Life Imitates Art: Domestic Extremists Plotted to Disrupt U.S. Power Grid–As In the Film ‘Die Hard 4’

Photo by Ajay Parthasarathy on Unsplash
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Domestic violent extremists have been planning to try to disrupt the U.S. power grid and will probably keep doing so, according to a Department of Homeland Security intelligence bulletin shared with law enforcement agencies and utility operators Monday and obtained by CBS News. The scenario is  similar to that of the Bruce Willis Film, Die Hard 4.”DVEs have developed credible, specific plans to attack electricity infrastructure since at least 2020, identifying the electric grid as a particularly attractive target given its interdependency with other infrastructure sectors,” the bulletin reads.

It warns that extremists “adhering to a range of ideologies will likely continue to plot and encourage physical attacks against electrical infrastructure.”

Still, the bulletin notes that, “Absent significant technical knowledge or insider assistance, small scale attacks are unlikely to cause widespread, multi-state power loss but may result in physical damage that poses risks to operations or personnel.”

When asked for comment, a DHS spokesperson said to CBS News, “The Department of Homeland Security regularly shares information with federal, state, local, tribal, territorial, and private sector partners to ensure the safety and security of all communities across the country.”

Word of the bulletin was first reported by The Daily Beast.

Another DHS bulletin, issued Sunday and obtained by CBS News, warns that Russia “would consider” launching a cyberattack against the U.S. “if it perceived (that) a U.S. or NATO response to a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine threatened its long-term national security.”

Transmission lines and substations have been fixtures of extremist-aligned online forums.

The Monday bulletin goes on to point out that, since 2019, potential racially or ethnically-motivated violent extremists have explored attacking power stations in the Southeast if they disagreed with the outcome of the November 2020 election.

In October 2020, the Department of Justice charged four suspected racially-motivated domestic violent extremists who “believed in the superiority of the white race and discussed accelerationist objectives”  with conspiracy to damage transformers in Idaho and surrounding states. The federal indictment alleged that a handwritten list of transformers, substations, and other components of the power grid in the Northwest were discovered among a defendant’s possessions by federal law enforcement.

The U.S. electric grid contains approximately 7,700 power plants, 3,300 utilities, and over 2.7 million miles of power lines, according to the Council on Foreign relations. Yet it functions as three separate U.S. grids, or “self-contained interconnections of power production and transmission” that include Eastern, Western, and Texas interconnections.

Power grid failures during a February 2021 winter storm demonstrated the devastating impact of widespread outages, ultimately killing dozens of Texans.

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