Waitng for Cybergeddon

One year after the mysterious attack on the Metcalf electric substation outside San Jose, nothing is being done to protect the national grid, and Washington's solution is to silence those who warned the American people about this grave threat to their security.

Last year, on April 16, a team of some six perpetrators made a well planned attack against the Metcalf transformer substation that services a 470 megawatt power plant and keeps the lights on in the Silicon Valley.  The assailants, whoever they were, knew how to enter an underground tunnel and cut the 911 cables to the police and fire departments.  They apparently used pre-surveyed positions to deliver highly accurate fire from assault rifles against the transformers, knowing precisely how and where to target their vulnerabilities. 

They used AK-47s -- the favorite arm of terrorists and rogue states.  They eluded capture, disappearing into the darkness, minutes after the police arrived.  They have not even been identified by the FBI, one year later.

Trainers of the U.S. Navy SEAL teams examined the scene and concluded the Metcalf attack was like a professional military operation, executed using techniques familiar to the SEALs and elite commandos.

Jon Wellinghoff, chairman of the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), took the unusual and laudable step of resigning his chairmanship, apparently so he could warn the press and the people about the little known Metcalf incident and its larger implications for national vulnerability.  Wellinghoff and many other experts on grid security warned that Metcalf is probably a "dry run"--practice for a much larger and more ambitious attack on the national grid.

Subsequently, a U.S. FERC study leaked to the press.  It warned that saboteurs, by attacking just 9 key transformer substations out of 55,000 nationwide, could plunge most of the United States into a protracted blackout lasting months.

One year later, is there a crash program by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) to protect the national grid from an easily engineered catastrophic blackout?


NERC, the former trade association turned organization for electric reliability, representing the nation's 3,000 electric utilities, claims they are on top of the problem.  But critics note NERC says the same thing about other potentially catastrophic threats to the grid, like cyber attacks, geomagnetic storms, and electromagnetic pulse (EMP) from nuclear and radiofrequency weapons. 

NERC's pattern is to "study" these threats for years without actually doing anything to protect the grid.  For example, NERC took ten years to produce a "vegetation management plan" after a falling tree branch caused the Great Northeast Blackout of 2003 that put 50 million Americans in the dark.

The Metcalf affair is far more ominous and challenging than a falling tree branch. 

Indeed, Metcalf occurred during the gravest nuclear crisis with North Korea--which was threatening to attack the U.S. with a nuclear missile strike.  President Obama took these threats so seriously that he ordered B-2 bombers to make demonstrations near the demilitarized zone and strengthened the National Missile Defense. 

On April 16, 2013, the day of the Metcalf attack, North Korea's KSM-3 satellite passed over the Washington, DC-New York City corridor--at the optimum altitude and location for blacking out the Eastern Grid with a nuclear EMP attack.  The Eastern Grid generates 75 percent of the nation's electricity.

Is it possible that Metcalf was a dry run for an all-out Cyber Warfare Operation that, as described in foreign military doctrine, includes attacks on the national grid combining computer viruses and hacking, Metcalf style assaults, and EMP attack?  Some U.S. Army War College analysts term this "Cybergeddon".

One year after Metcalf, NERC and the utilities appear to care a lot less about Cybergeddon than they do about silencing U.S. FERC on grid vulnerability.  They have criticized FERC for revealing to the press and the public that the national electric grid is dangerously vulnerable to attack. 

On April 10, 2014, during congressional hearings, NERC and the utilities ganged up on FERC Acting Chairman Cheryl LeFleur, who has been a heroically outspoken advocate for protecting the national grid from all hazards.

On the same day, John Kappenman and other experts testified before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that NERC is doing nothing to protect the grid from natural and manmade EMP.  The GRID Act, the SHIELD Act, and the Critical Infrastructures Protection Act--bills designed to protect the national grid--remain stalled in committee.

One year after Metcalf, the clock still ticks toward Cybergeddon.

Pry is executive director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security, served in the Congressional EMP Commission, the House Armed Services Committee, the CIA, and is author of Apocalypse Unknown and Electric Armageddon.