A recent report about the terrifying attack on a California power plant last April has raised suspicions about other troubling cases throughout the United States within the past year, Newsmax has learned.
- On Jan. 9, more than 7,000 gallons of methanol leaked into Elk River in Charleston, W.Va., after a spill at a chemical storage plant operated by Freedom Industries. Nearly 300,000 people were left without drinking or bathing water, some for more than a week. A federal grand jury investigation has begun into the spill, CNN reports.
- The following week, in Manapalan, N.J., a 26-year-old man, Asaf Mohammed, was arrested after being found trapped inside a 20-inch pipe outside a storage tank at a water-treatment plant owned by United Water. The plant supplies drinking water to 40,000 customers in the township, New Jersey.com reports.
- Within a month after the Boston Marathon bombings last April, seven Muslims — from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Singapore — were arrested in the middle of the night at the Quabbin Reservoir, which provides drinking water to Boston and several other nearby communities, the Boston Herald reports. Three locks had been cut to gain access to the reservoir.
The incidents, two of which received scant media attention at the time, now have authorities and legislators worried about the possibility of terrorist acts’ being committed against the nation’s power grid and other utility operations.
Those attack reports follow a report by The Wall Street Journal that a sniper assault last April 16, a day after the Boston bombings, knocked out an electrical substation near San Jose, Calif. No arrests have been made in that attack.
“It does seem that we have to be awakened by a cataclysmic event before we pay attention,” retired Army Lt. Col. Allen West told John Bachman in an exclusive interview Wednesday on “America’s Forum” on Newsmax TV.
“We have a porous, open border,” said West, a former Florida GOP congressman. “You have some bad actors coming across, but it’s not just that dry-run attack against a power plant. There are also a couple of instances, in [West] Virginia and also in the Boston area, where water-supply plants, people were trying to infiltrate there as well.”
In an interview on “The Steve Malzberg Show” on Newsmax TV on Wednesday, counterterrorism expert Fred Fleitz called the California assault “a trial run for a terrorist attack.”
Fleitz is a former CIA analyst and FBI agent who is now chief analyst for the global intelligence forecaster LIGNET.
“What Americans don’t realize is that we now have something called a smart-grid system, where our electric grid is linked to other grids over the Internet and by computers,” he said. “A major attack on one part of the grid could cause a devastating outage that could put tens of millions of Americans in the dark.”
The 52-minute attack in California occurred at the Pacific Gas & Electric Corp.’s power substation in Metcalf, a community in southern San Jose.
Jon Wellinghoff, who was chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission at the time, said the assault was “the most significant incident of domestic terrorism involving the grid that has ever occurred.”
He told The Journal that the incident may have been a dress rehearsal for a bigger attack.
The FBI said that it was “continuing to sift through the evidence” but that it did not think a terrorist group was behind the incident, The Journal reports.
The attack began at 12:58 a.m., when underground AT&T fiber-optic telecommunications cables were slashed in a vault not far from the Metcalf facility.
Other cables were also cut. At 1:31 a.m., the facility, situated near a freeway, came under sustained rifle fire. AK-47 bullet casings found later had been wiped clean of fingerprints.
The shooters were apparently aiming for the oil-filled cooling systems intended to keep the transformers from overheating, The Journal reported. Though they were riddled with bullet holes and hemorrhaged 52,000 gallons of oil, the transformers did not explode.
The attackers had left the scene by the time sheriff’s deputies arrived.
Seventeen huge power transformers had been disabled. Company officials initially declared the incident vandalism. Cameras were positioned facing inward and did not pick up images of the shooters.
Upon further investigation, it looked more like the handiwork of professionals who had done advance preparation and reconnaissance, The Journal reported.
The substation was brought back online after 27 days as other power plants increased their production of electricity to make up for the loss.
“The FBI is still not prepared to say that this was a terrorist attack, even though this power station was attacked with AK47s,” Fleitz told Malzberg.
“There was a systematic plan to cut the phone lines, the fiber-optic cables in a way that couldn’t be detected or easily repaired.”
Meanwhile, the two women and five men that Massachusetts state troopers found in the middle of the night at the Quabbin Reservoir in Boston last May after the marathon bombings said they were all chemical engineers who simply wanted to check out the facility, the Examiner reports. Three locks had been cut to gain access to the reservoir.
No charges were ever filed against the trespassers — even though the Massachusetts State Police unsuccessfully appealed the decision.
The names of the “chemical engineers” were never released to the public, the Boston Herald reports, and their whereabouts are currently unknown.
According to New Jersey.com, a United Water official said Mohammed was discovered by employees Jan. 17 after they “heard cries for help” inside the 20-inch pipe.
“He must have traversed through a basin and climbed up into a pipe for reasons unknown at this time,” Jim Mastrokalos, the company’s director of operations, told the news website.
The plant is surrounded by barbed wire fences, and the investigation involved determining how Mohammed gained access to the plant without detection.
Mohammed, who police said lived neared the plant, was charged with fourth-degree criminal trespass and was required to pay for the costs of rescuing him from the pipe, local news website 12 New Jersey reports.
In West Virginia, CNN reports, subpoenas have been issued requiring testimony for what one federal official confirmed was a criminal investigation into the chemical spill at the Freedom Industries storage plant.
An independent water test conducted for CNN this week found trace levels of the chemical 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, or MCHM, in both untreated river water and tap water from two homes in Charleston.
Elizabeth Scharman, West Virginia’s poison control director, told CNN that MCHM has not been widely studied.
“We don’t know the safety info, how quickly it goes into air, its boiling point,” Scharman said.
The chemical is used to wash coal before it goes to market to reduce ash, CNN reports. Exposure can cause vomiting, dizziness, headaches, diarrhea, and irritated skin, among other symptoms.
West, the former Florida congressman, told Newsmax that these attempts were “all part of asymmetrical warfare, and if we don’t start to recognize it and put a focus on it, the enemy is always going to look for the gaps by which they can exploit you.”
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By Todd Beamon