd have voted for Romney, and possibly because the terrorists themselves are being given cover--aided and abetted--by the Oval Office itself.

Is this really the case? Has the Obama Administration--and its lapdogs, the mainstream media--suppressed this story? Let's take a look.

Acts Of Terror Against Electrical Infrastructure
If you investigate acts of terror against our nation's electrical infrastructure you discover this isn't a lone incident. Indeed:

  • As The Gateway Pundit reports, on April 21, just 5 days after the California indecent a trespasser arriving by boat near a nuclear facility opened fire on a police officer and then escaped. A second probe?
  • In Arkansas, someone loosened bolts on an electrical tower, attached a cable to it, and then laid the cable across a train track to try to have the train pull the tower down! Whoever did this wrote "You should have expected U.S." in black marker at the entrance to the station. The damage estimate was over 2 million dollars. This was done by someone with "better than average knowledge" of the electrical grid. This was also reported as vandalism.
Is there under-reporting and conspiracy?

Kiiiinnnda: Depends On What You Mean By 'Underreporting'
I did Google searches on various search strings with the time limited to April 1st to December of 2013. Here's what I found:
  1. The California attack did get local play from ABC and CBS. It did not make national news anywhere. Energy News sites reported it, and called it sabotage. The other sites headlined with 'vandalism' but noted that it was a coordinated act.
  2. The Arkansas attack actually got most of the headlines for attacks on infrastructure in 2013 with Forbes covering it twice. Notably: they got the guy.
  3. Around June of 2013 surveillance video was released and the Mercury News, Bay Area NBC covered that.
  4. In December of 2013, conservative news sites like Brietbart and Jihad Watch are following up. The conspiracy filled Before-It's-News has some articles on it and the far more respectable Foreign Policy covers it too.
In short, it was a scary attack--but there was little new news--and what might have looked like related events probably were not.

So What's Going On?
What's going on is the difference in demographic consumers between 'mainstream media' and conservative media.

For the mainstream media the cues from the federal government were muted: they wanted to discourage copycats, the investigation was on-going, and the FBI, apparently for real didn't think it was extra-national terrorism. When new information came out (June) it was reported on--but it didn't make national news. The facts of the case didn't indicate a larger, nation-wide context. When you look at the Arkansas case, it was this guy:
Jason Woodring, Age 37. Allegedly addicted to Meth: I WAS NOT LIED TO BY JUSTIFIED
In short, the story was local--until the WSJ popularized it ... and then it wasn't.

For the conservative media, the context was different: the possibility that this was the tip-of-the-iceberg that indicates a frightening nation-wide vulnerability that is about to be exploited (a prelude to an act of war) is demographic gold for their viewers. As such, outlets like The Blaze and Brietbart were more keen to follow it up (and take their MSM competitors to task for not doing the same). Apocalypse sells far better to the conservative demographic than the MSM one (read the link--it's about a shady after-the-collapse food vendor bilking the 55+ red state conservative demographic). There is a reason Gold Vendors target conservative web-sites for their ads.

Indeed, until the Wall Street Journal (re)broke the story, it wasn't even headlining FOX News. It's all over the place now though--what did the WSJ think of that? Here's what they said on their blog:
This attack happened in April – why haven’t we heard about it before?There were some local media reports at the time about vandalism at the substation. But the utility that owns the substation, PG&E Corp.PCG +1.67%investigators and federal agencies didn’t want to draw attention to the attack, for fear it would inspire copycats.
So why is The Wall Street Journal publicizing it?Americans have a right to know about serious threats to their security. And Jon Wellinghoff, the former head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, decided to go public with his concerns about the attack because he fears not enough has been done to protect the grid.
Right now news is locked into a fairly vicious consumer-driven feedback cycle. There will be rapid follow-on effects (after the Feb 4th WSJ story, everyone was reporting on this) and the news you see is calculated to get you to click and to put ads you'll hopefully want in front of you. We get the media we deserve.

Bonus: Was The Attack Terrorism?
By 'Terrorism' we mean "Was the California substation attack a dress rehearsal for a large scale attack by Islamic terrorists?"

The answer is: Probably not. Why?

Giving The Game Away
The reason to do a dress rehearsal is to practice, discover weaknesses in the plan, and thereby reduce operational risk. For example, special forces stormed a model of the Bin Laden compound many times before actually going in. Unfortunately for them, the walls of the mock compound were chain-link fence and so the actual conditions of the real compound swamped the rotor blades of the helicopter and brought it down. You can never get everything right.

However, one thing you do not do with a "dress rehearsal" is alert the enemy to your presence and your plans. The idea that an elite team of terrorists plotting a much larger scale attack would practice their approach on a small scale would be like saying that the 9/11 guys might try hijacking a small plane with box-cutters and flying it into a hotel or something to see how the passengers would react: If they'd done that, the real attack would never have worked.  Giving your game-plan away is horrible operational security for such an apparently capable team.

What if They Were Trying To See If It Would Work?
If you want to see if (a) your team is up to snuff or (b) your available weapons can knock out a transformer there are far safer ways to test that than a live event. You can mock up a transformer and take shots at it. You can test-run the exercise out in the desert. Even Osama didn't expect the twin towers to collapse like that (although he was glad they did): there are some risks you can't mitigate.

If the methodology was in question the solution would not be a security breaching test-run but rather more research and expertise (you'd have your over-seas contingent set up transformers and test them in Iran or something--that's the whole point of state-sponsored terrorism).

What If They Wanted To Learn Something Research Couldn't Provide?
The most reasonable rationale for the event would be to learn something dry-runs could not teach them--namely? Response times. The problem with that is that (a) the response time will be vastly different across multiple localities implied for larger action and (b) holding the event itself will change the nature of the response time and security triggers.

What If The Actual Attack Looks Very Different?
What if the real attack uses Semtex explosive instead of AK 47's? What if it involves crashing truck-bombs into the sub-stations? Stuff like that? Well, the answer is that if your plan was that different than your intelligence would be of significantly lower value.

In short, this doesn't feel like a terrorist dry run--and it has alerted our security network the low-tech version of anti-grid cyber-strike everyone assumes is coming at some point. 

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