About 14,000 customers in Washington state were affected after thieves vandalized three substations on Sunday, police said, weeks after an attack in North Carolina where the federal government warned extremists posed a threat to electric infrastructure killed thousands. Stayed in the dark for a few days.
The Christmas vandalism near Tacoma marked more such incidents in the state, where the FBI investigated two attacks on Puget Sound Energy substations in November. There have also been incidents of vandalism and sabotage at substations in southern Washington and Oregon in the last month.
The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department said in a statement Sunday that no suspects were in custody in the latest cases affecting Puyallup and Graham, Wash., and that “it is not yet clear if there was any motive or if this was an attack on power Systematic Coordinated Attack”.
The FBI’s Seattle division was aware of the sabotage report but would not confirm or deny its role in any investigation, adding: “We do take threats to our infrastructure seriously and urge anyone with information to contact law enforcement. ,” it told CNN on Sunday.
In a Nov. 22 bulletin, the bureau warned of reports of support for racially or ethnically motivated extremist ideologies posing a threat to electrical infrastructure, “in order to create civil unrest and fuel further violence”.
The first report of a burglary at the Tacoma utility substation was received at 5:26 a.m. PT, the sheriff’s office said.
“Delegates arrived at the scene and saw someone forcefully enter the fenced area,” according to its statement. “Nothing was taken from the substation, but the suspects damaged equipment, causing a power outage in the area.”
Then, a second burglary was reported at another Tacoma utility substation, with forced entry and damage to equipment, the statement said. Again, nothing is taken away.
“At 11:25 we were notified by Puget Sound Energy that they also had a power outage at 02:39 this morning. Representatives are currently on site at the facility and a fenced area has been broken into and equipment damaged,” the statement continued.
Over the past two years, anti-government groups have used online forums to urge followers to attack critical infrastructure, including the power grid. They publish documents and even instructions outlining vulnerabilities and recommending the use of high powered rifles.
Investigators investigating last month’s attack at a power substation in Moore County, North Carolina, focused on two possible leads: articles by extremists on online forums encouraging attacks on critical infrastructure, and recent domestic extremist , law enforcement sources told CNN about the disruption of LGBTQ+ events across the country.
The attackers “knew exactly what they were doing,” Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields said at the time.
As temperatures dipped to the mid-40s, power outages left about 40,000 customers scrambling, and schools and businesses were forced to close for days before power was restored.