WASHINGTON – A terrorist attack on the Pakistani national grid plunged more than 140 million people into darkness before power was restored, prompting U.S. experts to warn that terrorist cells and “lone wolves” in the United States could cause similar damage to the vulnerable national electric-grid system.
The blackout in Pakistan affected more than 80 percent of the country’s population and all public services in all the major cities, including the capital, Islamabad.
A separatist group in the Naseerabad district of Baluchistan province in the country’s southwest caused the blackout by blowing up a major transmission line connected to the national grid.
It was the third such attack in two weeks.
“It shows the bad guys definitely do know what they’re doing when they want to – in a country with upwards of 100 nuclear weapons,” said Clare Lopez, vice president for research and analysis at the Washington-based Center for Security Policy.
In the latest attack on a major transmission line in Pakistan, two nuclear plants went offline after the outages while problems occurred at the country’s main international airport in Lahore.
Michael Maloof’s “A Nation Forsaken: EMP: The Escalating Threat of an American Catastrophe” exposes the startling threat that could destroy the nation’s critical infrastructure in a moment, sending the U.S. back to the 19th century technologically.
“(At) the prime minister’s directive, we are not to sleep until this problem is resolved,” said Pakistan’s Ministry of Water and Power in a Twitter message.
Explosions at two of the transmission sites in Naseerabad created a backward surge also affecting the system, making repairs difficult.
The massive blackout from the terrorist attack came just after Pakistan went through a gasoline shortage which caused Indian Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to cancel his trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos. Plunging oil prices are creating a condition in which the national utility companies cannot make a profit to pay for maintenance and upgrades.
According to one expert, the attackers apparently found what is termed a “systempunkt,” an essential, focal point in the network.
“An attack on a systempunkt can generate cascades of failure that take down the entire network,” the source said. “It’s possible, although unlikely, the attackers knew this was the network’s systempunkt when they destroyed it.”
The source said the success of the attack was due largely to the strain on Pakistan’s grid. The shortfall in electricity has led to “load shedding” of more than 15 hours a day already,” the source added. “When a complex network is operating at or near its capacity, it is many times more vulnerable to collapse and thereby much easier to attack,” he said.
The source said the attack will prompt more attacks on the grid as other groups attempt to replicate the success. The reason, he said, is that militant groups in Pakistan and across the world use open source development to improve themselves.
“When an attack this simple and inexpensive yields outsized result, he said, “other groups will copy it.”
The latest attack in Pakistan suggests jihadist fighters have determined they can get more destructive results by attacking a country’s national grid system.
Last June, fighters from Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, attacked power lines in the central province of Marib in Yemen, knocking out the country’s entire national power grid and leaving services such as gas stations and other services without power.
The Yemeni attack was “the first case where a terrorist attack on a power grid blacked out an entire nation,” according to Peter Vincent Pry, executive director of the congressional advisory Task Force on National and Homeland Security.
Pry, who once was staff director of the congressionally mandated commission to determine the effects of electromagnetic pulse events on the U.S. critical infrastructure, told WND at the time that the Yemeni attack “absolutely confirms that attacking electric grids – not just for a city but for an entire nation – is an al-Qaida weapon.”
The terrorist attacks on the Yemeni and Pakistani national grid systems bring to mind the attack in April 2013 by unknown assailants on the grid system in San Jose, California. In the attack, 17 transformers that supply electricity to the Silicon Valley were knocked out using AK-47 rounds that targeted locations meant to cause seepage of the oil that keeps the transformers from burning up.
Former Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Jon Wellinghoff said the San Jose attack was “the most significant incident of domestic terrorism involving the grid that has ever occurred.”
He called it a “dress rehearsal to a larger terrorist attack.”
In addition to pumping more than 100 rounds of AK-47 rounds into the 17 transformers, the attack included a professional cutting of 911 fiber optic lines.
To this day, the attackers have not been found.
In addition to the San Jose case, there was an attack last year by a Mexican drug cartel, the Knights Templar, in which members blacked out an entire Mexican state, affecting some 420,000 people, to enable drug lords to go into towns and villages to kill opponents of the drug trade in public squares.