Thoughts on Terrorism in the United States: Operatives Among Us

I know, I know…

A lot of hype, right? But what if I told you that despite the ever-increasing trajectory of police militarization in America, there remain various groups already within the country that project either terroristic or subversive methodologies. And the reality is they are just as likely to be other Americans as outsiders.

Background

OG-AA794_GRIDAT_NS_20140204171308In April 2013, a largely overlooked event happened at the PG&E Metcalf power station southern California; that by early 2014, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) assumed control of the investigation. Details of the attack increasingly point to (at best) a localized potential terrorist attack, or worse a dry run on a future operation that has yet to be implemented. Initially regarded by local law enforcement as petty vandalism, then political lawmakers and senior leaders were more focused on the threats of cyber attacks to the infrastructure. A concern that lead to a nation-wide test of the electrical system. But the April 16th attack on the power station in southern California has all the hallmarks of something with a more poignant purpose.

By December 2013, a Foreign Policy investigation reported details of the event at the San Jose Power Station stating an unknown number of assailants entered the facility around 1am via the underground manholes and cut the fiber optic cables inside disabling; 911 services, landline communications to the station, and cellular services for the region. (Harris) Later details of the investigation by the The Wall Street Journal, showed a streak of light in the station’s CCTV near the external fence line in what was an apparent signal. (Smith) The attacker(s) then spent the next hour firing over 100 rounds from a high-caliber rifle (some reports detail the casings were later identified as those of an AK-47 type weapon) into 17 transformers resulting in the entire system to overheat and shutdown from the lack of coolant as it leaked out. The attack ended as abruptly as it began and the perpetrators disappeared into the darkness. No claims of responsibility were ever made, leaving local law enforcement with few leads. Peter Lee, a spokesman for the FBI field office in San Francisco, which is leading the investigation said the FBI has no evidence that the attack is related to terrorism, and it appears to be an isolated incident. However, Mark Johnson, a former Vice President for transmission operations at PG&E, said in November “These were not amateurs taking potshots. My personal view is that this was a dress rehearsal for future attacks”.

Eight Months After the Fact

P1-BP003_GRIDAT_G_20140204191205Simply put, no one has any further leads in the investigation, this despite a $25k reward posted by AT&T for information leading to arrests.  For his part, Johnson went on saying, “This wasn’t an incident where Billy-Bob and Joe decided, after a few brewskis, to come in and shoot up a substation. This was an event that was well thought out, well planned and they targeted certain components”. Mr. Wellinghoff, then chairman of Federal Energy Regulation Committee, 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. One the military knows well.

So while the FBI continues to ascertain that the Metcalf incident was vandalism, the Department of Homeland Security goes on to insist that it is up to the individual utility providers to establish security at their sites. Left with little federal support, this has prompted many to reassess their physical security measures.

But what is surprising by this past “event” is the complexity of the attack. Nighttime penetration, specifically damaging key components to prohibit communication (demonstrating knowledge of the system itself), nighttime firing using standardized high-caliber weapons coordinated via signal, and lastly – nothing. No claims of extremist propaganda, political retribution, or extortion that is so common to both domestic and foreign terrorism.

P1-BP007_GRIDAT_G_20140204223014Another point was the surprising level of damage inflicted in just an hour. While other power stations in the region were able to pick up the sudden drop in electricity, with 17 transformers taken off-line, that represents a significant impact to the nation’s electrical infrastructure in just a small focused region. Transformers are custom-built for the site, with only seven manufacturers in the US capable of producing them. On average it takes one transformer seven months to be built and installed. So those lost 17 transformers represent substantial downtime before that power station is again fully operational.  What would happen if it were a larger coordinated attack on several stations at once?

It’s no secret the nation’s electrical infrastructure is vastly exposed. It’s what prompted the GridEX II exercise (read my articles for the test and afterwards). But yet those weaknesses and the Metcalf attack represent the continual ignorance of the public, private enterprises, and politicians to consider that there are elements here in the United States now, that are actively targeting key components – be it as a test or part of something larger. Decades of continually growing progressivism have allowed specific groups to exploit the very freedoms that many here in the US take for granted. It’s what Western Europe is currently struggling through where radical ideology has been allowed to take hold and spread in various communities by exploiting liberal freedom laws, giving rise to their own domestic or direct terrorism incidents.

I can’t help but think that what happened at the Metcalf power station is merely a prelude to something else much larger. The 9/11 hijackers were able to largely exploit the immigration system and move freely because government oversight was so lax in favor of excessive freedoms to non-US citizens. Perhaps Metcalf illustrates that again other influences are at work within our own borders…and yet for the most part the public has little awareness.

Time will tell.

Works Cited

Harris, Shane. “‘Military-Style’ Raid on California Power Station Spooks U.S.” 2013 December 2013. Foreign Policy Review. 2014 February 2014 <http://complex.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2013/12/24/power-station-military-assault&gt;.

Smith, Rebecca. “Assault on California Power Station Raises Alarm on Potential for Terrorism.” 4 February 2014. The Wall Street Journal. 5 February 2014 <http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB1000142405270230485110457…om%2Farticle%2FSB10001424052702304851104579359141941621778.html&gt;.

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