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Hearing Shows How 'Military-Style' Raid On Calif. Power Station Spooks U.S.

timothy posted about 8 months ago | from the what-was-bruce-schneier-doing-that-evening dept.

Power 396

Lasrick writes "Interesting piece about April's physical attack on a power station near San Jose, California, that now looks like a dress rehearsal for future attacks: Quote: 'When U.S. officials warn about "attacks" on electric power facilities these days, the first thing that comes to mind is probably a computer hacker trying to shut the lights off in a city with malware. But a more traditional attack on a power station in California has U.S. officials puzzled and worried about the physical security of the the electrical grid--from attackers who come in with guns blazing.'"

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first shot (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45809199)

The second ammendment means that we have to sell terrorists high powered assault rifles.

Re:first shot (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45809243)

I don't know what is scarier, selling guns to terrorists or the lunatic white people that already own them.

Re:first shot (2)

anubi (640541) | about 8 months ago | (#45809279)

I just RTFA'd. Scared the hell out of me when I considered the ramifications of a co-ordinated attack,

Made me wonder if I would be justified in taking out anyone I saw trying to attempt such a thing.

( Of course, I guess even thinking that makes me one of the types who our government seems to believe should not have access to the means to do so. )

Its not like spares for those big transformers are laying around all over... those things were manufactured to order.

Re:first shot (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45809329)

But solar energy is bad and must be combated. Reliance on the grid FTW.

Re:first shot (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45809343)

I just RTFA'd. Scared the hell out of me when I considered the ramifications of a co-ordinated attack,

Made me wonder if I would be justified in taking out anyone I saw trying to attempt such a thing.

Who the fuck made you judge, jury, and executioner? So-called "self defense" laws in the US need some serious reigning in because of whack jobs like you.

Re:first shot (4, Insightful)

Immerman (2627577) | about 8 months ago | (#45809491)

>Who the fuck made you judge, jury, and executioner?

The guy who is continuing to use deadly force within my sphere of influence. Or are you one of those people that feel that paying your taxes to fund the police (whose job is explicitly to reduce crime, not protect individuals) gives you complete moral amnesty to the implications of walking away from a rape/mugging/etc in progress?

Or maybe you think we should sit down and talk to the guy firing an assault rifle over a nice cup of tea? Sure I'd prefer to live in that universe too, but back in reality... ... and of course now that I actually skim TFA in this particular case it sounds like things are a lot less clear cut - a potential sabotage operation rather than the Military-style raid touted in the headline, which makes alerting the proper authorities and, if you're feeling lucky, perhaps monitoring or restraining the suspects a much more justifiable course of action.

Re:first shot (2)

jd2112 (1535857) | about 8 months ago | (#45809585)

Or maybe you think we should sit down and talk to the guy firing an assault rifle over a nice cup of tea?

Sounds like a good idea. Just let me build up a tolerance to iocane powder first.

Re:first shot (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45809541)

Who the fuck made you judge, jury, and executioner? So-called "self defense" laws in the US need some serious reigning in because of whack jobs like you.

i guess the same people that made you judge, jury, and executioner of him and US 'self defense' laws.

Re:first shot (4, Insightful)

maliqua (1316471) | about 8 months ago | (#45809387)

I just RTFA'd. Scared the hell out of me when I considered the ramifications of a co-ordinated attack,

good then they achieved there goal lets remove more civil liberties while your still scared for something absurdly unlikely to actually happen

Re:first shot (1)

maliqua (1316471) | about 8 months ago | (#45809391)

again*

i fail at proof reading my posts

Re:first shot (1)

fnj (64210) | about 8 months ago | (#45809525)

Nice save.

Re:first shot (2)

dbraden (214956) | about 8 months ago | (#45809605)

Nah, not really. "Their," not "there." "Let's," not "lets." "You're," not "your." ;)

Re:first shot (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45809395)

I'm imagining the following scenario: Joe's carrying his trombone case out to the woods to do some practicing. He crosses a power line strip. anubi happens to catch sight of him and immediately jumps to the conclusion that he's a terrorist, and shoots him with his assault rifle. "But he looked like a terrorist!"

Re:first shot (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45809411)

approximately 2 342 983 times more likely to happen than stopping an actual terrorist attack on the plant...

Re:first shot (3, Insightful)

Rich0 (548339) | about 8 months ago | (#45809495)

I just RTFA'd. Scared the hell out of me when I considered the ramifications of a co-ordinated attack,

I remember reading an article about this sort of doomsday scenario back in the 80s. You don't even need a big army to attack these substations/etc. All you need is some guys with rifles to hit a whole bunch at the same time. Just shoot the insulators on the high-voltage lines and watch the whole thing go up in a shower of sparks. If you want to use 50 cal rifles and shoot up the transformers you could of course do so - the last time I drove past a substation they didn't exactly have guards on ready alert, so you could take shots at the thing for half an hour before the police showed up most likely.

