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Alex Kimani

Alex Kimani

Alex Kimani is a veteran finance writer, investor, engineer and researcher for Safehaven.com. 

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Domestic Terrorists Are Targeting The U.S. Energy Grid

  • The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a warning earlier this year that domestic terrorists were targeting the U.S. power grid.
  • In 2020 a 14-page document that featured instructions on how to attack a power grid with guns was circulated on Telegram, since then, attacks on the energy grid have climbed.
  • Electric utilities claim to be prepared for both cyberattacks and physical attacks, although some experts claim Congress should revisit the threat.
Energy grid

Early in the year, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) warned that domestic terrorists have developed “credible, specific plans” to attack the U.S. power grid and view it as a “particularly attractive target given its interdependency with other infrastructure sectors.” DHS warned of “physical damage” to electrical infrastructure, similar to the 2013 sniper attack on Pacific Gas & Electric’s Metcalf substation that damaged 17 transformers. 

Well, DHS was right on the money: this year, there have been multiple attacks on the American power grid, with the perpetrators mostly not caught. Attacks on the power grid by domestic terrorists have risen sharply since 2020, the same year extremist communication channels released a 14-page how-to on low-tech attacks, including assaulting power grids with guns. Indeed, the U.S. power grid is suffering a massive surge in attacks, with extremists, vandals, and cyber criminals increasingly taking aim at the nation’s critical infrastructure.

More than 14,000 Washington state residents were without power on Christmas, with power outages recorded in Graham, Kapowsin, and Puyallup. The vandalism occurred early Sunday morning, with a burglary reported at a Tacoma power substation near Frederickson. Three weeks ago, a North Carolina power grid was vandalized, leaving ~45,000 people in Moore County without power after two Duke Energy substations were attacked by gunfire. Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields said someone pulled up and “opened fire on the substation, the same thing with the other one,” with the motive of the attacks unclear.

The DHS warning of “physical damage” is a reminder of the Metcalf attack in 2013, whereby $15 million in damage was done by more than 100 rifle shots—that attacker was never found. Back in July,  an accelerationist handbook was shared among extremist Telegram channels calling for shooters to ignore softer targets and instead try to cause chaotic blackouts by emulating the Metcalf attack on a wider scale.

Targets For Extremist Groups

Federal authorities have warned that the power grid is a prime target for extremist groups that embrace “accelerationism,” a fringe philosophy that tries to fuel society’s collapse by promoting mass violence. Back in 2020, a 14-page document circulated on a Telegram channel favored by accelerationist groups and white supremacists that sought to speed the overthrow of the U.S. government. The document featured instructions and a guide to low-tech attacks e.g.,  how to attack a power grid with guns.

“The powergrid would be crippled for a very large area. Armor piercing rounds shot into the transformers would destroy them,” the colorful how-to describes.  The document frames how massive blackouts would help topple society–a key accelerationist goal. “But with the power off, when the lights don’t come back on… all hell will break loose, making conditions desirable for our race to once again take back what is ours,” the document reads. 

CNN has reported that In May 2020, three people claiming to be Boogaloo supporters conspired to attack an electrical substation in Las Vegas in an attempt to incite riots and violence amid demonstrations in the city.     

The long lead time required to replace critical power equipment such as large transformers is a major threat to U.S. grid resilience, a big reason why in 2015, U.S. Congress directed the creation of a strategic reserve for critical power system equipment. “Congress would be wise to revisit this program and ensure that it properly addresses the risks we face today,” Mark Carrigan, cyber vice president of process safety and operational technology cybersecurity at Hexagon PPM, said in an email.

On their part, electric utilities say they are prepared for both physical and cyber attacks on their systems, “The threat of physical attacks targeting critical infrastructure is not new,” Edison Electric Institute (EEI) Vice President for Security and Preparedness Scott Aaronson said in a statement, adding that industry coordination with government partners “helps to ensure vigilance and gives us the ability to respond quickly should situations evolve.

Grid Assurance, owned by American Electric Power, FirstEnergy, and Berkshire Hathaway Energy, is an industry-led initiative that aims to stockpile long-lead-time power transmission equipment. The company announced in September that it had completed the acquisition of its initial inventory.

All utilities have to be on their game from a defensive standpoint, but you also have to put yourself in the best possible position to restore the grid quickly should something catastrophic occur,” Grid Assurance CEO David Rupert said in a statement.

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By Alex Kimani for Oilprice.com

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