Early Warning: The Continuing Need for National Defense


The below article originally appeared in Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College, in March 2014

By Brian T. Kennedy President, The Claremont Institute

Harold Rood, a professor of international relations at Claremont McKenna College who died in 2011, was not as well known as he was influential. A soldier in Patton’s army in World War II, he taught his students that war is permanent to the human condition, and that in war it is better to win, for no one ever had to accommodate a loser. America will always have enemies, he told them, and those enemies will forever be planning and expending resources to place themselves in a position to defeat us. It would be nice if it was otherwise, he was fond of saying, but it is not otherwise. It is the way the world works.

During the Cold War, Dr. Rood would demonstrate in his classes–often by reading stacks of clippings from newspapers from around the world—that the leaders of the Soviet Union understood the world in these stark terms, and that they acted consistently on that basis. He would also lecture on technology, from German steel production before 1914, to the state of Japanese fighter aircraft before 1941, and even, curiously, to maps of America’s electrical transmission lines and power plants. It was important, he thought, to understand the strengths and vulnerabilities of a nation. His classes served as an antidote for students who had grown up in post-war America—a much needed antidote, because citizens of free nations in peacetime do not historically think in such terms. We today, and our elected leaders—in whose hands we place the responsibility for national defense— are in urgent need of such an antidote, because the U.S. is increasingly and dangerously vulnerable, and our elected leaders appear oblivious.

One would think the attack on September 11, 2001, would have awakened Americans for the foreseeable future to the need to prepare for unexpected dangers. Surprisingly, its effect was short-lived. Two relatively recent attacks show the problem. The first I’ll discuss took place on April 16, 2013, on an electric-trans- mission substation owned by Pacific Gas & Electric in California. One reason it did not get much notice was that the other— the Boston Marathon bombing that killed or injured 260 people—had occurred the day before.

The San Jose Attack

Last April 16, just outside of San Jose, California, a group of terrorists or soldiers, operating on American soil, attacked the Metcalf transmission substation in a military action aimed at disabling a part of America’s electrical infrastructure. The operation began at 1:00 a.m., when the attackers cut under- ground fiber optic cables, disabling communications and security systems. Thirty minutes later, using high-powered rifles, they began a 20-minute assault on the substation’s extra- large transformer and the cooling system that supports it. Police arrived at 1:50, but the shooters disappeared into the night. To this day there is no trace of them.

John Wellinghoff, then chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, would call this attack “the most significant incident of domestic terrorism involving [America’s electrical] grid that has ever occurred.” Obviously it was a professional operation by skilled marksmen—estimates of the number of gunmen range from two to six—with training in reconnaissance, stealth, and evasion. That the plan went undetected, the casings from the spent shells bore no fingerprints, and the perpetrators have not been caught, suggests a high degree of intelligence. Damage to the facility forced electricity to be rerouted to maintain the integrity of power transmission to the Silicon Valley, and repairs took several months.

Continue here….

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