US energy firms and government officials should be more concerned with physically protecting domestic facilities from attacks than lining up supplies, former Central Intelligence Agency Director R. James Woolsey maintained.
Electric power generation and distribution systems look particularly vulnerable, Woolsey said in wide-ranging remarks July 7 at Johns Hopkins University’s School for Advanced International Studies.
But oil and gas facilities also could be targets, with refineries at greater risk than pipelines and production operations, said Woolsey, who was CIA director during the Clinton administration and now is a venture partner with Lux Capital management.
He said federal and local officials became concerned following an incident on Apr. 16—a day after the Boston Marathon bombings—where several individuals in San Jose, Calif., were observed shooting at power pole transformers in the middle of the night.
Authorities there later found that other people had lifted a manhole cover and reached telephone landlines beneath a street at about the same time, Woolsey said. “These apparently weren’t teenagers who had grabbed their fathers’ rifles for some late night fun,” he added. “They had something more serious in mind.”
Properly protected factories with a capacity to generate much of their own power will be in the best shape, he indicated. “Refineries are a special cyber problem,” Woolsey said. “If you turn one off and block it long enough, its catalysts go bad. They probably are what most cyber attackers [targeting US oil and gas operations] would go after first.”
The threat comes more from groups driven by their own political agendas than national governments, although major oil exporting countries can be expected to continue trying to undermine development of transportation fuel alternatives to preserve their markets, he suggested.
“These countries don’t have economies except to sell their natural resources abroad,” Woolsey said. “We should plow ahead and, if they let us, help them develop new industries. It’s worked before, and I think we can do it again.”
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