For the billions of dollars we spend on bombers you'd think that somebody could stockpile a bunch of spare transformers and standardize the substation designs.

Re:first shot (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45809535)

I just RTFA'd. Scared the hell out of me when I considered the ramifications of a co-ordinated attack,

I remember reading an article about this sort of doomsday scenario back in the 80s. You don't even need a big army to attack these substations/etc. All you need is some guys with rifles to hit a whole bunch at the same time. Just shoot the insulators on the high-voltage lines and watch the whole thing go up in a shower of sparks. If you want to use 50 cal rifles and shoot up the transformers you could of course do so - the last time I drove past a substation they didn't exactly have guards on ready alert, so you could take shots at the thing for half an hour before the police showed up most likely.

For the billions of dollars we spend on bombers you'd think that somebody could stockpile a bunch of spare transformers and standardize the substation designs.

Naaw, just have the NSA capture more of grandma's e-mail. That's a sure way to find out who the terrorists are.

Re:first shot (0)

sycodon (149926) | about 8 months ago | (#45809569)

"Initially, the attack was being treated as vandalism and handled by local law enforcement,"

Because we know a terrorist attack is impossible. Obama killed Bin Laden.

Re:first shot (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45809607)

Try not to let everything scare the hell out of you.

Something that baffles me about Americans is they all go on about how free they are, and how much they value their freedoms, and then at the drop of a pin, they get the hell scared out of them and they run begging the government to keep them safe. By packing them in cotton wool and monitoring every move they make. To protect their freedoms.

Re:first shot (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45809293)

Maybe we should do like Venezuela and enact a global gun ban. Since the past year when firearm ownership was completely removed from the unwashed masses, violent crime is 1/1000 what it was before. One can easily read the before and after in the paper.

The fewer guns on the streets, the less likely an attack like this happening. Yes, people will complain about criminals having them, but the police doing their job means that criminals with firearms turn into inmates serving hard time, and eventually this hazard should cease to be a nationwide blight.

The carnage at Sandy Hook shows that guns should not be in the hands of citizens, period.

Re:first shot (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45809323)

Sounds good to me

Re:first shot (2)

maliqua (1316471) | about 8 months ago | (#45809393)

then they'd just use swords or crudely made home made guns or illegally acquired ones people with bad intentions will always find a way to get the tools they require

RE: Venezuela gun ban (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45809409)

a 1/1000 drop? Umm, that didn't happen.
Even the Venezuela government didn't claim that.

http://www.insightcrime.org/news-briefs/venezuela-govt-claims-homicides-down-30-percent-really

Re:first shot (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45809439)

Your post makes many assumptions, which doesn't help. There is no good black and white stance on anything. The question is, how dark should the grey be for the best ROI.

The US is huge. We have very large swaths of land that people can just go out to and mind their own business hunting if they feel like it. Sensationalism maybe up, but deaths by firearms is down, even with the "tragic" events like Sandy Hook. Such events are caused by a failure of the social safety net. If you want to get rid of things like medicare and social security, worse things will happen by people that have no where left to go or want to get revenge on the failures of society. The shooter in the terrible Sandy Hook incident has had a well known psychological problem. Wounds of the mind and spirit slip through the system, because we can't gauge them at sight. They are the problems that need resolution and litigation to help heal.

The only thing that outlawing of guns would do, would be to lower the suicide rate. It would stop people from killing themselves when they aren't serious enough to take other routes which many will, and their deaths or survival will be that much more painful. This also falls back on treating mental ills. The cause is important, not the result.

Failure to keep guns away from kids is a failure and fault of the parents. I think losing their kid is more than enough punishment for that crime on society.

Re:first shot (3, Insightful)

Immerman (2627577) | about 8 months ago | (#45809555)

And the long history of eventual rampant abuses of authority by pretty much every government, ever, shows that the authorities cannot be trusted as the sole bearers of the tools of violence.

So we have a bit of a conundrum on our hands. As ever the question is "What price, freedom?" Our ancestors have time and again joined their children in fighting off oppression, and time and again they have died by the thousands to do so. And certainly anyone who has been paying attention can't deny that there have been some very worrying trends in government as of late - is now really the time to discuss disarming ourselves? How about we hold off on the discussion until we get our government back under our control again?

The real question is how many children's lives is it worth to give the rest a fighting chance the next time we must take our masters by the throat and force them to grant us a measure of respect? Because whether it's tomorrow or a few centuries from now that day is coming, and a lot of our children will die. The choice is only if it's mostly dribs and drabs today due to pointless accidents and acts of violence, or in great waves of massacre when they can no longer endure the lash upon their back and have no effective way to resist.

STFU (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45809313)

You both are idiots.

No comments? (1)

o_ferguson (836655) | about 8 months ago | (#45809211)

Damn, now I gotta RTFA.

