Substations vandalized in Washington state weeks after North Carolina energy assault and FBI warning


CNN

About 14,000 customers in Washington state were affected Sunday after burglars destroyed three substations, police said, weeks after an attack in North Carolina left thousands in the dark for days amid federal warnings of extremist threats to power infrastructure.

The Christmas Day vandalism near Tacoma marked other such incidents in the state, where the FBI was investigating two attacks on Puget Sound Energy substations in November. Vandalism and malicious damage were also reported at substations in southern Washington and Oregon last month.

No suspects are in custody in the latest case, involving Puyallup and Graham, Washington, and it “is not known if there are any motives or a coordinated attack on power systems,” the sheriff’s department said of Pierce County in a statement on Sunday.

The FBI’s Seattle branch was aware of the vandalism reports but would not confirm or deny its role in any investigation. She added, “We take threats to our infrastructure seriously and urge anyone with information to contact law enforcement,” she told CNN on Sunday.

The bureau warned in a Nov. 22 bulletin of reports of threats to power infrastructure by people espousing racially or ethnically motivated extremist ideologies “to create civil unrest and incite further violence,” according to the bulletin sent to the private sector Warning.

The first report of a break-in at a Tacoma public utility substation came at 5:26 am PT, the sheriff’s office said.

“Deputies arrived at the scene and saw that a forced entry into the fenced-off area was taking place,” the statement said. “Nothing had been stolen from the substation, but the suspect destroyed the equipment and caused a power outage in the area.”

Then a second break-in was reported at another Tacoma public utility substation, involving forced entry and damage to equipment, the statement said. Nothing was taken away either.

“At 11:25 a.m. we were notified by Puget Sound Energy that they too had a power outage at 2:39 a.m. this morning. MPs are currently on site at this facility where the fenced off area was broken into and equipment destroyed,” the statement continued.

Anti-government groups have used online forums for the past two years to urge supporters to attack critical infrastructure, including the power grid. They have published documents and even instructions detailing weak points and suggesting the use of high-powered rifles.

Investigators examining last month’s attacks on substations in Moore County, North Carolina, focused on two possible themes: the writings of extremists on online forums promoting attacks on critical infrastructure and the recent disruption of LGBTQ+ events in the across the country by domestic extremists, law enforcement sources told CNN.

The attackers “knew exactly what they were doing,” Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields said at the time.

The resulting outages left around 40,000 customers in trouble as temperatures dropped to the mid-40s and schools and businesses had to close for days before power was restored.

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