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Ex-federal official: Attack on Bay Area substation was terrorism

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A Pacific Gas and Electric spokesman Wednesday night described how the utility was able to keep power flowing after shots were fired at a San Jose-area substation in an April attack that a former federal official said was an act of terrorism.

Former Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Jon Wellinghoff told the Associated Press that his conclusion was based on briefings from Defense Department experts about shots fired at the substation and the snipping of AT&T fiber-optic lines. The FBI has said there are no indications of a terrorist attack.

The attack was intended to cripple phone service and the electrical power grid, according to Wellinghoff. The incident was first reported Tuesday in the Wall Street Journal.

"This was the most sophisticated and extensive attack that's ever occurred on the grid to my knowledge," Wellinghoff told the AP.

Utility spokesman Brian Swanson told The Times on Wednesday that the incident at the substation occurred shortly after 1:30 a.m. April 16.

"Our electric control center received an alarm," he said, adding that the grid has a number of redundancies to prevent a shutdown. An operator at the center was able to remotely operate equipment and reroute power, Swanson said.

"We're taking this incident very seriously," he said. "No one lost power as a result of this incident."

An official with Edison Electrical Institute, a nonprofit organization that works with electrical companies, said utilities are working with each other and with federal and law enforcement agencies to improve "protective measures for the next incident."

Wellinghoff said he decided to speak out because he is concerned that the grid is not being adequately protected.

The AP reported that his concerns underscored previous statements from high-ranking officials.

In October, former CIA Director Jim Woolsey said during an event at the Commonwealth Club that video from the incident showed the attack was launched by three or four men in "disciplined military fashion." He said they fired their weapons and "quickly and professionally disposed of everything they had."

"This was a systematic attempt to take down the electric grid," Woolsey said.

Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith said someone lifted manhole covers on Monterey Highway south of San Jose, climbed under the road and cut phone lines, temporarily knocking out service.

About 15 minutes later, she said, someone fired a high-powered rifle into the nearby PG&E substation, which damaged several transformers and caused an oil leak. "The perpetrator or perpetrators were familiar with the systems," Smith said.

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