What Can a Mere Rifle Do, II

In 2014, we asked, “What can a mere rifle do?” in reference to a standoff attack on a Pacific Gas and Electric power substation in Metcalf, California.

The answer, in that case, was to blow the transformers to hell and gone, and bug out. To date, there has been no arrest in the case; at one time, a DHS official suggested it was an inside job. There have been subsequent attacks, despite attempts to upgrade security; indeed, once, criminals cut through a fence and made off with equipment that was on site — for security upgrades.

Now, there’s been a new rifle attack on a station, in rural Utah. It appears to have been less sophisticated and less persistent than the California attack, but more effective — the attacker or attackers blew the station off the grid with as few as three rifle shots.


On Sunday, somebody went to the remote substation located between Kanab and Page, Arizona, and fired at least three rounds with a high-powered rifle into the main transformer, knocking out power to an estimated 13,000 customers in Kanab, Big Water, Orderville, Glendale, Hatch and surrounding towns in Garfield County.

“Just from the looks of it, it looked more criminal than vandalism because they knew exactly where to shoot it and they shot it multiple times in the same spot,” Brown said. “For somebody to know exactly where that substation is and how to hit it exactly like he did, (it) seems like he’d have to have knowledge of that.”

Countermeasures that can be used in cases like this are limited. In California, the power company deployed cameras, but they’re investigative, not preventive, technology; and constructed blinds that block sight of the most vulnerable transformers, but they’re concealment, not cover. In Utah, the power company has asked for tips, and done something even less practical than the Californians:

A portable transformer was brought to the substation to restore power. The portable substation is now being monitored by an on-site security guard 24 hours a day.

Exercise for the reader:

  1. How does a guard protect the site?
  2. How can you strike the site even with the guard in place?
  3. How can you get the guard out of place? How can you deny him the response force that would otherwise come when he calls?
  4. Do you think it’s likely that the guard will be there 24/7/365 x forever? (Hint: me neither)
  5. What does guarding this site do for the security of every other substation in the grid?
  6. How many sites can they lose before they run out of portable transformers?
  7. How many sites can they guard effectively against an intelligent enemy?

As far as the California approach is concerned, well, how long will those screens last when they’re in the way of routine maintenance? And, how much of a deterrent will they be to an actual sniper who can calculate an aiming point if he’s so inclined?

We’ve done the math on transformer production and delivery. (A former contract shop studied this exact problem for a government agency, long before the Metcalf attack). Let’s just say you really, really don’t want someone with some CARVER skills and experience deciding to play silly buggers with your power grid.

And, for the UW theorists among us: this three-shot Sunday attack that caused thousands of homes, businesses and government offices to lose power is most probably an example of:

  1. Kids acting out;
  2. An actual enemy’s shakedown run to test feasibility of this approach;
  3. An actual enemy’s confidence target prepatory to a serious campaign against the grid;
  4. An actual enemy’s perturbation of the system, to enable him to study the response;
  5. A follow-up to the 2013 transformer attack by the same guy(s). Serial killer(s) of transformers?

Finally, the problem with “security” is that it comes down to a mall cop sitting night-in night-out at a bank of computer screens. As the Wall Street Journal noted about the 2013 attack on Metcalf station, in an article on the 2015 one:

During last year’s attack, Metcalf’s perimeter alarms were activated as bullets nicked the fence. Workers at a PG&E security center ignored early warning signs of trouble.

Want El Al security? You have to spend El Al money and hire El Al level of people.

Hat to Matt in IL in the comments to an earlier post.

68 thoughts on “What Can a Mere Rifle Do, II

  1. Roger

    Taking out stepdown transformers which take extremely high transmission line voltage / low current (relatively) is not difficult. All one needs to do is to contaminate the oil which is the coolant / insulating material. Once the oil is contaminated, all it takes is one high voltage arc through the contaminated oil to leave a carbon track, which then adds to the contamination and allows easier future arcs.
    Pretty soon there is an interesting lot of arcs with a spectacular show for those a good distance away.
    A high velocity bullet that fragments can do the same thing by contaminating the oil.
    Also, causing an oil leak which can lower the level of the (insulating) oil below extremely high voltage elements will allow arcs through air which has far less resistance to arcs. (Thats why there are large expansion tanks on top of large HV transformers to make certain that all components are always covered or that the transformer tank is always filled and airless.

  2. Max

    Not only are transformers a soft target but they are expensive and time consuming to replace as they are often made to order and if they do exist on the shelf, shelf stock is severely limited. The term Critical infrastructure doesn’t begin to do them justice given our first world reliance on unlimited and uninterrupted electrical power.
    Am I the first to say “transformers… more than meets the eye.”

  3. Keith

    Our infrastructure is fatally vulnerable to terrorist attacks because it’s never been an issue here. And most people would refuse to support what it would really take to secure the infrastructure.

  4. Hayabusa

    I’m fairly certain the 2014 Metcalf attack was a rehearsal for something bigger; sort of a “proof of concept” for something you might want to execute on a much grander scale at a later date.

    I’m also pretty confident that a state actor was behind it. Probably not the Russians or the Chinese; seems a little low-rent and brute-force for them; if they wanted to take down our power grid, they would do it via cyber, just because they can.

