No, domestic terrorists cannot take down the electrical grid

So a report from Homeland Security was conveniently leaked to the Associated Press today about how domestic terrorists “from a range of ideologies” have been making “credible threats” to sabotage the country’s electrical grid. Immediately, MAGA conspiracy theorists started talking about how the FBI was hinting at what its next false flag operation would be. (This shtick is seriously getting embarrassing, folks. Find a new boogeyman.)

One of the ironic things about conspiracy theorists is they tend to make the government seem unbelievably competent (evil masterminds!), when generally the exact opposite is true.

I worked in project finance for a long time, and a big prerequisite for that was knowing a lot about the logistics of infrastructure in the country. Reading this AP report, the first thing that comes to mind is wow, this is some fear-mongering bullshit.

(1) Believe it or not, utilities across the nation are constantly dealing with efforts to undermine their services and people poking around for vulnerabilities. This has been going on for decades. It’s also hardly limited to electrical utilities. If something is an essential service, it has someone scoping it out.

(2) There is no such thing as a “national grid.” Regions and even individual states operate their own grids. Their grids also vary significantly in the quality of services they provide and the amount of investment they have made in new infrastructure and maintenance. This is something we routinely see tested with extreme weather. The utility companies out west are barely hanging on by sweat and bubble gum. Every single year, California utilities with infrastructure pre-dating WW2 and the Great Depression are responsible for horrible wildfires. A winter storm easily took down utilities in Texas, Oklahoma, and Colorado. Contrast that with Florida, which has made incredible investments in its own grid to respond to hurricanes. (Having aggressively competent state and local officials is awesome.) Several tornadoes touched down in my town a week ago and the lights didn’t even blink.

The report was suggesting utilities in the southeast would be the prime target (is there going to be a militia caravan to Miami, or what) and not the most blatantly weak systems? Good luck with that.

(3) The article suggests that it would be relatively easily to sabotage the grid because a lot of substations and transmission lines are in rural areas. Okay, maybe you could sabotage the utilities in BFE, but that’s a pretty lame terrorist attack, no? If you want to impact the utilities of a large number of people to sow maximum chaos, you are going to have to hit some facilities in major urban areas. That would be a stupid target, too, because billions has been spent on surveillance at these facilities since the War on Terror.

(4) I can’t imagine white supremacists or anti-government cranks – living “off the grid” themselves in the mountains of Idaho or whatever – could ever be a bigger threat than cybercriminals in Russia, China, and Iran. Aside from extreme weather, a cyberattack is probably the only means to accomplish a true systemic attack on US infrastructure. These countries have already demonstrated that they can take out major infrastructure this way, too. It would be way easier and far more destructive to feed a bug through industry email chains or whatever than it would be to Timothy McVeigh a substation. But, hey, maybe the neo-Nazis are learning to code.

The thing is, I think the FBI’s obsession with militias and weird little cults shows something more worrisome than anything the conspiracy theorists would dream up. I think we have a country where tech talent has zero desire to work for the government. After the War on Terror, Edward Snowden, James Comey, Covid, and a million other humiliations, it’s simply not cool to go work for the FBI or CIA if you have the technological bona fides. So the FBI focuses its energy pumping up threats posed by old-school law enforcement targets who are so colossally stupid that they will literally publish their plots on reddit for the world to see. The low-hanging fruit.

You know who does not have a difficult time recruiting top talent into the civil service and military proxies?

4 thoughts on “No, domestic terrorists cannot take down the electrical grid

  1. Maybe not in the States, but someone tried and almost did bring down the electricity grid in Quebec. How he tried with his small plane was blackout because it was too easy to do.

    Liked by 1 person

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