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Hearing Shows How 'Military-Style' Raid On Calif. Power Station Spooks U.S. 396

Posted by timothy
from the what-was-bruce-schneier-doing-that-evening dept.
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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Hearing Shows How 'Military-Style' Raid On Calif. Power Station Spooks U.S.

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  • IANAT (terrorist) (Score:5, Insightful)

    by paiute (550198) on Saturday December 28, 2013 @11:18PM (#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.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 28, 2013 @11:18PM (#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:No comments? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Saturday December 28, 2013 @11:25PM (#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.

  • Bullshit (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Frosty Piss (770223) * on Saturday December 28, 2013 @11:30PM (#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...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 28, 2013 @11:37PM (#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:first shot (Score:5, Insightful)

    by maliqua (1316471) on Saturday December 28, 2013 @11:49PM (#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

  • by pla (258480) on Saturday December 28, 2013 @11:50PM (#45809389) Journal
    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:Bullshit (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jd (1658) <<moc.oohay> <ta> <kapimi>> on Saturday December 28, 2013 @11:57PM (#45809401) Homepage Journal

    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.

  • by Wonko the Sane (25252) * on Sunday December 29, 2013 @12:00AM (#45809415) Journal
    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:No comments? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TheloniousToady (3343045) on Sunday December 29, 2013 @12:07AM (#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? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ElectricTurtle (1171201) on Sunday December 29, 2013 @12:10AM (#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.
  • by phantomfive (622387) on Sunday December 29, 2013 @12:16AM (#45809465) Journal

    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 []).

    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.

  • Re:first shot (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Immerman (2627577) on Sunday December 29, 2013 @12:20AM (#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 (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Rich0 (548339) on Sunday December 29, 2013 @12:21AM (#45809495) Homepage

    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:No comments? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ColdWetDog (752185) on Sunday December 29, 2013 @12:21AM (#45809497) Homepage

    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.

  • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Sunday December 29, 2013 @12:27AM (#45809511) Homepage

    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.

  • by Rich0 (548339) on Sunday December 29, 2013 @12:29AM (#45809515) Homepage

    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:first shot (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Immerman (2627577) on Sunday December 29, 2013 @12:40AM (#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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 29, 2013 @12:51AM (#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...)?

  • gun owner logic (Score:1, Insightful)

    by SuperBanana (662181) on Sunday December 29, 2013 @01:17AM (#45809673)

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

    Murder still happens. We still ban murder.

    In fact, virtually every kind of crime happens. We don't just go "oh well" and remove the laws because a bunch of people did it anyway.

    Stop being so goddamn butthurt that you can't play with the lethal toys you want to. Please, by all means, move to a country with fewer gun restrictions, and enjoy actually having to use them to protect yourself from all the people who have 'em, too.

  • Re:first shot (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dryeo (100693) on Sunday December 29, 2013 @01:26AM (#45809705)

    Has there ever been a case of the people raising up and over throwing a repressive government and improved things? I don't mean successful wars of independence where a colony or such successfully seceded but where the people without much help from the army overthrew the government? The only ones I can think of ended up as bad or worse then where they started from.
    Seems that massive demonstrations, general strikes, and at the worse the army mutinying has had a much better rate of success. The army is much less likely to shoot on peaceful demonstrators, especially if they agree with the protest, then shoot on people shooting at them.
    Recent examples include most of the ex-Soviet block and various Arab springs. Failures include the French revolution and the Russian revolution. Violent revolution usually seems to see a strong man end up on top as dictator along with a reign of terror to purge all the undesirables.

  • Re:first shot (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jd (1658) <<moc.oohay> <ta> <kapimi>> on Sunday December 29, 2013 @02:04AM (#45809809) Homepage Journal

    Spares should be precisely what there's a lot of. To deal with actual, meaningful contingencies (trees taking out power lines, trucks driving into power lines, drunk Air Force commanders ordering live-fire practice on power lines, etc) there should be zero points of failure. Anywhere.

    If a meteorite of the kind that lit up Russia early in the year, or the kind that lit up California the year before, hit a substation, no amount of armour will prevent serious damage. The CA one, discussed here as I recall, was the size of a minibus. The fragments that reached the surface - and reports say there were many - were certainly far more dangerous to a transformer than a few grams of lead.

    You have to assume such a strike is inevitable. Prevention is impossible. Shielding would be stupid. That leaves option number 3 - make it not matter. It's cheap, easy, effective against any type of outage and provided you have decent routing protocols operating over a bidirectional mesh topology, resilience increases anywhere from superlinearly to exponentially.

    Then what? Then you don't care if it's a meteorite, an airliner falling out the sky, an army tank driver on speedballs or Bob Bobkins, the brother and first cousin of Joe Bobkins, out hunting things that'll stay still long enough for him to point his rocket launcher. It. Just. Won't. Matter. Worth. A. Damn. The flicker of your LED house lights will barely register with even super-sensitivities. The routing protocols would have established new pathways to all destinations in microseconds, with the decisions being implemented a millisecond or two later. Nobody would notice and nobody would care.

    There's an expense to redundancy, just as there is an expense to not having bridges fall in rivers. But it's a very small expense. The outages from the ice storms and rain storms? Those are big expenses. Big RECURRING expenses. With redundancy alone, due to the statistical nature of line loss, you could get extremely close to zero outage for anyone. Ever. Redundancy (down to as small a scale as practical), smarter placement of utilities (ie: not on thin poles in ice storm prone areas) and better material choices (aluminium cables?!) combined could guarantee the system would survive uninterrupted anything short of a nuclear bomb.