    My guess would be the Iranians (or their Hizballah catspaws). Back in 2013-14, it wasn’t yet completely clear that the Obama administration was fixated on capitulating to the mullahs in Tehran, and the idea of an attack on the Iranian nuclear facilities was not completely out of the question. My theory is that the IRGC wanted to have a method of retaliation in their back pocket that would be relatively low-cost, high impact, and plausibly deniable, and crashing our power grid with multiple, coordinated sniper attacks on power substations would fit all those bills.

    As to this more recent event in Utah? Who knows? Possibly the same people? You might note that, since 2014, Obama and Kerry have more or less formally surrendered to the mullahs, so it might not make as much sense for them to keep doing this. However, as recent events in the Persian Gulf have indicated, just because we have stopped fucking with them doesn’t mean that they have stopped fucking with us. Quite the opposite, in fact. Weakness invites aggression. Munich 101.

    Anyway, that’s my two bit theory. Feel free to pick it apart.

    1. Josey Wales

      “The idea of an attack on the Iranian nuclear facilities was not completely out of the question.”

      You realize we already did this, right? And while Obammy was in the White House no less. Things that make you go hmm…..

      Stand by for the Wikileaks “October Surprise” in 5 hours or so…..

    2. John M.

      How do you say, “it sucks that you lost a bunch of transformers Sunday night, but if you’ll just airlift another $1bil in cash to Tehran, we’ll make sure nothing terrible happens to any of your other transformers” in Persian?

      -John M.

    3. Paul Bonneau

      Assuming it was Iranians, it was a reasonable response, delivering a clear message: an attack on Iran does not come without consequences. Sometimes it seems the dorks in Washington DC seem to imagine there are no consequences to playing the empire game.

  5. Raoul Duke

    Kanab? Page? Shot up transformers?

    George Hayduke had better have a pretty good alibi this time.

  6. Haxo Angmark

    it’s #4. Via local FreeFor militia type(s), same as the previous incident. And, for a fact, one could take out a huge chunk of the entire SW US grid with a single well-thrown cocktail. Of course, I would never do such a thing, and will immediately report anyone attempting it.

    @NSA: +1,276 bonus points

  7. Slow Joe Crow

    What about armoring the transformers? It seems like a stationary box should be easy to protect against medium caliber rifles like the 7.62mm used in Metcalf with applique armor on existing units, and possibly armor plate exterior panels on new units. While it won’t stop everything, hardening to the point where an attacker needs a .50 caliber anti-material rifle, or an AT weapon would make organization and execution more difficult because the equipment is more expensive and less common.

    1. Chemechie

      Coal companies have dealt with this threat for decades. While they don’t have as high voltage transformers on site, the mines often have 14kV 3 phase lines (or higher) coming on site that need stepped down.
      it was used during some of the mine strikes in the 1980’s (and maybe 1970’s, I’m not sure), as a work slowdown/ stoppage tactic in Appalachia.
      Since the big strikes ended, it has occasionally been used by a disgruntled worker or one who doesn’t like the schedule and wants the day off.
      Many bigger mines, especially the underground ones since a power disruption there is a big problem, have come up with the same simple solution – Concrete block walls around the transformer high enough to block a line of site to it from nearby high spots. They either put a right angle in for a maintenance entrance, or leave the side towards a nearby building open (if possible).

    2. shocktroop0351

      Transformers are air cooled, so that may be a problem with covering them with armor plates. Plus, if someone can attack with a rifle and get away Scott clean, they can also just cut a fence and walk in, and cause mayhem with explosives after removing the armor, or use a shape charge to defeat it.

  8. Plays Chess

    The company, I work for,proffered a solution to PG&E in 2013-14. It was sensor that was based on a glass breakage detector. PG&E declined. A perimeter sensor set-up would depend on how far out to place it from the site to be protected and what type of sensors to use as an electronic fence beyond the physical fence. PG@E ‘s transformer was shot at a lot, way more than 3 times and the distance was not given. I think the fences used by PG&E are wired to sense if there is a direct break, like a cut from a wire cutter but that picture of the fence from the previous linked article with the sparks should have drawn more attention. There are some interesting products out there but PG@E probably won’t spring for a gun slaved to a camera system that can see for miles, slews to cue, runs on software that does facial recognition and gives the user a touchscreen to fire at a target. PG@E’s use of cameras that are always on probably makes for boring viewing. Sensors keyed to camera triggers that cue the camera would probably raise the attention level.

    1. Hognose Post author

      One of the fences did trip, some kind of alert, in the PG&E attack; that was in one of the linked articles. But the guy whose duty (additional duty?) was monitoring that alert didn’t react at first. When they did react, after a long period, they called the cops. Then the cops had to react, and come to the site. Then the cop got to the site and it was unattended, with no one to open the gate and go in with him. (The monitors were in a nearby power station, but Officer/Deputy Friendly has no way to know that).

      They believe that there were multiple shooters in the PG&E attack. Normally, any criminal who does not work entirely alone is undone by that fact. The police are extremely good at finding a thread and pulling until conspiracies unravel. They’re also good at following physical and visual (i.e photographic/video) evidence. A singleton who stays out of camera range is much harder to nail down.

