Clear and Present Vulnerability

Our Clear and Present Vulnerability– 5-19-14

In the early hours of April 16, 2013, a group of armed terrorists operating on American soil attacked the Metcalf transmission substation outside San Jose, CA. It went virtually unnoticed being swept from the headlines by the Boston Marathon bombing the day before which killed or injured 260 people.

The operation began shortly after 1:00 AM as the attackers cut the underground fiber optic cables disabling communications and security systems. Shortly thereafter, between 2 to 6 skilled marksman with high-powered rifles began a 20-minute assault on the largest transformer and cooling system. When the police arrived at 1:50 AM, the attackers had fled without a trace. Electricity had to be re-routed to maintain the grid and repair took several months. The assault team seemed skilled in reconnaissance, stealth and evasion. The spent rifle rounds were wiped clean of fingerprints. Were they connected? Could that have been a practice run? It certainly crossed my mind.

John Wellinghoff, Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said it was “the most significant incident of domestic terrorism involving (the electrical) grid that has ever occurred.” The increasingly politicized FBI dismissed the matter entirely. That seems odd given the sophistication and planning necessary, and the proximity of the Boston bombing.

It did catch the attention of a small group of U.S. Senators and Representatives, as well as Brian Kennedy, President of the Claremont Institute, who penned an article for Hillsdale College’s Imprimis. They clearly see the danger to the potential destruction of our national electrical grid by either domestic terrorists or a foreign power as an urgent priority.

There are more than 100,000 transformers of varying sizes throughout the grid. However, according to Mr., Kennedy, the disabling of as few as two dozen key heavy transformers would cause a catastrophic failure that would black out the United States.

The reader will note the growing number of hostile countries with ever-increasing missile technology. This invites the possibility of a small nuclear device exploded high in the atmosphere. Such a device could create an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that would destroy the electrical infrastructure to every state except Alaska and Hawaii. Recovery, according to analysts at Lloyds of London could take as much as 1 – 2 years.

A massive solar storm of a magnitude that occurs every 150 to 300 years could have the same devastating effect. Since the utilization of electricity, no such storm has been seen. However, just such a storm narrowly missed the Earth in July of 2013.
William Forstchen chronicled the effects of such an event in his New York Times Bestseller: One Second Later published by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC in 2009. America’s defensive command and control system? Destroyed. Complete loss of electrical power wouldl send us instantly back to the 18th Century. There will be plenty of gasoline, but no electrical pumps. The electrical system on any automobiles manufactured after 1984 would be destroyed by the EMP. Supermarket shelves will be empty within three days. Hospitals would become storehouses for the dead and dying. The sick and elderly, deprived of life-supporting drugs. It does not take too much imagination to visualize the result.

What can be done? The first step is to build fences around the substations to hide the large transformers. This modestly-priced solution has been proposed by the former head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. It has yet to be acted upon. Secondly, Arizona Congressman Tom Franks has introduced a workable proposal to harden the grid from an EMP or solar storm, with no action taken as yet. And of course, the third option is a missile defense system of a kind well within our capabilities, but unpopular with our current Administration.

Abraham Lincoln, in a speech delivered in 1838, noted: “All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth, ….could not by force take a drink from the Ohio (River)……At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? It must spring up amongst us. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher”

It seems to me to ignore these clear and present dangers is to court suicide.

James David Reynolds
Previously published in the Valley Times newspaper May 19, 2014

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