    (You could design a complete infrastructure on a national scale that actually could withstand a full-blown nuclear war, but a lack of users would make it pointless. Unless we have developed AI by then. In which case, they and The Machines they'd need to maintain the system could endure pretty much indefinitely.)

  • Re:gun owner logic (Score:3, Insightful)

    by blindseer (891256) <blindseer AT earthlink DOT net> on Sunday December 29, 2013 @02:29AM (#45809927)

    You don't get it. They told me that IF we ban these evil rifles THEN people won't be shooting at transformers. Well they passed their law and someone shot at the transformers, did some pretty expensive damage too it looks like. Now what are they going to do, ban them AGAIN?

    Now what they are going to do is use this as an example for advocating confiscating these rifles. How do I know? Because they always do that. These are the same people that tell me that they won't take my hunting rifle. They can't both confiscate the rifles that did this damage while also allowing me to keep my hunting rifle because they are the same rifle.

    Yes, we ban murder. It also does not keep people from murdering. A ban is nothing more than prescribing a punishment for an action. The laws says if you do something then we punish you for it. If you scream "fire" in a crowded theater, and there is no fire, then we punish you for it. A rifle ban is like punishing people for screaming "fire" in that theater even when there is a fire.

    Please, by all means, move to a country with fewer gun restrictions, and enjoy actually having to use them to protect yourself from all the people who have 'em, too.

    Which one would that be?

    I live in the USA where we don't have bans on rifles, unlike the Republic of California. We also don't have a lot of people shooting up power stations or getting murdered either. Might have something to do with the fact that people around here can shoot back. The state I live in has 1/4 the murder rate of California and twice the firearm owner rate. I don't know what the rifle ownership rate is for either state, those firearms in California must be shotguns because those are Biden approved.

    At least with murder we can get a pretty high agreement that it should be banned. With gun laws that agreement is not so high. We saw a lot of gun laws go away this past year. Saw our murder rate go down too. I know correlation does not mean causation but it's real hard to deny causation when the correlation keeps showing up.

  • Re:gun owner logic (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 29, 2013 @02:43AM (#45809989)

    move to a country with fewer gun restrictions

    California is in the US and subject to the 2nd amendment. Just because it is not enforced anymore does not mean it doesn't matter.

    Stop being so goddamn butthurt that you can't play with the lethal toys you want to.

    You do know an average automobile has nearly two orders of magnitude more kinetic energy than a high powered round right? Or that they kill far more people than guns do.

    I don't care about guns. I don't own any. What I do care about is reason, respect, and people not being assholes. Three traits that you clearly lack.

  • Re:gun owner logic (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 29, 2013 @03:01AM (#45810055)

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

    Murder still happens. We still ban murder.

    In fact, virtually every kind of crime happens. We don't just go "oh well" and remove the laws because a bunch of people did it anyway.

    Stop being so goddamn butthurt that you can't play with the lethal toys you want to. Please, by all means, move to a country with fewer gun restrictions, and enjoy actually having to use them to protect yourself from all the people who have 'em, too.

    Speaking of logic, please by all means, feel free to tell me how the fuck you feel gun bans or moving has a damn thing to do with criminals with guns who will use them on you whether you're armed or not.

    Gee, how I love anti-logic...especially from those idiots who feel banning guns will make you safe. Perhaps you should stop being so goddamn butthurt over the fact that murder still happens after the gun bans you likely voted for, passed.

  • Re:first shot (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lxs (131946) on Sunday December 29, 2013 @04:31AM (#45810261)

    Not even full on military lockdown can prevent a commando style raid. The raid on the Telemark heavy water plant during WWII proved that. So unless you want a regime even more ruthless than a Nazi occupation force to protect your infrastructure maybe you should work on changing your nations behaviour to reduce the incentive for such raids.

  • Re:first shot (Score:5, Insightful)

    by erikkemperman (252014) on Sunday December 29, 2013 @06:08AM (#45810457)

    Well written, and I think I do get your point. Too bad that it looks, at least from where I'm standing, like the folks who are most vocal about the need for the second amendment are some of the least likely to actually question the recent examples of government derailing.

    This is the kind of paradox which fascinates me about American society. Another example is the pro-life/pro-choice debate where some of the staunchest pro-lifers put forth an argument of sanctity of life, i.e. that it is not for humans to decide questions of life and death. But those same folks are, almost without exception, somehow not opposed to capital punishment for that same reason.

  • Re:first shot (Score:4, Insightful)

    by NicBenjamin (2124018) on Sunday December 29, 2013 @06:36AM (#45810523)

    There's probably all kinds of little things like this that a determined group of 50 guys with legal firearms could do. The kinds of guns people talk about banning are probably less scary then real old-timey blackpowder guns, because making blackpowder is legal, and that shit could totally take out a bridge. So our 50 guys could ruin your commute, probably destroy the local sewer lines, take out a police station or three, etc. Hell I'd be stunned if it took five guys with 22s to storm a nuclear plant. You'd probably need more if you didn't have inside information on the plant's security, but not that much more.

    The reason this shit doesn't happen is that it's really hard to get 50 guys to agree on a single operation without one of them ratting everyone out to the cops. For all that we bitch about our government, and the amount of times said government deserves to be bitched at, things have not gotten so bad that people think starting a Civil War is a good idea. Even in subcultures where you can get people to agree to fight the Power, generally by the time you've picked up two dozen guys you've picked up some loser who will be caught. Remember that the FBI in Minnesota had Zacarias Moussaoui in custody on immigration charges, and they had a pretty good idea that he was planning on crashing a plane into something, but they weren't able to convince anyone in DC to take them seriously.

If God is perfect, why did He create discontinuous functions?