    2. Aesop

      Just a few wee problems there:
      1) Killing someone, or even the use of deadly force to protect property, would be first degree murder, and a criminal conspiracy to commit same, for the CEO and everyone involved down to the guy who installed it, not just the guy who tripped the trigger. The civil and criminal ass-reaming that ensued would put PG&E into receivership in short order, and the unindicted members of the board would be taken out by the stockholders, tarred, feathered, drawn, and quartered. Not necessarily in that order. Then they’d go after their families. Meanwhile, everyone west of the Rockies would be cooking on woodstoves by candlelight until sometime in 2150 or so.
      2) You’d be placing this system in the hands of the dimmest bulb among the minimum wage mall cops sent to man it at 2 AM. Google “security guard shenanigans” for $500, Alex, to see the sort of one-step-ahead-of-the-posse @$$clowns you’d be turning loose with a death ray.
      3) Better than even odds, the responsible group would then infiltrate the security company by the simple expedient of applying for the jobs, and not mouth breathing at the interview, then turning the guns on the transformers on cue some given night later. You might as well emplace demo charges, and have the transformers wired to blow at the first sign of trouble, which is in the same league as Cleavon Little pulling a gun on himself to get away from the mob in Blazing Saddles. Funny, yes. Brilliant, not so much.
      4) Dollars to donuts such a system is a felony under multiple states’ recently enacted hissyfit bans on remote/internet hunting, wherein any possession of a remote camera-controlled weapon constitutes a malum prohibidum felony item in and of itself, just for constructing, before we even look at using it.

      The power companies have spent a century painting their own @$$#$ into a crack on this, and now they’ll have to figure out a way to get out of it. And we’re all the pawns in the game in the meantime.
      Rigging remote control doggie shock collars to the executives, set to go off every time the power fails, would probably be an excellent first step in rectifying the current vulnerabilities.

      “The punishment fit the crime!” – Gilbert & Sullivan, The Mikado

  9. James B.

    Perhaps reinforced concrete and steel walls might be a better defense than the current chain-link.

    I can’t help but remembering a piece that Gordon Liddy (love him or hate him) wrote for either Omni or Playboy back in the 1980’s, in which he predicted, rather accurately, that we were extremely vulnerable to terrorists, particularly islamic terrorists, and that our unguarded infrastructure was an obvious target.
    He not only specifically pointed out High Voltage Transformers being vulnerable to rifle fire, he pointed out that hijacked planes could hit targets with the destructive power of a missile.
    I kinda wonder if his speculation didn’t go directly into the terrorist playbook.

    1. bloke_from_ohio

      A lot of the islamic terrorist we deal with have not historically gotten off on attacking infrastructure. It is no doubt super destructive and might even be more effective at messing with more people. But, it does not directly or spectacularly kill anyone. And I think that is all but a requirement for these guys right now. It has to be flashy and people have to die.

      Case in point, In Iraq there were reportedly bases with giant fuel bladders in sight of the outer perimeter. You could hit one with direct fire from across the street according to a buddy who served on the base in question. But, the guys trying to earn their virgins kept launching rockets and mortars at the people or where the people hung out. The TCN billeting was similarly located in an easy to nail location, but they nominally avoided that. Without TCNs the coalition war machine would likely grind to a halt, but they got a pass. Some of that might be due to the TCNs in question being the actual spotters for the attacks, but that is another discussion. Eventually they got smart and started “targeting” the DFAC. But, I am pretty sure that was just because there are a lot of people in there and not because they wanted to deprive the infidels of their powdered eggs and turkey bacon.

      Granted, some of the jihadist “targeting doctrine” is decided addressed as “to whom it may concern”. For a lot of those guys launching something the rough cardinal direction of the nearest infidel base was good enough to count.

      A counter point might be the antics of the mujahedeen against the supply convoys of both the Soviets and ISAF. But, I am convinced that the major reason for attacking those was again to kill the troops more than anything else. Convoys by their very nature are softer targets. Killing a whole mess of the crusaders is the key goal with disruption of the supply lines and capturing of material likely coming in second and third (though not always in that order).

      In Iraq the evolution of the MRAP and the race for bigger deadlier IEDs that followed is instructive. The MRAP may allow troops riding inside to survive a blast, but the vehicle itself is often disabled if not out right destroyed by even smaller mines. If the goal was simply to interdict coalition logistics, IEDs would not have needed to “bulk up” to a point where they could start killing people inside the trucks again. They could still get plenty of mobility kills with smaller IEDs. IF they trucks can’t roll, logistics grinds to a halt and army cannot fight. When you consider the increased risk emplacing a larger device has over a smaller one, it is obvious that they wanted to cause casualties above all else.

      I am not saying that the power grid is not a fantastic target if you want to screw over the people of the united states. But, “the usual suspects” don’t strike me as the most likely perpetrators. It just does not seem to be their style. State actors looking for plausible deniability on the other hand, that is a match made in heaven.

      -Overly Educated Operations Analsyt

      1. LSWCHP

        I concur, Bloke. The Head Relocators need to, well, relocate heads in order to feel satisfied by their work. An atttack that doesn’t feature dismembered bodies scattered everywhere is completely unattractive to people….errmm…I mean vermin, of their mindset.

        On the other hand, low risk attacks on infrastructure with high payoff and high deniability…..phew…to me that says hostile state actor or some very intelligent domestic player coming out of left field.

        I’m a rifleman. If I wanted to cause unrest it’s pretty much what I’d be doing.

