Girding the Grid

The very detailed Wall Street Journal story today about the sniper attack on an electrical substation south of San Jose last April (I’ve driven by that substation many times, noting its close proximity to the highway) is raising new fears of terrorist strikes against our electrical grid.  The shooter or shooters—it appears likely there was more than one person involved—fired for nearly 20 minutes, knocking out 17 transformers.

Up to now, most of the worry about the grid has been over cyberattacks by a foreign foe, and there have been rumors for years that the Chinese have practiced hacking our electricity grid.  But what if you had several teams of snipers in place to attack several key nodes at once?  Maybe, people are asking today, this was a practice run? One detail missing from this very detailed story—shell casings with no fingerprints were found—is whether the weapon was a large calibre rifle, or something more ordinary.

My hunch is that this episode was not radical Islamic terrorists. It doesn’t fit their MO, which aims for large body counts, preferably with big explosions attached. A power outage is too indirect. Two other possibilities suggest themselves.  Given the location near the bottom end of Silicon Valley, an Internet-hating anarchist group—variants of the Unabomber—might be behind this. Or perhaps a radical green group similar to the Earth Liberation Front that resorted to large scale arson back in the 1990s before the FBI finally rounded most of them up. As the story says, it is unlikely it was a couple of dudes who drank too much in a bar and said, “Hey, let’s go shoot up a substation!”

In any event, file this story away for future reference.