About 14,000 customers in Washington state were affected on Sunday after burglars vandalized three electrical substations, police said, weeks after an attack in North Carolina left thousands in the black for days amid federal warnings of extremist threats to power infrastructure.
The Christmas Day vandalism near Tacoma marked more such incidents in the state, where two November attacks on Puget Sound Energy substations were investigated by the FBI. Vandalism and deliberate damage were also reported last month at substations in southern Washington and Oregon.
No suspects are in custody in the latest case involving Puyallup and Graham, Wash., and ‘it is unclear if there are motives or if this was a coordinated attack on electrical systems’ , the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department said in a statement Sunday.
The Seattle Division of the FBI was aware of the vandalism reports but would not confirm or deny its role in any investigation, adding, “We take threats to our infrastructure seriously and urge anyone with information to contact law enforcement. order,” he told CNN on Sunday.
The bureau, in a November 22 bulletin, warned of reports of threats to electrical infrastructure by people espousing racially or ethnically motivated extremist ideology “to create civil unrest and inspire further violence.” , according to the alert sent to private industry.
The first report of a burglary at a Tacoma utility substation came at 5:26 a.m. Pacific time, the sheriff’s office said.
“Deputies arrived at the scene and saw that there was a forced entry into the fenced area,” according to its statement. “Nothing had been removed from the substation, but the suspect vandalized the 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, according to the release. Likewise, nothing was taken.
“At 11:25 a.m. we were notified by Puget Sound Energy that they too had a power outage this morning at 2:39 a.m. Deputies are currently at the scene of this facility where the fenced area was broken into and equipment vandalized” , continues the press release.
Over the past two years, anti-government groups have used online forums to urge supporters to attack critical infrastructure, including the power grid. They published documents and even instructions describing the vulnerabilities and suggesting the use of high-powered rifles.
Investigators investigating attacks last month at substations in Moore County, North Carolina focused on two possible threads: extremist postings in online forums encouraging attacks on critical infrastructure and recent disruptions of LGBTQ+ events across the country by domestic extremists, law enforcement sources told CNN.
The assailants “knew exactly what they were doing,” Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields said at the time.
The resulting blackouts left some 40,000 customers scrambling as temperatures plummeted into the mid-1940s, with schools and businesses forced to close for days before power was restored.