Attack on South Bay power station called 'terrorism'

The attack on the PG&E substation in San Jose in April 2013 was caught on surveillance video.
February 5, 2014 12:00:00 AM PST
A debate is emerging over last April's sniper attack on a PG&E substation in San Jose; a former federal regulator is calling it terrorism; the FBI does not believe that's the case.

The shooting was captured on surveillance video. First you can see a streak of light which may have been from a flashlight, followed by the muzzle flash of rifles and sparks of bullets hitting the chain link fence around the substation.

It happened April 16th just before 1 a.m. Someone dropped into an underground vault and cut phone cables, interrupting service to most of Gilroy. Then, the snipers opened fire on the substation, shooting for 19 minutes. More than 100 fingerprint-free shell casings were found at the scene. They knocked out 17 transformers that supply power to Silicon Valley. When police arrived, they were gone.

"This wasn't some haphazard type attack from four or five guys drinking beer one night. Looks like it was a planned attack," said former FBI Agent Rick Smith.

In that respect, former Smith agrees with Jon Wellinghoff. Wellinghoff was chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission back in April. Wellinghoff tells the Wall Street Journal the attack was: "The most significant incident of domestic terrorism involving the grid that has ever occurred" in the U.S.

But no one claimed responsibility for the sabotage, which is something that a terrorist would most likely do. And taking down a power station would not necessarily evoke terror.

No one has been arrested. Wellinghoff worries it was a rehearsal for a bigger terror plot. And, if replicated across the country, it could take down the U.S. grid and black out much of the country.

Agent Smith says if it was terrorism, there would be evidence.

"There would have to be some information from an informant, terrorist group informant, whether it domestic or international, that some group was responsible for it," said Smith.

"So, the feeling is this may have been a preparation for an act of war," said Rich Lordan with the Electric Power Research Institute. He says the execution of the attack is unprecedented. "They knew what to cut in the communications systems. They knew where to cut it. They knew what equipment to go after. And they also knew how to get out of there before police and fire came."

Officially, the FBI is saying this was not terrorism, but the bureau and PG&E say they are still investigating.


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