ANALYSIS: DC Power Outage Exposes Vulnerability of Power Grid

Washington is the third NATO capital in recent days to have widespread power outage.

By Al Perrotta Published on April 7, 2015

The White House, State Department, Department of Energy, along with much of the Nation’s Capital was hit with a power outage Tuesday. Several Smithsonian museum buildings had to be evacuated. Even Oprah Winfrey was left in the dark while speaking at the dedication of a new stamp commemorating the late poet Maya Angelou.

The White House and other critical facilities in the District, including Washington’s Metro subway system, quickly switched over to emergency back-up power. By Tuesday evening, power had mostly been restored and the Nation’s Capital had returned to normal.

As the lights started going out in the corridors of power, the speculation began, “Is this a cyber-attack?”

Not according to officials. The Washington Post reported:

D.C. homeland security officials said an explosion at a southern Maryland electrical facility is believed to have caused the power surge that temporarily knocked out power to the White House and much of downtown Washington.

At the White House, spokesman Josh Earnest spoke guardedly, saying it was his understanding that Homeland Security has “indicated they don’t currently see a nexus to terrorism or anything like that.”

Although the Administration and local agencies are downplaying the incident, Adm. William Gortney, the commander of U.S. Northern Command (NorthCom) and the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) said Tuesday’s outage exposed the weakness of the nation’s power grid.

“All of our critical infrastructure is fragile,” said Gortney, the man responsible for defending the U.S. against external attack and coordinating the military’s efforts with civilian agencies. And Tuesday’s outage demonstrated “we have a lot of vulnerabilities out there.”

Added Gortney, a power blackout “could be a mission kill for NORAD and NorthCom.”

Perhaps it is coincidence, but Washington isn’t the only NATO capital hit with a major outage in recent days.

On March 27, a “huge outage” brought Amsterdam to a halt. Although the incident was blamed on a high-power voltage power station in a town just outside Amsterdam, Luke Coffey, a defense and security expert at the Heritage Foundation found the timing curious:

Then on March 31, both Ankara and Istanbul were plunged into darkness when a “major outage” hit Turkey.  Again, officials denied any malicious source. A Turkish energy ministry official told Reuters, “We have not come across any evidence of this outage being caused by a cyber attack.”

Three major NATO capitals, three major outages in less than two weeks. Whether cyber-attacks or just a string of bad luck, the question remains, “How vulnerable is our government anyway?”

As if to answer, two other related stories made news Tuesday.

First, the Federal Aviation Administration confirmed Tuesday that it had been hit with a cyber-attack in early February, but insists no damage was done. The FAA kept quiet about the incident for two months and only revealed the incident April 2 when announcing a contract with SRA International, Inc. to provide support services for the FAA’s Cyber Security Management Center.

Meanwhile, CNN is reporting that the Russian hackers behind recent a cyber-intrusion at the State Department were able to use that perch to penetrate sensitive parts of the White House computer system. The White House downplayed the seriousness of that attack as well.

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