PORTLAND, Ore. (KGW) — The FBI is investigating a targeted attack on a Portland General Electric substation in late November, the utility confirmed.
“PGE is aware of a deliberate physical attack on one of our substations in the Clackamas area,” wrote a PGE spokesperson in a statement. “Our teams have assessed the damage and begun repair to the impact facility.”
No other details were released, and the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office referred questions to the FBI.
The PGE incident came to light after an attack on two power substations in North Carolina that caused a mass power outage and a recent federal law enforcement memo that warned of possible attacks on electricity infrastructure.
“Power companies in Oregon and Washington have reported physical attacks on substations using hand tools, arson, firearms and metal chains possibly in response to an online call for attacks on critical infrastructure,” said a federal memo obtained by NewsNation. “In recent attacks, criminal actors bypassed security by cutting the fence links, lighting nearby fires, shooting equipment from a distance or throwing objects over the fence and onto equipment.”
KGW was unable to independently obtain the law enforcement bulletin.
“While our standard practice is to decline comment on specific bulletins, the FBI routinely shares information with our law enforcement partners in order to assist in protecting the communities they serve,” explained a spokesperson for the Portland office of the FBI. “We urge the public to remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity to law enforcement.”
Federal law enforcement has sounded the alarm to domestic terror threats to critical infrastructure for years.
A 2005 KGW investigation found numerous examples of attacks on transmission and communication towers — including nearly a dozen arson fires in the Portland-Vancouver area targeting communication towers in 2004. A lone suspect was seen on security cameras, but no arrest was ever made.
In 2003, a Spokane man tried to remove bolts from transmission towers throughout the West Coast. Michael Poulin was sentenced to 27-months in prison.
”Part of what I did was to illustrate that if you can’t defend these things against an ancient, infirmed, geezer like myself — what hope have you got against defending against committed, dedicated, youthful, possibility suicidal people who want to destroy these things,” Poulin said during an interview with KGW at Sheridan Federal Correctional Institution in 2005.
Over the past decade, utilities have taken specific measures to protect vulnerable towers or substations, like adding walls, sensors or cameras, although many remain exposed — especially those in rural areas.