Washington, DC – On the first anniversary of a nearly devastating attack on the Metcalf Substation outside San Jose, California, the Secure the Grid Coalition convened a symposium on whether the electric grid has been made appreciably more resilient against this and other sorts of assaults, whether by enemies of this country or solar storms. Seven senior legislators and national security experts warned that, incredibly, the answer is “No.
The participants included: Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich; Rep. Pete Sessions, the chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee; and Rep. Trent Franks, the co-chairman of the House EMP Caucus. Each provided video-taped statements, as did Thomas Popik, the chairman of the Foundation for Resilient Societies.
Appearing as well and in person at the Reserve Officers Association venue were: Dr. Peter Vincent Pry, a former staff member of the Congressional EMP Threat Commission; Michael Del Rosso, former Chairman, IEEE Critical Infrastructure Committee; and Major General Robert Newman, the former Adjutant General of Virginia. The program was moderated by Frank Gaffney, the president of the Center for Security Policy.
Speaker Gingrich observed: “This is a very important topic. I believe it may be the most important topic in national security because an electromagnetic pulse event or a very, very large solar event are the only things I can think of that could literally cripple the society so decisively, barring a spasm nuclear war with hundreds of warheads.”
Highlights of the program included:
• The wake-up call represented by the narrowly averted disaster at Metcalf. Had the perpetrators of that attack – who have not been apprehended and must be assumed to be still at large – succeeded, they would likely have destroyed seventeen, and perhaps all twenty-one, of the facility’s absolutely vital, and effectively irreplaceable, extremely high-voltage transformers. The result would have been disruption of power to Silicon Valley and parts of the San Francisco Bay area for a protracted period.
• The fact that enemies of this country have as part of their cyberwarfare doctrine the use of attacks involving: direct physical assault, radio frequency weapons, cyber attacks and high-altitude electromagnetic pulses to destroy our grid.
• The certitude that, even if none of such threats eventuate, the grid will – if left unprotected – be devastated by a naturally occurring “Carrington event.” These are powerful solar flare-induced geomagnetic disturbances that occur roughly every 150 years. The last one occurred in 1859, one hundred and fifty-five years ago.
• The reality that eleven different studies have been performed or commissioned by the U.S. government over the past decade to examine threats to the electric grid. Each one – whether addressing man-caused or naturally induced dangers – arrives at the same conclusion: the protracted disruption of the grid that would result from such events would pose an existential threat to the nation. (A compilation of the executive summaries of these studies was recently published by the Center for Security Policy under the title, Guilty Knowledge: What the U.S. Government Knows about the Vulnerability of the Electric Grid, but Refuses to Fix, was disseminated at the symposium and can be downloaded at [ ].)
• The historical experience of the U.S. military with hardening its critical nuclear forces and command-and-control assets. As a result of this fifty-year long practice, the technology for grid protection is known, proven and in-hand.
• The reasons why electric utilities and what amounts to their trade association – which, incredibly, also happens to be their regulator at the federal level – the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, seem so indifferent to the evidence that their assets and infrastructure face potentially ruinous assaults. Evidently, they are more concerned about the immediate bottom line and regulatory restrictions than even their own long-term fortunes, to say nothing of the country’s.
• The peculiar outcome of a hearing convened last week by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to examine the question: “Keeping the Lights On: Are We Doing Enough to Assure the Reliability and Security of the Electric Grid?” It seems that – despite the readily available evidence to the contrary (well summarized by the Coalition’s symposium yesterday) – Senators were under the illusion that the answer is that we are doing enough, and that the only real problem is that information to the contrary has appeared in places like the Wall Street Journal.
Symposium moderator Frank Gaffney observed: “The U.S. government knows about the grid’s vulnerability. So do the utilities. And so do our enemies. In fact, the only folks being kept in the dark about this problem and the disaster that it invites are the American people. And, if something is not done swiftly to secure the grid, they may be kept in the dark permanently.”
Also see: Was 2013 sniper attack on CA power grid preparation for an act of war? by Allen West