Re:No comments? (4, Interesting)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | about 8 months ago | (#45809265)

It's just that thin veneer of civilization. A determined force can cripple the infrastructure, up close and personal, in pretty short order. You simply cannot secure all the infrastructure in this country. There are people who do little more than train themselves on methods to destroy stuff, and to kill people. Most nations maintain armies of men and women dedicated to that purpose. It shouldn't be surprising that not all people with a destructive bent are in the military.

It is noteworthy that only two men were involved here. A squad, or a platoon, or a company of men with a mission could really wreak havoc. At least these guys weren't intent on gaining physical access to a generating plant, where they may have killed any number of people.

Re:No comments? (2)

o_ferguson (836655) | about 8 months ago | (#45809291)

I once knew and engineer. He said "There are two type of engineering: Building things up, and blowing things down."

Re:No comments? (1)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about 8 months ago | (#45809347)

It is noteworthy that only two men were involved here.

There is no credible evidence that two people were involved. It was most likely just a single nut.

A squad, or a platoon, or a company of men with a mission could really wreak havoc.

They could cause even more havoc if they had a thermonuclear weapon and a Romulan Cloaking Device. That is just as realistic. How often do you encounter a platoon of enemy soldiers in the middle of America?

Re:No comments? (3, Insightful)

ElectricTurtle (1171201) | about 8 months ago | (#45809451)

Several teams of terrorists hijacked four different planes on the same day, and that was when the internet wasn't even really involved. It's only a matter of time before somebody organizes a hostile flash mob, though I doubt something as intelligent as utility infrastructure will be the first target. It will probably be some political flashpoint.

Re:No comments? (2)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about 8 months ago | (#45809507)

Several teams of terrorists hijacked four different planes on the same day

That took years of planning and preparation, and they all died in the process. That would be a high price to pay to cause as much damage as a snowstorm. Power plants go off-line all the time. This would not be a civilization ending event, or even another 9/11. I really don't think we need to worry too much about armies of terrorists attacking our power plants.

Re:No comments? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45809563)

How often do you encounter a platoon of enemy soldiers in the middle of America?

Seldom, if ever. So far. Things may be different after we import a few million muslims whose only goal is to kill non-muslims.

Re:No comments? (3, Insightful)

TheloniousToady (3343045) | about 8 months ago | (#45809437)

You simply cannot secure all the infrastructure in this country.

I dunno...rather than just roll over and play dead on this one, let's spend a trillion dollars on a pilot program and find out. ;-)

Re:No comments? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45809627)

Is it a matter of security? Are you arrogant enough to think if terrorism existed in the US this stuff would have been going on or happening long before 9/11? Citizens continue this ignorant attitude that terrorists are caveman, they have no idea how to think or how the US government and its "homeland security" works.

Re:No comments? (5, Insightful)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about 8 months ago | (#45809281)

Damn, now I gotta RTFA.

Here is a quick summary: Someone with a rifle can cause damage to infrastructure. Although in practice, this almost never happens, we should nonetheless pretend it is a real problem, identify all the millions of potential rifle targets, and spend billions to make them all bulletproof.

Re:No comments? (1)

o_ferguson (836655) | about 8 months ago | (#45809319)

Exactly. And that's how the Slashdot summary should read. It shouldn't just be a dead copy of the article's lead with a hyperlink.

Re:No comments? (5, Insightful)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 8 months ago | (#45809497)

We should especially be wary of Congressmen who think that one or two people with rifles constitute "an unprecedented and sophisticated attack on an electric grid substation with military-style weapons" and chairmen of major regulatory bodies who believe someone 'could get 200 yards away with a .22 rifle and take the whole thing out (referring to said substation or similar infrastructure).

We should be especially wary of such 'public servants' who basically want to keep the Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt going strong in the American public. Such people tend not to be interested in solving the problem (and it is a problem, just not the End of Civilization) in a rational and effective fashion. Such people are more interested in creating an environment that justifies overarching 'solutions' that expand the bottom line of certain companies and / or institutions that these blowhards are inevitably associated with.

Follow the money, follow the fear.

Something used before... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45809215)

Seems pre-planned? Seems remarkably easy to do?

Seems like something that would require a massive new security apparatus to police.

A couple things about TFA (4, Interesting)

istartedi (132515) | about 8 months ago | (#45809225)

First, unless I got the wrong link it's no surprise the video didn't help further the investigation. All you see on it are some flashes of light that are sparks and/or muzzle flashes, and maybe some shadowy figures. Oh wait, I just need to zoom in and keep hitting "enhance" and I'll get their faces.

Second, at the end of TFA they compare the cost of armoring transformers at one station with the entire cyber-security budget. How about an apples-to-apples comparison, like, you know... one involving the cost of armoring transformers at all the stations?

