Week of December 19, 2022

Attacks on U.S. Electrical Infrastructure
Increase after Midterm Elections


The American midterm elections are over, Biden’s approval poll numbers are slowly ticking up, and Washington politicians are settling down to two more years of shared power –Democrats wresting control of the Senate (Despite Senator Sinema of Arizona becoming an independent) and Republicans gaining power in the House of Representatives.

However, the situation in the US is not calm.  In the past few weeks several attacks have been made on the electrical infrastructure on both coasts; implying that this isn’t one extremist or a small group, but a nationwide threat.

This wasn’t totally unexpected.  Just before the attacks in North Carolina, the Department of Homeland Security warned that groups driven by a “range of ideological beliefs,” could be targeting America’s infrastructure.

“Targets of potential violence include public gatherings, faith-based institutions, the LGBTQI+ community, schools, radical and religious minorities, government facilities and personnel, US critical infrastructure, the media and perceived ideological opponents,” the bulletin said.

The warning nearly covered every group, so it didn’t help identify any potential suspects.

The attacks on electrical infrastructure aren’t new, so the DHS warning didn’t provide any additional information.  It could be argued that right wing extremists are a more likely suspect as attacks against the electrical infrastructure have occurred during Biden’s and Obama’s tenures in the White house.

In April 2013, a group staged an attack on California’s Pacific Gas & Electric Company’s substation in Silicon Valley.  The attackers used high powered rifles to knock out transformers.  The also attacked a fiber optics junction that would interfere with communications and send out an alarm.

Fortunately, the power didn’t go out, although $15 million in damage was caused.

The result was that PG&E spent over $100 million in hardening the substations and installing intruder alarms.

Despite investigations by company, state, and federal investigators, no one was arrested for the attack.

However, in February 2022, three white supremacists pled guilty to planning to attack electrical substations across the nation.  Their plan was to so severely shut down the nation’s power grid that it would be out for months – thus causing a civil war.

A man from Utah also pled guilty to damaging three substations in 2019.  The attack caused power outages in two Utah counties.  The man is currently serving time for the attack.

The current wave of attacks on electrical facilities started during Thanksgiving week in the Northwest.  One of the substations was at Clackamas, Oregon.  Two Cowlitz County Washington substations were hit earlier in November.  The FBI said that at least five substations were attacked at that time.  They used rifles to shoot equipment, hand tools to cut fences leading into the substation.  They also started fires inside the substation.

The attack that has caused the most inconvenience to the public was in North Carolina.  The outage hit about 45,000 homes.  Gunfire on Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend caused significant damage to two substations.

This week, there was more gunfire at the Waterlee Hydro Station in Kershaw County, South Carolina.  No serious damage was done, and no homes lost power.

States that have been threatened with electrical power infrastructure recently include Arizona, Nevada, Wisconsin, Tennessee, California, and Maryland.

Given the attacks on electrical substations and fiber optic lines, it’s clear that groups opposed to the government and possibly hoping to encourage a civil war have been planning attacks for years.  However, shutting down the whole power grid would be much harder to accomplish.  And any successful attack may cause more animosity by citizens towards the extremists.

Hardening substations would be difficult.  They are usually in remote areas and open to the outside to dissipate the heat coming from the transformers.  This makes them an attractive target for extremists.  They don’t need a team to carry out the attack.  One person or a small number of extremists could easily carry out the attack.  These extremist groups could be so small that it would be difficult for law enforcement agents to infiltrate them.

Closed circuit cameras are being deployed, but since a competent person with a high-powered rifle can hit a substation from a kilometer away, it would be difficult to detect them.  The same applies to motion sensors, which can detect a person coming close to a substation but would have a hard time detecting the difference between an attacker and a deer.

Brick walls represent a simple solution since they would hide and harden transformer substations.

However, one of the major problems is that substations are stationary, and an extremist group can study the target at their leisure.

Law enforcement is hindered without informers inside the groups.  If the attackers take precautions, cover their faces, collect their expended brass, not brag about their exploits on social media, and keep their vehicles away from any cameras, their chances of being caught are small.  Law enforcement must rely on good investigative work and hope for a break.

In the meantime, power companies must harden their substations and build backup systems that will prevent power outages if one substation is attacked.

Another strategy is the same one used in guerrilla warfare – win their hearts and minds by changing attitudes.

Power companies have a bad reputation as power costs go up and there is a threat of one’s power being cut off for falling behind in their bills.  It didn’t help that an official for Bonneville Power Administration told customers this week that the cost of repairs would be passed on to customers.  Such an attitude only hardens the lines between customers, who are already seeing higher electric costs, and the power company, who come across as bad guys.

Of course, the power companies need customers paying their bills to remain in business, but a little flexibility may be needed.  A power company that shows compassion to a delinquent customer may find that they know something about the attackers.

The same is true with the FBI.  Currently polls show the FBI is seen as a law enforcement agency that enforces the wishes of those in power.  An FBI seen as the tool of justice, not those in power, might encourage a citizen to provide the lucky break.

One just must remember how the FBI treated the computer repairman who tried to turn in Hunter Biden’s computer.  Citizens may want to assist, but do not want to be harassed by the same agency they wanted to help.

It’s safe to say that attacks on electrical infrastructure will continue to happen during the Biden administration.  And the power companies will remain in a reactive mode until all the substations are hardened.

The only question is if these extremists will discover the weak point that could lead to a catastrophic failure that could spark the civil war that these groups want.