        And I hope you don’t mind me asking, but I can’t imagine there’s a lot of blokes in Ohio. You an Aussie? Or a Pom?

      2. Hognose Post author

        The principal target of a terrorist is often the media, in that, he wants to get his grievance into the mass media and uses terror as a vehicle. Note the relative news splash made by the one moslem asshat with a 10-22 at a mall, versus this series of infrastructure attacks.

        If I were looking to attack infrastructure and stymie pursuit, I would:

        First, map the infrastructure and CARVER its nodes. (You have to be stealthy doing this, or you leave a signature that will kill you).
        Follow up with onsite recon.
        Hit a test target, and observe and record all responses.
        Readjust, and hit a second target in a different place after a long and irregular interval.
        Effect a humint penetration of the investigation, if possible.
        Gradually hit more targets more frequently. The distribution of targets would be carefully chosen so that their epicenter is not anywhere close to my location.
        Disseminate how-to information, if copycats did not appear naturally.

        Makes you wonder if there’s a pro doing this.

        Some of these techniques vary depending on whether you’re looking to bring down a nation or region, or whether you’re seeking something (trying to extort money or a political position change), or whether you were brought up in Marxian / Alinskyite analysis and are trying to “heighten the contradictions” to bring down your enemy. If the latter, you’re trying to provoke a brutal crackdown, ideally on people that did not do it. (To produce further grievances and delegitimize the government).

        In the USA today, the legitimacy of the government is generally accepted, especially at local, county and state level.

        1. James B.

          By the strict definition of traditional terrorism, I agree this (infrastructure targeting) would be unusual, however, should not changing tactics be a thing we eventually expect to see? When I see two oil pipelines in the southeast suddenly “leak” enough petroleum to drive gouged gas prices in Atlanta over $4.00, I wonder about the leak. When a train derails, I wonder as to the cause. When I learn of these events through social media rather than news sources, I wonder harder, and begin to frown.

          Attaching the home infrastructure of a country at war, in which many citizens are weary of the long, expensive war may be more a tactic you’d expect from a different sort of agent than a terrorist, but the frustration, expense, and inconvenience that can be easily caused with the cost of a bullet, a steel bar, a wrench, etc – without compromising the saboteur/terrorist is a hell of a value for the low investment in money and time. It leaves the schedule free for more of the same next week.

          Perhaps it is a professional. Perhaps they got smart, and hired a professional to give these skills to others. That’s a chilling thought.

          Imagine a slew of infrastructure attacks coordinated alongside a 9/11 style attack. Power outages, Cell phone towers destroyed, chemical or petroleum fires/leaks/spills, major transportation arteries blocked with wrecked, stolen, trucks. Can you imagine if NYC had been without power, tanker trucks flaming on the bridges, and little communication in or out? Imagine the people trying to flee, imagine the rioting, – there, gentlemen, is the terror aspect. When you use these tactics in conjunction with each other and in combination with traditional tactics.

    2. Chemechie

      There are few new ideas in terrorism; the first attempt to fly a large airplane into a building was by a disgruntled FedEx employee in the 1990’s. Tom Clancy wrote a novel using the tactic in 1994.
      Read my comment above about coal mines and transformers – they have dealt with attacks on transformers for decades and often use block walls to reduce the risk.

      1. James B.

        It seems in the intervening nigh-on three decades since I last read this, my brain swiss-cheesed to a degree on my recollection of the contents of that article, but it still was a disturbing read. Thank you for unearthing it for us. ..

    3. Larry

      Here in my part of Texas, they have tall brick walls with razor-wire on top that block line of sight (we’re not quite as flat as western Kansas, but close enough). Unless you have (or can create) access to a nearby tall-enough building.

  10. Tierlieb

    I think bloke_from_ohio made a great point. I’d rephrase it: Terrorism is about creating terror. An power outage is not terrifying, it is annoying.

    It is no doubt dangerous when looked at rationally, but fear does not work on rational numbers. That’s why “lone wolf” style attacks work so well, even though a disagreement between two gangs in Chicago will usually produce more dead. Same reason why people are more afraid of guns than swimming pools.

    Personally, I would think of organized crime instead of terrorists. This is great blackmail material – if the power is out, the company is at fault and the public opinion will be against them. Organized crime has to rely on their victims’ rationality. That’s why big organizations make great victims: They’ll do a cost-benefit analysis and usually pay, as long as armoring their system is more expensive.

    1. John M.

      A sufficiently widespread and long-lasting power outage in this country, particularly in certain urban cores, would be truly terrifying.

      -John M.

    2. Aesop

      A few dozen guys with hunting rifles and a transformer schematic , hardly an uncommon thing in the USA, could do more permanent and all-encompassing damage on one night than a 747-load of jet highjacking teams scattered in 3s and 4s throughout the entire air traffic system on the same day.

      A power outage that shuts of large parts of one of our three power grids, or overloads and crashes one or more of them entirely, would be about as annoying as sending all of Europe back to 1400 A.D. for six months, including the subsequent starvation die-off of some millions, followed by biblical levels of plagues.

      No power, no internet, no media, no cell phones, no health care, no refrigeration, no gas pumps, no interstate shipping, no light after dark, no traffic control, no water or sewage pumping, no policing.
      In a few days, no cooling for nuclear reactor piles.

      Google “Fukushima”, perhaps.