Re:A couple things about TFA (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45809249)

The best approach is to deal with the motivations of terrorists. Find out what they want, why they want it, and persuade them that violence is not the best way to get it.

Re: A couple things about TFA (1)

Tablizer (95088) | about 8 months ago | (#45809295)

They often want chaos. How do you convince anarchists that chaos is bad?

Re: A couple things about TFA (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45809327)

Anarchists want an end to use of violence to get what you want. Rule is based on violence. It is an end goal of reducing the role of violence in our lives that clearly can't suddenly happen under the current circumstances.

Re: A couple things about TFA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45809613)

Yet any time anarchists participate in protests and demonstrations, they're usually on the front lines causing violence and destruction.

Re: A couple things about TFA (3, Insightful)

pla (258480) | about 8 months ago | (#45809389)

They often want chaos. How do you convince anarchists that chaos is bad?

Although we certainly have enemies that just want to give us a papercut at any expense, most terrorists do not count as mere anarchists. They hate us for usually-pretty-valid reasons (even if we can't say the same for their methods).

Also, anarchists don't want "chaos". They want a lack of (or at least minimal-needed-to-keep-us-from-killing-each-other) government. Huge difference. One amounts to a comic book villain; the other considers what we have to keep us in check as slightly worse than having nothing at all.

Re: A couple things about TFA (-1, Troll)

SuperKendall (25149) | about 8 months ago | (#45809519)

They hate us for usually-pretty-valid reasons

All islamic terrorists - therefore pretty much all of the violent ones - hate us for not being Muslim, full stop.

How is that a "pretty valid reason"?

Any other reason they claim to hate us for doesn't ever stop the hate when we address it.

Re: A couple things about TFA (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45809559)

It is as valid to a person with a strict interpretation of Islam as being anti-gay marriage is to Christianity or unrelenting pacifism to a Buddhist.

Re: A couple things about TFA (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45809603)

I know that the party line is that they hate us for not being muslim, and I'm sure they exploit religion in their recruitment efforts to the fullest extent that they can. But can you seriously not think of any other reason why they might be upset with us? We tear down legitimate democratic governments, support regional asshats (sometimes genocidal), arm Israel despite the fact that they seem to take such delight in persecuting innocent Palestinians (guilty ones too, but that's justifiable), we cause massive collateral damage which we then pretend isn't collateral damage (redefining "terrorist" to include anyone we wound who is male and over 10, or whatever the age was), etc.

Osama's stated goal with 9/11 was to get us out of the Middle East by precipitating our economic collapse.

> Any other reason they claim to hate us for doesn't ever stop the hate when we address it.

When did we ever "address" any of the legitimate reasons I gave? If Iran sent a drone and bombed a US wedding, would you be satisfied with a few kind words from Ahmadinejad followed by a legal declaration that the bombing was somehow our fault because the wedding guests were terrorists (due to the fact that they were bombed, because Iran only bombs terrorists...)?

Re: A couple things about TFA (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45809623)

>If Canada sent a drone and bombed a US wedding
If we were allowing violent Quebecois Liberation groups to build bases and perform cross border raids...

Iran is a bad example because they are anti-Al Qaeda and would probably support the US war on extreme sunni islam. Also, Ahmadinejad isn't president anymore.

Re: A couple things about TFA (1)

pepty (1976012) | about 8 months ago | (#45809503)

How many terrorist attacks which caused deaths or at least millions of dollars in damages in the US in the past 30 years were committed by anarchists?

Re:A couple things about TFA (3, Insightful)

phantomfive (622387) | about 8 months ago | (#45809465)

The best approach is to deal with the motivations of terrorists. Find out what they want, why they want it, and persuade them that violence is not the best way to get it.

OK, let's try that method with Osama Bin Ladin.

His goal was in brief to become a Caliph over all the muslim world, instigate a fight between the believers and non-believers, and then beat down the non-believers. (one source [theage.com.au] ).

How exactly do you persuade him that violence is not the best way to get that goal? I am really interested in hearing what you have to say.

Yawns. (5, Funny)

MobSwatter (2884921) | about 8 months ago | (#45809227)

[Puts candles on grocery list]

Re:Yawns. (1)

jd (1658) | about 8 months ago | (#45809345)

Scented or unscented? Basic or self-relighting? With or without wax skulls carved on the outside?

These are important decisions!

Re:Yawns. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45809435)

Scented ... to help cover the smell of cordite and corpses.

amateurs (1)

confused one (671304) | about 8 months ago | (#45809229)

Congressional members, regulators and even the "terrorists", amateurs all.

Re:amateurs (1)

MobSwatter (2884921) | about 8 months ago | (#45809377)

Good thing it's not the boogyman, now that would be scary.

