Are We Prepared?

Are We Prepared?

Gingrich Productions
February 5, 2014
Newt Gingrich

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Everyone knows about horrific bombings that took place at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 15 of last year, in which two young Chechen immigrants laid the explosives that killed three Americans and injured dozens of others.

Relatively few people, however, are aware that the Boston bombings may have been only the second most ominous attacks on our national security in that 24-hour period. I wasn’t aware myself until I read the Wall Street Journal’s cover story this morning.

An event that occurred in the shadow of the Boston bombings but on the opposite side of the country might have been even more frightening for the long term safety of the American people.

“The attack began just before 1 a.m. on April 16 last year,” the Journal reported, “when someone slipped into an underground vault not far from a busy freeway and cut telephone cables.”

“Within half an hour, snipers opened fire on a nearby electrical substation,” it continued. “Shooting for 19 minutes, they surgically knocked out 17 giant transformers that funnel power to Silicon Valley. A minute before a police car arrived, the shooters disappeared into the night.”

The Journal report is full of details about the sophistication of the attack. Accessing two separate underground vaults, one servicing AT&T and another servicing Level 3 Communications, the perpetrators first cut telecommunications lines surrounding the power station.

Then, they knew exactly where on the transformers to shoot to destroy them without causing explosions, instead shredding their cooling systems with more than 100 bullets and spilling 52,000 gallons of oil onto the ground. Investigators later found “small piles of rocks, which they said could have been left by an advance scout to tell the attackers where to get the best shots.”

After nearly 20 minutes, shooting stopped with the signal of a flashlight, captured on security footage just a single minute before the police arrived.

No one has been arrested for the attack, but the FBI tells the Journal it does not believe the perpetrators were part of a terrorist organization.

Nonetheless this is a very serious incident. It’s a relatively small list of people who would have both the motivation to do such a thing and the expertise to pull it off professionally, without getting caught.

Moreover, the crime looks a lot like “a dress rehearsal” for a larger-scale attack, as a former utility company executive told a recent conference focused on the security of the U.S. power grid.

Simultaneous attacks on multiple power stations could knock out electricity for large regions of the country for months or even years.

That would be a low-tech version of the electromagnetic pulse attacks that I and many others have been warning about for years. Destruction of the power grid for a prolonged period could cause societal collapse (from which it would be almost impossible to recover), and would likely result in millions of deaths as large regions of the country were plunged into conditions for which they are completely unprepared.

For a vivid idea what might happen following a large scale assault on the grid, read the novel One Second After by my friend Bill Forstchen, set in the aftermath of an EMP attack.

The original design for the Department of Homeland Security was to prepare for just such a catastrophic event, to figure out in advance how we could recover and rebuild. But instead DHS has become mired in bureaucracy and it is not at all clear we are ready to deal with a major EMP, cyberwarfare, or conventional physical attack on our power grid.

In fact, the Journal story reported, “A spokesman for Homeland Security said it is up to utilities to protect the grid.” That is insane. We are talking about a centerpiece of our national security.

Congress should demand details about the resilience of our power grid and emergency response systems in the event of a sophisticated assault on the United States.

The world is dangerous. The time to ask these questions is before an attack happens.

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