Security Analyst Pry: Mass Blackouts Could Be Next Terror Tactic

Wednesday, 25 Jun 2014 04:33 PM

By Sean Piccoli

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An al-Qaida rocket attack this month that plunged the entire nation of Yemen into darkness for a day — by hitting a select group of power transmission sites — could preview a similar assault on the United States, a national security expert told Newsmax TV on Wednesday.

A mass blackout using available weapons to sow chaos and devastation is not farfetched, given recent events in Yemen and elsewhere and the vulnerabilities of America's power grid, Peter Pry, executive director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security, told "MidPoint" host Ed Berliner.

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"This is the first time in history that terrorists have attacked the power grid and blacked out an entire nation, so it's a highly significant development," Pry said. "It proves that al-Qaida and terrorist groups are aware of the key societal vulnerability that is the power grid. And we've been very concerned that they may exploit this in the future."

A violent drug cartel in Mexico, the Knights Templar, took out power to an entire province of 420,000 people last October and, under cover of darkness, swept in and assassinated known critics of the drug trade, he said.

Meanwhile, the FBI is still seeking suspects in an April 2013 sniper attack on a substation in San Jose, Calif., that caused structural damage and sparked concerns for the electricity supply to Silicon Valley, the region's energy-hungry, high-tech economic base.

The local utility, PG&E, is spending $100 million to harden the site against attacks and other security breaches.

Pry said more utilities must follow suit. He cited a study by the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that knocking out just nine of the country's 55,500 power substations could black out the entire United States for weeks or months.

Pry credited the White House and Congress for recognizing the threat. "There's bipartisan support for doing something," he said.

But federal efforts are snarled in a patchwork of more than 3,000 privately owned utilities operating under different local regulations.

"This is not a political problem," said Pry, adding that it's "the lawyers [that] are going to get us killed."

He said a handful of states, including Maine, Virginia, and Arizona, have passed bills mandating more secure power transmission sites. To hear Pry tell it, the improvements can't come too soon.

"We're concerned that maybe what happened in Yemen is a dry run or experiment by terrorists to see how good they are at blacking out a national power grid so they can then turn and use this against the United States," he said.

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