Re:amateurs (2)

confused one (671304) | about 8 months ago | (#45809487)

I don't care about the boogyman either. He's just in it for the scare. Or perhaps the good representative from California should be given that title. I also get annoyed at the descriptions: "hi-powered rifle" fits any modern rifle big enough to hunt deer. A 7.62x39 (SK and AK ammo, one of the most common in the world) is a relatively tame round, roughly equivalent to a 120 year old .30-30 in terms of muzzle energy. "military style weapon" fits any rifle with a capacity > 3 rounds, an adjustable stock or pistol grip stock and mounting points for accessories, like scopes and flashlights. That loosely fits the description of my deer gun, a shotgun with a slug barrel.

I don't get concerned until there's a real effort by someone who clearly knows wtf they're doing. This looked then, and now, more like someone with a grudge (think ex-employee) trying to cause trouble by cutting a bunch of semi-random phone lines running past the station, then firing a rifle at the transformers. If this was really what is being implied in the article (assuming some reasonably sound intelligence indicates it to be so) my description -- they're a bunch of rank amateurs -- stands. These folks need to stop needlessly scaring people.

Terrorism or power play (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45809231)

Enron showed you can make a lot of money by manipulating commodities that are traded. The quiet 911 problem was money raised by shorting airline stock. Attacks on infrastructure might be terrorism, might be market plays or might be both.

Re:Terrorism or power play (1)

MobSwatter (2884921) | about 8 months ago | (#45809413)

SHHH, they aren't done with the fear mongering part yet!

STILL worried about "cyber attacks"? (2)

whoever57 (658626) | about 8 months ago | (#45809239)

What is it about the threat of "cyber attacks" that makes people so worried about them? Even in the face of evidence that physical attacks can be successful and easy?

Re:STILL worried about "cyber attacks"? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45809357)

What is it about the threat of "cyber attacks" that makes people so worried about them? Even in the face of evidence that physical attacks can be successful and easy?

"you always fear what you don't understand" -- Carmine Falcone

Re:STILL worried about "cyber attacks"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45809371)

Even in the face of evidence that physical attacks can be successful and easy?

Simple. Physical violence is something everyone understands.

Cyber-wizardry is scary and we must burn the witches.

Re:STILL worried about "cyber attacks"? (1)

maliqua (1316471) | about 8 months ago | (#45809405)

violent attacks require much more commitment since the a highly probably outcome is dying. a botched cyber attack results in trials and comfy first world prisons likely in min or medium security with visitation

IANAT (terrorist) (5, Insightful)

paiute (550198) | about 8 months ago | (#45809247)

But if I were, I wouldn't run a test of my method using live fire to get my target all forewarned.

But if I were a bored teenager who thinks he is an anarchist, I could go out one night with my .30-06 and hole a few transformers just to watch the man overreact.

Re:IANAT (terrorist) (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45809373)

But if I were a bored teenager who thinks he is an anarchist, I could go out one night with my .30-06 and hole a few transformers just to watch the man overreact.

Do it, faggot!

Re:IANAT (terrorist) (5, Insightful)

Wonko the Sane (25252) | about 8 months ago | (#45809415)

If you were a business looking to make money on selling security equipment to power companies, or if you were an up-and-coming policitial player looking for a reason to start a new agency you can be the head of, you'd do the same thing.

Re:IANAT (terrorist) (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45809575)

If you were a business looking to make money on selling security equipment to power companies, or if you were an up-and-coming policitial player looking for a reason to start a new agency you can be the head of, you'd do the same thing.

No, in those cases you'd indirectly hire an idiot to do it for you. There are plenty available willing to work cheap.

Re:IANAT (terrorist) (4, Informative)

ElectricTurtle (1171201) | about 8 months ago | (#45809489)

Actually, if you were serious about acting against a particular target, then finding out the methods, timing, degree, and flexibility of their response is indeed important, especially if your own resources are particularly limited or if the location is inimical to withdrawal (which actually could be used for a secondary attack against responders, depending on the outcome of the "test" attack). These sorts of things are not nearly so straightforward or intuitive as you imagine. They're not called "strategy" and "tactics" without a reason.

What, the NSA couldn't stop this? (4, Funny)

TerminaMorte (729622) | about 8 months ago | (#45809269)

Good job guys

Re:What, the NSA couldn't stop this? (1)

TheGratefulNet (143330) | about 8 months ago | (#45809629)

they *were* listening to the power grid. but after a few hours of 60.0hz, they got bored and changed the channel.

can't blame them, can you?

Bullshit (1, Insightful)

Frosty Piss (770223) | about 8 months ago | (#45809303)

Around 1:00 AM on April 16, at least one individual (possibly two) entered two different manholes at the PG&E Metcalf power substation, southeast of San Jose, and cut fiber cables in the area around the substation. That knocked out some local 911 services, landline service to the substation, and cell phone service in the area, a senior U.S. intelligence official told Foreign Policy. The intruder(s) then fired more than 100 rounds from what two officials described as a high-powered rifle at several transformers in the facility. Ten transformers were damaged in one area of the facility, and three transformer banks -- or groups of transformers -- were hit in another, according to a PG&E spokesman.

