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Preparing for Disaster - Geopolitical Threats

July 23, 2014 | by Steve McCurdy


Today’s Global Geopolitical Landscape

Threats of geopolitical terrorism continue to Simulated Nuclear Blastproliferate throughout the world. Broadly, these threats can be divided into physical threats and cyber threats. Iran, Al Qaeda and ISIS continue to present major physical threats to the US as they amass weapons, political power and money in the Middle East. All possess advanced bomb-making skills and huge financial resources. ISIS now controls most of both Syria and Iraq, and while it is currently preoccupied with setting up political bases in conquered territories, it will eventually turn its attention back to larger and more important targets in the West.

James Clapper, US Director of National Intelligence, now defines cyberwarfare as the number one security threat to the US. Cyberwarfare includes Espionage, Sabotage, and Denial of Service attacks. According to a recent survey, 79% of the observed cyberattacks during the last quarter of 2013 originated in the Asia-Pacific Region, with Indonesia and China easily the two largest perpetrators.

In today’s economic environment terrorism is more than terrifying than ever. Given the extreme vulnerability of global financial markets, virtually any successful geopolitical event could have the unintended consequence of lighting the spark that explodes the world’s monetary system, or starting the “phase transition” described here.

The United States Power Grid

The Metcalf SubstationThe US electrical transmission and distribution system, otherwise known as the “Power Grid,” has been called “the world’s largest integrated machine.” But the US government has recently admitted that the power grid is vulnerable to attack. According to the Wall Street Journal’s Rebecca Smith, an analysis conducted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) revealed that “the US could suffer a coast-to-coast blackout if saboteurs knocked out just nine of the county’s 55,000 electric transmission substations on a scorching hot summer day.” Above at left is the Metcalf Substation.

The likelihood of that happening does not seem farfetched when one examines the events that took place on April 16, 2013, just outside of San Jose, California. At 1:00 am on that date six people armed with AK-47s slipped into an underground vault near Highway 101 justMetcalf Under Attack outside San Jose and cut some telephone cables. At 1:30 surveillance cameras at Pacific Gas & Electric’s Metcalf Substation picked up a beam of light. At that moment the attackers opened fire on the substation with their AK-47s. In a 20 minute attack they knocked out 17 giant transformers that fed electricity to Silicon Valley, resulting in $16 million of damage. The attack ended at 1:51, and the gunmen fled the scene before the police arrived. They remain at large. The surveillance photo at right shows the Metcalf Substation actually under attack. Note the electrical sparks.

John Wellinghoff, then Chairman of FERC, described the attack as the “most significant incident of domestic terror ever involving the grid.” Although a blackout was averted by rerouting power from other sources, 27 days were required to return Metcalf substation to full operation. Mr. Wellinghoff stated that the attack could take out the entire national grid if it were replicated around the country.

James Woolsey, former CIA Director, said that the attack was carried out with military precision. It was theorized that the beam of light referred to above came from a flashlight guiding sniper fire to the targets. More than 100 shell casings were found, all free of fingerprints, and small piles of rocks were believed to have been left by advance scouts to mark places where the snipers could get the best shots.
Mr. Wellinghoff fears that the Metcalf incident might have been a dress rehearsal for a much larger attack designed to take down the entire grid. The National Academy of Sciences says that such an event would cause widespread blackouts for weeks or even months, and that thousands would die from exposure to extreme weather conditions. Worse yet, the event raises questions about how blackouts would affect other vital grids, including the water supply, delivery of medical services, and the pumping of natural gas, none of which could operate without electricity.

Substation at Night

Former Director Woolsey sums up by saying “Without electricity, we are not a civilization, and this represents a major societal vulnerability.


A 269 page study was published in September, 2013 by the National Electric Sector Cybersecurity Organization Resource. Entitled “Electric Sector Failure Scenarios and Impact Analyses,” the study identifies China, North Korea, and Cuba as “nation-state threats” to the power grid. As “cyberterrorist threats” to the grid it lists al Qaeda, the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taibi, and Hamas, and it says that “domestic threats” include Earth First and Greenpeace ecoterrorists and separatist groups.

The experience at the Metcalf Substation is certainly frightening, but when one realizes that the power grid is only one of our many vulnerabilities then one can begin to understand how fragile the world really is. We have not discussed the use of a nuclear weapon or an EMP (Electro-Magnetic Pulse), bot of of which are very real concerns. And when we consider that events like power blackouts can trigger still more disasters, like contaminated water supplies, disruption of medical treatment, and a collapse of the dollar as a medium of exchange, then we can begin to comprehend how dangerous the times we live in really are.

If they do nothing else, we hope that these events convince you to act now to protect yourself and your family. In less than 20 minutes our worlds can change from light to darkness, and our moods from optimism to fear.

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