      Let me know when I cross your threshold for terrifying.

      1. Tierlieb

        > Google “Fukushima”, perhaps.
        I’ll take your “Fukushima” google query and raise you “Lothar and Martin 1999”, “European heatwave 2003” as well as “Kyrill 2004”. ;-)

        > Let me know when I cross your threshold for terrifying.
        Ah, you misunderstand me. I am quite aware what a power outage does. Really well aware, actually: I work with the THW, the German Federal Agency for Technical Relief. We supply power, water and housing on state-level emergencies.

        I am just telling you that I believe it does not terrify people like a terror attack does. Because I have experienced that more than once.

        Or an anecdote for illustration purpose: The heatwave of 2003 in Europe, especially France: Power outages. Huge fires. And the French firemen went on strike (who are tasked with maintaining critical infrastructure, too). People died in hospitals in ridiculous numbers. So we Germans invaded France once more, this time with aforementioned THW, and, arguably, got a little better reception than the last time. We provided power and water for about two weeks.

        You will note that we Germans had the capacities to do that, because we were prepared much better. So this was obviously a failure of the French government, because our own government did not mess up. And the French firemen strike added to that. Death toll: Between 10.000 and 14.000 people, you can fill three to four World Trade Centers with that.

        What happened? Some general unhappiness was expressed towards the government. From the French, who will start burning cars the second someone mentions they might have to work 40 hours a week! There was little to hear of “la revolution”. There was a bit of “uh, maybe we need to take better care of our elderly” and “I respect your right to strike and it was a bit unpleasant that you did it now, but of course, now was also the best time”. Seriously.

        And that is why I call power outages “annoying”, not terrifying. Because that is how people treat them. As I said before, fear is independent of the actual damage caused. For France, compare the damage from attacks on Charlie Hebdo or the Bataclan to any of the three major infrastructure failures (1999, 2003, 2004). Hell, the 2-hour long 2006 European blackout killed more people.

        TL;DNR: I understand why everyone with a military mindset considers infrastructure attacks relevant: They are very efficient. Their effects cumulate and cascade. But I think that is missing the relevant component of terrorism, which is “terror”, because they do not seem to cause that. Efficient attacks in my mind, are something more interesting to organized crime, because efficiency directly translates to money.

        1. John M.

          The examples you cite differ from the (theoretical) infrastructure attacks because they lack a malicious human-caused element, save for the firefighter strike, which the bulk of the populace already sympathizes with.

          A widespread attack on transformers would probably not, as you indicate, be terrifying apart from some sort of media campaign to tell everyone that it’s a specific enemy bringing about the misery and death that’s being caused. On 9/11 (likewise Bataclan and what-have-you), this human-caused element was obvious and didn’t need much elucidation. Infrastructure attacks would require a bit more PR savvy to parlay into terror. But not much.

          -John M.

        2. Aesop

          The simple point is that something doesn’t cease to be terrifying just because one’s selected focus group is composed of sheep.

          Eventually, even they will realize things aren’t looking good.
          The fact that the “Aha!” moment comes when they smell the barbeque at which they’re the guest of honor is simply bad juju for them, and a fortuitous bonus for those organizing the event.

          I also think we have different ideas when the phrase “organized crime” is used. Hereabouts it’s rather well understood that the Five Families et al normally so described are merely crime, and not actually that organized.

          The power companies themselves, and the kleptocracies that assist them officially are a much better target population for the descriptor, but even their organizational skills, as these attacks illustrate, leave quite a bit to be desired as well, proving for illustration #4,276 that Professor Moriarty is entirely a fictional entity.

    3. pdxr13

      A power outage that stays off is a sign that the current elite are inept and need replacing. That should terrify some of the more-intelligent elite who will realize that “replacement” is not the same as “retirement” or “unemployment”.

  11. John Distai

    I imagine there was a conversation about this where someone said “Oh, it’s probably just kids.” (in a dismissive tone).

    That phrase makes me apoplectic. It’s f-ing vandalism whether perpetrated by infants, kids, or adults! Where is right and wrong and accountability!?! Did you do this shit as a kid?! I sure as hell didn’t. How can someone excuse it away?!

    Next time I’ll reply “do you think they were larval terrorists, or nymphs?”

  12. robroysimmons

    IMO this is domestic ner do wells not muslims no killing the infidel points in the holy war for killing the juice. And from best I can tell muslims are morons at least the ones they get to try their hand at finding their guaranteed route to muslim heaven.

    My guestimation the transformers can be guarded but if you are a crack shot you can create hot spots on the miles of unguarded high tensile wire and hot spots eventually will cause problems during high demand.

  13. Docduracoat

    Thetruthaboutguns did a piece on this attack
    Commenters said that there was only one spare portable transformer
    A new one has to be custom ordered from South Korea with a 2 year delivery date

  14. Martin S

    Transformers are pretty low hanging fruit.

    High cost, steady but low production leading to long delivery times (2 years as mentioned above) and often only a handful, if any, backups means a concerted effort could black out large parts of any country for months, possibly years.

    I disagree with the notion that this is a nuisance and not terror, far to much of our society runs on electricity, and we have made ourselves dependent on it to such a degree it would be unimaginable for many to be without.