Sounds a lot like some whacked out off-duty "Law Enforcement Officer" trying to scare us as more and more people get fed up with the current Police State and are trying to "dial back" the Fear Mongers.

"Initially, the attack was being treated as vandalism and handled by local law enforcement," the senior intelligence official said. "However, investigators have been quoted in the press expressing opinions that there are indications that the timing of the attacks and target selection indicate a higher level of planning and sophistication."

Of course! That these folks didn't try this at high noon on a week day proved they were TERRORISTS RUNNING A PLAN! Of course it does. And "target selection"? Seriously, if you're going to shoot up a power station in the middle of the night (or any time really) what would you aim at? Yup, power transformers. Big targets, easy to hit. NO FUCKING SHIT, SHERLOCK!

I know the solution to this: A multi-million dollar security system made by Raytheon... And more expensive toys for the local "LE" folks...

Re:Bullshit (1)

AHuxley (892839) | about 8 months ago | (#45809383)

Its an interesting change from past issues under "self-assessment". In the past a few lobbying efforts against the need for 'extra' security due to rising costs of having to pay for a federally set quota of skilled security professionals on site over all shifts.
Over the lifetime of any site that cost adds up.
Now it seems the lobbying efforts for a federally set quota of skilled security professionals on 'all' sites has gained more cashed up political traction.
Think of the cash for background investigations of all the staff via the private sector.
New psychological testing of all the staff via the private sector.
Long term observation of all the staff via the private sector :)
Testing of all the new security staff... then the cash for longterm 'courses'

Re:Bullshit (3, Insightful)

jd (1658) | about 8 months ago | (#45809401)

If so, it might backfire. The NSA weren't able to prevent the attack, and if law enforcement are baffled then clearly the NSA have nothing that can identify the attackers. One genuine attack and one possible attack, nothing the existing system could do before, during or after. Fifty claims about things the NSA freely admit were fiction - well, those remain fiction.

Fifty claims that can be legitimately called false positives and one, maybe two false negatives. If you were running a company and one of your employees screwed up major decisions 51-52 times in succession, you'd probably fire them. From a canon on the top floor.

In this case, I'd argue the intelligence services and crime units have proven themselves unfit for purpose, and that the power company is too negligent on providing robust, fault-tolerant services and should have their business license withdrawn.

Re:Bullshit (1)

Frosty Piss (770223) | about 8 months ago | (#45809501)

In this case, I'd argue the intelligence services and crime units have proven themselves unfit for purpose, and that the power company is too negligent on providing robust, fault-tolerant services and should have their business license withdrawn.

The problem is that they will use this failure as an excuse to ramp up even more surveillance and unchecked spending for high-tech toys.

Sad, really quite sad... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45809521)

...that there are so many reactionary Right-Wingers on Slashdot now that the parent is modded "flamebait".

Guns vs Thermite (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45809317)

Shooting up a transformer? Seriously? Haven't these guys heard of thermite? You can just go to a high voltage tower and melt the legs with thermite.

This? Again? (5, Interesting)

jd (1658) | about 8 months ago | (#45809335)

We've known the US has crappy infrastructure since, well, as close to forever as matters in America.

Attacks on a power station or substation would be immaterial if the grid was a grid, redundancy was built into the system, and getting things done was a higher priority than ego strokes and profit margins. (Yeah, heresy, I know.)

The moment you deliberately create single points of failure is the moment you hand out invites to nutcases, lunatics, wannabe cowboys and the rest of the US security infrastructure*. The moment you make such violence nothing more than a public nuisance, something not even worth a writeup in the local paper, is the moment it stops being interesting for the fringe groups to do.

*Yes, the local crackhead with the M16 and armoured personnel carrier is the "militia" the Constitution speaketh of. They are part of the national defence system. Due to two major wars inflicting a massive drain on reserves and an exceptional loss of forces due to PTSD and injuries, said crackheads form an increasingly large part of the regular forces, police and intelligence services. Frankly, I'd be far more concerned about a coup from within than a bunch of moonshine-laden rednecks who have watched too many Dukes of Hazard episodes.

Of course, given the NSA can dictate terms to the President, Congress and Federal judges, the coup might have already happened. Would you notice if it had? Would you care?

Re:This? Again? (3, Interesting)

VortexCortex (1117377) | about 8 months ago | (#45809385)

the coup might have already happened. Would you notice if it had? Would you care?

Yes, and yes. [wikipedia.org]
Whether I would have the power to do anything about it is an altogether different matter.
Rallying support would require some huge screw-up, for instance: If someone leaked the details about what Room 641A is for. [wikipedia.org]

Likelihood -- ? (2)

evil_aaronm (671521) | about 8 months ago | (#45809351)

What's the likelihood that something like this will happen? Are we to fear China sending a crack team of commandos to disable our power grid? Someone could knock down high-tension power lines, too. Do we fence off every last one of those?

