A presumed terrorist attack against a San Jose, California power station last April 16 is only now gaining public attention, and raising concerns for the safety of the nation’s power grid system, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Jon Wellinghoff, then-chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, termed the almost hour-long attack on the Metcalf facility, “the most significant incident of domestic terrorism involving the grid that has ever occurred.”
He believes the episode might be a dress rehearsal for a bigger attack.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation said it is “continuing to sift through the evidence,” but that it does not think a terrorist organization was behind the incident, according to the Journal.
The attack began at 12:58 a.m., when underground AT&T fiber-optic telecommunications cables were slashed in a vault not far from the Metcalf facility. Other cables were also cut. At 1:31 a.m., the facility, located near a freeway, came under sustained rifle fire. AK-47 bullet casings found later had been wiped clean of fingerprints.
The shooters were apparently aiming for the oil-filled cooling systems intended to keep the transformers from overheating, the Journal said. Though they were riddled with bullet holes, and hemorrhaged 52,000 gallons of oil, the transformers did not explode.
By the time sheriff’s department officers arrived on the scene the attackers were gone.
Seventeen massive transformers had been put out of commission. Company officials initially declared the incident vandalism. Cameras were positioned facing inward and did not pick up images of the shooters.
Upon further investigation, it looked more like the handiwork of professionals who had done advance preparation and reconnaissance, the Journal reported.
It would take 27 days to repair the damage and bring the substation back on line. Other facilities, meanwhile, ramped up their production of electricity to make up for the loss.
There are about 2,000 massive—custom-built— transformers around the country. They are pricy and hard to replace. A concerted, large scale assault on such extra-high-voltage transformers could result in prolonged outages, according to the Energy Department, the Journal reported.
Until now, security experts had been mostly concerned that cyber attackers might take down the grid by hacking into its control systems.
Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., expressed concern that no one in government is in overall charge of electric grid security, or in a position to take command in the event of an emergency, the Journal reported.