    Food refrigeration is a necessity at every level of food distribution, without it much of what we eat wouldn’t even make it to our shops. That alone would be a problem. Add in medication that needs refrigeration (I believe insulin does) as well as blood and plasma, and people will actually start dieing from it.
    And at that point we haven’t covered hospital patients and the elderly in assisted living yet.

    Hell, if water and sewage treatment stops working, we also start seeing nice diseases like cholera and dysentery to mention a few.

    And we still haven’t touched on the economy.

    1. Jughead

      Speaking of the economy… (terrorists dont necessarily have to cause terror in orderto succeed) Several years ago while on active duty, I was asked to be an on-site risk manager for a drill which involved a large central CA town, local SO, Navy, Air Force, DHS and some other folks. The idea was to train the agencies involved for possible future attacks. We discussed which way to go with respect to the type of attack involved. The attack was to be focused on a waste water treatment plant. It was absurdly easy to post the observers and wait for the terrorists to arrive with BFA equipped M16s. Terrorist number one placed a fake bomb on two turbines powering the crap pump. Sewage backup on a massive scale and the economy of that city ruined for a long time.

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  16. John Connor

    Dont forget about ARGUS and ARGUS type surveillance systems. Anyone engaging electrical infrastructure could be vulnerable to being tracked after the fact by the authorities reviewing ARGUS type surveillance footage to identify suspects.
    Anyone targetingcrit8ical infrastructure in this manner would need to account for the possibility of ARGUS surveillance and consider how to defeat it.

  17. S

    Even if all the transformers eventually get hardened, there are always the insulators, on every pole; a much better target if one also starts interaction with the repair crew, by left-behind surprises and/or personal attention. One would have a much wider choice of terrain. But back to the already established attack: if it isn’t the start of a sustained action, all it has done is wake up the utilities and authorities, and provide more impetus to the gungrabber statists. Who benefits? Could one make a similar case for recent fuel pipeline problems, and how vulnerable are the railways, since one particular pipeline was prevented from construction?

  18. Mike_C

    >An actual enemy’s perturbation of the system, to enable him to study the response;
    The Dirac δ(t) function has zero width anywhere, infinite height at time t, and an integral of 1.0 over any range that encompasses t. But it only exists mathematically. Apparently on the Utah/Arizona border the delta function’s real-world approximation is three impulses. Maybe it’s the Iranians, or the cartels, or the Norks. Or those darn kids.

    But if I were writing a tin-foil hat potboiler, I’d say that the disruptive/transformational utility of taking the grid down, even for a few hours, would be maximized on November 8th, 2016. Especially with electronic voting and all. My fictional bad guys (or good guys to some, I suppose) might try to take down parts of the grid in major metropolitan areas (no code words here, nosireebub), especially inner cities in swing states that appeared to be going red overall rather than the expected blue. Of course nothing would happen before the polls opened, and might not happen at all, if the wind blew right (or is that left). If anything were to happen, it would be later in the day. Allies of my fictional bad guys would have apparently spontaneous but carefully crafted presentations for the news media in areas not affected, about how this was very likely the work of right-wing domestic terrorists bent on (re!) disenfranchising persecuted, long suffering, by definition innocent and unarmed victims of pervasive cultural and institutionalized racism. Any riots (er, justified and actually, the historical context considered, remarkably restrained community expressions of rage) would simply be icing on the cake, though for different reasons.

    Just think about it, widespread power outages caused by unknown persons (though FBI profilers assure us these were white, Christian males — just like John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo) using legal firearms, with the express purpose of disrupting the democratic process, why, why, that would be striking a blow against the Republic itself! What’s that? There was evidence to suggest that the firearms in question were scoped, bolt-action rifles? Well, then the “hunting exemption” can not be allowed to stand. We all agreed that high-capacity magazines for handguns were dangerous, and we all agreed that AR-pattern semiautos were “too military” for civilian ownership. We thought that hunters were by and large, responsible, sober people, who could be counted on to be responsible adults, but sadly we have to admit we were wrong. Clearly any firearm can be used as a weapon of mass destruction and a tool of right-wing terror. Anyone who disagrees is obviously a racist ally of the racist terrorists, and no patriot at all. The next steps that we must, however, regretfully, take To Safeguard Democracy, are clear. And we need immediate action. We cannot wait for the long, slow legislative process at this critical juncture in our beleaguered nation’s history. Accordingly, as of 8 am tomorrow morning, the President will issue the following Executive Order….

    Of course, that’s just an idle paranoid fantasy suited for a direct-to-video crap movie. Oh, one more thing. Why the UT/AZ border. Well, several reasons actually. First, we know those inbred reactionary hick rednecked redstaters are always shooting at all kinds of stuff on the least excuse, in that neck of the woods. so it’s basically business as usual. Great place for a trial run. Second, and more importantly, for those unreconstructed rednecks unmoved by the “defense of democracy” appeal (perhaps because they’re sick of generations of fruitless pandering and frankly no longer give a crap about “disenfranchising” persons who those rednecks view as a net drain on society) well, we’ll do the same to a bunch of their own and see if they can be so high and mighty then!

    1. Tierlieb

      You are one cynical person. I like it.