Re:Likelihood -- ? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45809423)

Yeah, it's not like it's easy to get guns in America.

Re:Likelihood -- ? (1)

AHuxley (892839) | about 8 months ago | (#45809449)

China has the entrepreneurial skill and cash to:
Buy the site, bring it up to state and federal standards and correctly spread the costs and lucrative profits over years of local usage.
Teams of commandos are usually tracked by the DIA, CIA and many others :)
The FBI has fully infiltrated all domestic groups...
The main fear is that there is federal and state security cash on the table and new/old domestic/"US" created foreign owned front companies/security firms fear missing out.

Cinder-block walls around transformers. (4, Informative)

Animats (122034) | about 8 months ago | (#45809355)

Building cinder-block walls around transformers in the transmission power grid might not be a bad idea. Cheap, and if concrete-filled, will stop most ammo. After a decade of anti-terrorism hype, it's surprising this hasn't been done yet. Most anti-terrorism studies of electric power grids mention transformers in the transmission system as a vulnerable point. It's not necessary to heavily protect the whole switchyard. Switchgear is easier and cheaper to replace than transformers, and less vulnerable. The transformers occupy only a small fraction of substation area.

Transformer substations are something that people, even in the utility industry, don't think about much. They're very reliable, need little attention, and are usually unmanned. So they tend to be ignored unless there's a problem.

It's embarrassing that PG&E has such poor surveillance of a major substation. The video, grainy analog black and white with slow VHS-type artifacts, means they haven't upgraded since the 1980s or 1990s. It's not like color HD cameras are expensive any more.

Re:Cinder-block walls around transformers. (1)

distilate (1037896) | about 8 months ago | (#45809417)

Would you be prepared to pay 50% more on your power bill for these unneeded modifications. Transformers need cooling so when encased they would need more fans etc...

Re:Cinder-block walls around transformers. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45809483)

50% more for a cinder-block wall? You are mad.

Re:Cinder-block walls around transformers. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45809549)

50% more for a cinder-block wall? You are mad.

No, he sells cinder blocks.

Re:Cinder-block walls around transformers. (4, Insightful)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 8 months ago | (#45809511)

A second year engineering student could design a walled structure that would improve air flow. Think of a cooling tower. Hell, they could make them look like giant Mac Pros.

Re:Cinder-block walls around transformers. (4, Insightful)

Rich0 (548339) | about 8 months ago | (#45809515)

Would you be prepared to pay 50% more on your power bill for these unneeded modifications.
Transformers need cooling so when encased they would need more fans etc...

The problem with security is that you don't need it until you do, kind of like the fire insurance on my house. When you have good security you tend to deter attacks, which makes it seem like a waste. When you don't have good security all it takes is one black swan event to cripple half the country.

I'm sure we could cinderblock every substation in the country for the cost of a few F-22s. Considering all it takes is a bunch of nutjobs with rifles to take out all the transformers servicing a major city I'd consider the cinderblocks money well spent, well, assuming cinderblocks really are enough to do the job (I tend to think it would take a bit more).

Heck, half the northeast US had a blackout a decade ago due to some honest mistakes. I can only imagine what a coordinated attack would accomplish.

Re:Cinder-block walls around transformers. (1)

AHuxley (892839) | about 8 months ago | (#45809499)

Think back to how the US plain old telephone service and other unique US data networks where hardened for nuclear issues during the cold war- super good funding for thick walls, no windows, deep sites, lots of new sites, lots of extra local redundant power supply options, redundancy, costly fault "rebuild" vs economical basic service restoration.
Well paid, unionized staff for generations for at many sites that could have been cheaply automated over time.
The gov cash flow is back :)

Re:Cinder-block walls around transformers. (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45809639)

Building cinder-block walls around transformers in the transmission power grid might not be a bad idea.

But that won't stop the terrorists from throwing burlap sacks full of squirrels over those walls.

nuclear power plants have armed guard (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about 8 months ago | (#45809441)

and they are paid good with the right to shoot on site.

Re:nuclear power plants have armed guard (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45809481)

Can they also shoot off site people on sight?

Re:nuclear power plants have armed guard (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45809485)

and they are paid good with the right to shoot on site.

But not off site, right?

Not To Worry (2)

Zamphatta (1760346) | about 8 months ago | (#45809455)

The NSA will catch them before anything goes seriously wrong, and that's why we allow the gov't to spy on us. It's a service we're paying for. Remember guys, if the gov't spies on its own innocent people then they will be able to stop terror attacks and stuff against the people. So, there's nothing to worry about, the government has already got our backs and they won't let anything happen to us.

Defense in depth (1)

SuperKendall (25149) | about 8 months ago | (#45809537)

The current strategy of the U.S. in regards to infrastructure defense is simple - defense in depth.

By spending very little on road maintenance, it's highly likely terrorists will either get a flat tire on the way to attack a power station, or the guns will cook off a few rounds when a bump is hit likely harming the car or terrorists.

As a last ditch defense, the federally required signs not to pee on high-voltage transformers will be removed, thereby cooking the terrorists when they get there as they are sure to do such a stupid thing with no warnings posted.

This has implications (1)

Radworker (227548) | about 8 months ago | (#45809551)

for nuclear power plants that are off line. I will not describe specifically what I am thinking about but this could be a problem to Diablo or other PWRs while they are in modes higher than 1 (operating).

Damn you Snowden! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#45809553)

You compromised national security with your acts and the NSA failed to stop this! I say we use this obvious example of the kinds of terrorist activities that happen ALL THE TIME to justify more data gathering!

Who's with me!?

Anyone?

Hello?

That's impossible! (4, Interesting)

blindseer (891256) | about 8 months ago | (#45809583)

The intruder(s) then fired more than 100 rounds from what two officials described as a high-powered rifle at several transformers in the facility.

That's not possible. Someone must be lying. I know this because California banned all those evil high powered rifles.

I once saw an offer to tour a nuclear power plant. I thought that would be fun, I never saw the inside of a nuclear power plant before. I imagined it would be much like the coal fired plants I toured, I doubted I'd get near anything even remotely radioactive, but I still thought it would be quite interesting and educational. I then read the fine print on the tour invite. To go on the tour I'd have to submit to a background check, I believe that included getting fingerprinted. I lost all interest.

I didn't think I'd have any problems passing a background check, I've done them before for things like getting in the military and getting government work. I just didn't like the idea of having to take my time going through that again for something as mundane as a tour of a power plant.

While on vacation one summer I happened across a sign for a hydroelectric power plant. I recall it was called Raccoon Lake but a quick Google search tells me that is in the middle of Indiana and I'm pretty sure the dam I was at was in Tennessee. Anyway, I had time so I took a detour to see if I could take a tour or something. I got there and found the visitors center. I had a look around, they had a video playing on continuous loop showing the history of the area and how the dam worked. The video ended with a message to ask for a tour. I then asked to get a tour. I was told tours were no longer offered "for security reasons".

I recall seeing a Youtube video recently about nuclear power where some nuclear power plant operator hated the security policies that banned tours. He wanted to show people how safe these power plants are. I understand where he's coming from, if nuclear power is so safe and secure then why can't we see that for ourselves? I can just imagine what people are thinking, do they have something to hide that they can't let me in?

While they have these security policies in place for the power plants the wires leaving them are totally insecure. I remember driving down the interstate and seeing these HUGE power lines going overhead. It was not long after getting denied a tour of the hydro plant "for security reasons" that I saw those power lines so the first thought through my head was just how easy it would be to take out that power line. The foundations for the towers that ran overhead were just out in the middle of someone's corn field. There was a fence around the field but it was just something to keep cattle from wandering in or out, not anything that any able bodied adult couldn't climb over or through.

The people that secure the power in this country have some seriously skewed priorities. We can't have people tour a hydroelectric plant "for security reasons" but some one can cut the communications to a power plant, shoot up some transformers, and no one knows who did it.

Re:That's impossible! (1)

Radworker (227548) | about 8 months ago | (#45809631)

You were just as well not to take the tour. Unless the plant was in an outage and you could finagle your way out on the fuel bridge while the reactor still had some fuel in it. Then you would have seen something interesting. They don't let the general public into an RCA in general and definitely not into a radiation area that is also an FME area like the fuel pool. What I was referring to is called Cherenkov effect. It is beautiful even if it is deadly.

Welcome to asymmetrical warfare (3, Interesting)

holophrastic (221104) | about 8 months ago | (#45809621)

It's always been the case that a more advanced foe can be defeated by a much simpler foe through indirect attacks on infrastructure, acruing nothing more than a huge expense for the advanced foe. This is no different.

You can't possibly defend something like the power grids we have today. It's just not possible. They are large, they are disparate, they are expensive, they are sensitive. What's more, they are each vital and completely non-redundant. And they are also literally everywhere. You can take out a curb-side box in seconds with a pickup truck, and kill power to a neighbourhood for a day.

No one's going to build the redundancy to withstand any destruction -- it's simply far too expensive.

But that's true of all centralized systems based on distribution -- which includes gasolene, by the way. That's actually the advantage of a centralized system. No kidding it doesn't stand up to warfare.

So, start supporting neighbourhood nuclear mini-reactors -- like your neighbourhood water towers -- or a bus-load of solar panels per house. Anything less won't be redundant, and hence will be easily attacked.

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