      I’ll try to add more of that cynicism: So, a group of people sabotages the electronic voting process and

      a) … nobody notices. The appropriate amount of votes is counted, about 52% voter participation is noted and a president is elected. As usual, it is close, but unambiguous. A group of strange people later claiming on TV to have sabotaged the voting process is send to mental hospitals, as that obviously had not happened at all. They are later joined by a few high voltage electricians that claim the same. The story becomes a famous conspiracy theory similar to the JFK assassination.

      b) …and no president is elected. The whole election process is stopped. The same IT experts that gave you Obamacare (a bit late, with a little help from their friends) promise to rebuild it, better, faster and more secure and fail (as expected). The People then decide to prove American superiority again, this time by beating Belgium and Iraq for longest number of days without a government. And people who were considering to vote for either Ebola or the Sweet Meteor O’Death rejoice.

  19. Phelps

    Option #6: It was a contract electrician who specializes in replacing transformers who needed work.

    Never discount the craven chase for money. For wildfire investigators, when they find arson, the first place they look is in the local volunteer firefighters. Those guys only get paid when they are fighting fires, and if there is someone on the force who needs cash badly, going out and setting a few innocent grass fires is a good way to get quick cash.

  20. James

    Need to find out what caliber was used. If it was a .338, .458, .50 etc then it most definitely was a professional job and NOT vandalism or kids.

    The fact they hit it in the same vulnerable spot 3X also screams that it wasn’t and act of random vandalism.

    At least most of us Ew-tahns have a year’s supply of food storage in the basement for an apocalyptic loss of the power grid, heh, heh.

  21. JohnMc

    For a rifle attack to be successful one must see the target. Metal paneling would seem to be the solution to that problem. Nor is it that big a deal. Fracking crews erect metal paneling two stories high in about 3 days here in texas. Now that does not stop a determined team who bring a means of forced entry but it would seem to deter the lone wolf style attack.

    1. Cowboy Dan

      John, ammmunition is relatively cheap.

      Shooting UP and watching the landings might let you learn to do damage without a sight line. A few mag dumps in the air will put SOME lead into a sensitive area if you pay attention to what’s happening downrange and can be done in just a couple of minutes.

      One could do it and split before the first call got in to 9-1-1.

  22. Old Whore

    Comments regarding the comments:

    I agree that most terrs have a particular MO. But, given there are 200-300 million jihadis in the world, there are undoubtedly some at the extremes of the bell curve. One cannot lump them all together. There are also some states in the ME that have somewhat professional intel services – and they might very well take this approach to prepare for the destabilization of the great satan.

    I cannot see either the Russians or Chinese doing this even under a false flag operation. If the op got out of hand a destabilized U.S. would pose extreme and unpredictable risks on a variety of levels.

    Several shots on target argues against some bubba out plinking.

    These are all suppositions of course, but my money would be on Iran – given what little information is available for analysis.

    They need to build cement walls around these substations – and critical substations need the presence of guard and reaction forces similar to what the nuke plants employ. Major transformers and other critical components need to be armored.

    Yes other parts of the system are vulnerable, but not critically so, i.e., spare parts are readily available. Dams, substations and other critical nodes need to be protected.

    1. John M.

      I could see the Russians or the Chinese doing this to probe the response. I agree that an unstable U.S. would be bad for them given the current state of the global chessboard, but both Russia and China have ambitions in the world that may come askew of Washington’s goals. In the event of a shooting war against a foe with a (theoretically) superior military, reducing the electrical infrastructure of the foe’s homeland to sparking rubble would be an excellent checkmate. Having performed a trial run makes that move much easier to sell to the man in charge.

      -John M.

  23. staghounds

    State enemies- and allies- may not have done this, but they are monitoring our reactions to these events, crashing airplanes into buildings, pipeline closures, mass shootings, tornadoes, racial turmoil, and everything else. The GWOT is a great laboratory, and we are the rats.

    And isn’t it interesting, this is how we react when the events are well separated in time and space.

    ALL our transmission systems- electricity, water, petroleum, food, rail, highway, people- are laughably vulnerable to attacks from anything from a man with a rifle to three people with a pickup truck. Fifty SF soldiers, or for that matter fifty educated, motivated, and trained people with a nationwide plan and decent English language skills, could royally foul this country up. A thousand? And we’d finish the job ourselves, as we tore at each other in desperation and hate.

    We have almost no reserves of anything most places, none at all in big cities. A week without water in Los Angeles, food in New York, or electricity in Chicago would lead to real riots. Not the Rodney King or Watts kind, but the ones where a couple of hundred thousand people decide to go and get what they think others have.

    You know what it’s like to be really thirsty, and how little time that takes. How hard real cold and heat are on young men’s grandparents, and hunger on their babies. Those riots would be suppressed. And then more riots because of the suppression.

    If I were an enemy State, or an insurgent boss, a coordinated, nationwide, simultaneous cross-system infrastructure attack focussing on destroying difficult-to-replace node items is what I’d do. The only weapons you’d need are rifles, pickups, steel cables, and drums of waste oil.

    And our masters are doing NOTHING to prepare for it, or to prepare us for it. Instead of aircraft carriers and F-35s, we need to be working on this. If for no other reason that nuking China wouldn’t repair the defeat.

  24. ratchet

    I have not followed this closely but the Bear Ears National Monument is nearby and has many locals upset. It may just be anger by a Navajo or other local on one side or the other.

    Police are always alert to humint penetration of an investigation. Be very cautious.

    I know zero about power transformers. Would 1+ holes high on the oil reservoir and 1+ holes low down prevent a glug, glug slow flow? Air in the top and oil out the bottom seems better to me.

    Another power attack at the opposite end of the state: http://www.inquisitr.com/1302526/arizona-power-grid-attacked/

    A big transformer died of natural causes near Phoenix so long ago I don’t remember the decade. But months later when the replacement was built, the transport of it was big news. Breathless media reports, the whole deal. Rail loaded, maybe oversize. Transport was a big production. If someone is inclined to destroy the replacement, that could be really annoying.

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  26. 6pounder

    That’s very worrisome. No doubt an extended power outage in any part of the country would lead to much misery and could cause a snowball. The grid is probably our biggest weakness.

  27. Quill_&_Blade

    Very interesting comments. The blog is populated by the best…and some other visitors. A couple thoughts: maybe our gov has already received a note from the perps, and they’re working on a response. Also, this is probably marginally related; for years the FRA (they are to railroads what the FAA is to planes) has mandated bullet proof glass on all locomotives. It’s called FRA Glazing. I can only guess why, maybe bored guys like to play “shoot the eyes of the snake”?

    1. Tierlieb

      Well, “bullet-proof” glass is shatter-proof, too. Most glass manufacturers use levels similar to STANAG 4569 anyway. If you ever have to clean up after a train collision of any kind, you will find that a lot of things become projectiles if hit at 100mph or more. I have a friend who keeps a gas tank lid that he dug out of a tree after a train-car collision.

      1. Mike_C

        >I have a friend who keeps a gas tank lid that he dug out of a tree
        Hah! I know of an endocrinologist who has a collection of things he has taken out of the feet of severe diabetics (things the patient didn’t know was embedded in the foot, that is!). The centerpiece of his collection is a beer-bottle cap. (Uncontrolled diabetes –> peripheral neuropathy –> stepping on nasty pointy things and not knowing it. The common comorbidity of poor circulation [PAD], is just the icing on top of the cupcake of poor healing even after the thing in question has been removed.)

        >And that is why I call power outages “annoying”, not terrifying. Because that is how people treat them. As I said before, fear is independent of the actual damage caused.
        Indeed. My gut reaction was “you can’t terrorize the stupid” but that’s not fair to the French, who are not stupid. But you can’t terrorize the willfully unaware, that’s for sure.

    2. Hognose Post author

      Young delinquents in the 70s were trying to smash locomotive windshields with rocks from bridges. I think that might be behind FRA glazing.

      I recall some insurance losses due to asshats with rifles shooting at train cars transporting automobiles.

  28. Howard

    Those transformers take almost a year to build. Taken out this way there is no fallout. This way of taking a power plant (even nuclear) is nothing new. The military was teaching it in the early ’60’s , if not earlier.

  29. Phil

    For those with malicious intent, it would take less than a day’s Internet – aided research to develop a highly effective strategy to disrupt power transmission over significant areas. Transformer systems may be the “most visible” infrastructure, but there are plenty of other elements in the Distribution infrastructure suite that, whilst less “attractive” are nevertheless absolutely essential. Degradation (or elimination) of system sensing equipment, and switching equipment would be just as effective as damaging transformers, and probably easier. The current trend towards SF6 insulated suspended HV switches is a case in point – they have to be insulated, cannot be (effectively) armoured, and are a very visible, very “easy” target with long-enough replacement times, especially if a few were to be rendered useless. – http://en.el-insta.cz/w/elinsta/cache/live-tank-circuit-breaker-for-550-kv_1600x900ms.jpg

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  31. Mostly Cajun

    I do transformers for a living. I’ve worked for one of the whopping big electrical utilities.

    Fact: Most transformers are oil-filled and air-cooled. Only a few of them are set up to trip off on low oil level to insure safety. The cooling effect engages the use of large radiators made of metal only a bit thicker than a car body. It’s doesn’t require an elephant gun to pierce those. Rimfire might not, but 5.56 or 7.62×39 certainly will. The oil will drain out onto the ground. there will be alarms. The transformer will be taken off line for repairs IF it doesn’t leak down enough to overheat and fault.

    Big transformers, the one with six-foot tall bushings on top, are, as previously stated, hard to move, repair or replace. Even the oil is a specialty product. Having to replace tens of thousand of gallons due to a concerted effort would be a problem.

    A group could easily draw a circle around a major city, hit a dozen substations, and have electricity in that city seriously curtailed.

  32. Simon

    Yes, just what I was thinking. I also work in production on transformer housings. The radiators are generally 1 mm steel sheet, some are 1.2 mm, but most people do not want to spend the extra money. A cordless electric drill would make short work of them relatively quietly.

  33. Bill Jones

    “Kids acting out;
    An actual enemy’s shakedown run to test feasibility of this approach;
    An actual enemy’s confidence target prepatory to a serious campaign against the grid;
    An actual enemy’s perturbation of the system, to enable him to study the response;
    A follow-up to the 2013 transformer attack by the same guy(s). Serial killer(s) of transformers?”

    And the most likely one is missing

    One more false flag op designed to increase the power of the state. Just like all the “terrorist” attacks.


  34. Old Whore

    I do not know Robert David Steele. I very much doubt he was ever a case officer. As a former clandestine Clown (Clowns in Action!) I can state definitely he is full of crap. Yeesh.

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