DHS: Russia may be plotting cyberattack, plus "domestic violent extremists" plot to disrupt U.S. power grid

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

DHS issued two bulletins this week warning of potential plots by Russia and by “domestic violent extremists” to disrupt the power grid. On Sunday DHS sent a bulletin to law enforcement partners nationwide describing the need for heightened alert over the potential of a Russian cyberattack if Russia feels threatened by the U.S. or NATO response to its threats to Ukraine. On Monday, DHS sent another bulletin, this one to law enforcement agencies and utility operators advising that domestic extremists are plotting to disrupt the U.S. power grid.

The tension over a potential Russian invasion into Ukraine was the driving factor in the first bulletin being issued. It’s not a secret that Russia has targeted the U.S. with cyberattacks for years, whether it is the low-level denial of service operations or targeting crucial infrastructure disruptions like energy pipelines. DHS doesn’t have specific information of a plot, as it stated in the bulletin, but extra attention is needed now.

“Russia maintains a range of offensive cyber tools that it could employ against US networks—from low-level denials of service to destructive attacks targeting critical infrastructure,” the bulletin issued Sunday and obtained by CBS News, continued.

DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told CBS News Thursday, “it’s very difficult to calibrate the likelihood” of a cyberattack launched by the Russian government or its proxies in response to American support to Ukraine. But the secretary conceded the U.S. is currently on “heightened alert by reason of the geopolitical landscape.”

“When the specter of harm arises, we call for vigilance. And quite frankly, in the cybersecurity arena, ever-present vigilance is what we call for,” Mayorkas added.

DHS indicated in its assessment that “Russia’s threshold for conducting disruptive or destructive cyber attacks in the Homeland probably remains very high.” Officials “have not observed Moscow directly employ these types of cyber attacks against US critical infrastructure—notwithstanding cyber espionage and potential prepositioning operations in the past.”

It sounds like DHS is getting out in front of any potential cyberattack and covering its bases if anything happens that can be traced back to the Russians. Putin is going to have to act quickly if he is going to invade Ukraine, with 100,000 troops on the border sitting and waiting for orders. The Biden administration goes from warning that Russia going into Ukraine is likely “imminent” to bloviating that there will be strong repercussions against Russia if the attack is carried out. Biden is seen as a weak president by much of the world, especially after he botched the withdrawal from Afghanistan so badly. That was an early humiliation and humanitarian crisis of Biden’s own making and the world was watching.

Do we have much faith in the ability of DHS to protect the country from Russian cyberattacks? Mayorkas and his minions have not exactly been projecting a lot of competence in either vetting and resettling Afghan refugees or in securing the southern border from illegal migration. The invasion of migrants coming in through the U.S.- Mexico border is still at historic numbers. Just yesterday I wrote about a mass release of single adult migrants from Brownsville, Texas, transporting them to other cities around the country.

The second bulletin that was sent to law enforcement partners with DHS and to utility companies dealt with “domestic violent extremists” plotting to disrupt the U.S. power grid. No word if these domestic extremists are angry parents or not. I’m kidding. Kinda. DHS says that credible and specific plans have been uncovered since 2020 and they continue now.

“DVEs have developed credible, specific plans to attack electricity infrastructure since at least 2020, identifying the electric grid as a particularly attractive target given its interdependency with other infrastructure sectors,” the bulletin reads.

It warns that extremists “adhering to a range of ideologies will likely continue to plot and encourage physical attacks against electrical infrastructure.”

Still, the bulletin notes that, “Absent significant technical knowledge or insider assistance, small scale attacks are unlikely to cause widespread, multi-state power loss but may result in physical damage that poses risks to operations or personnel.”

So, should we be concerned but maybe not too much unless you are a worker in a power facility? The communication coming from this administration is lacking, from top to bottom. The Biden administration is on high alert over a potential cyberattack by Russia which some call “imminent” but the White House has batted away any questions about it. The problem is that just after being in office for one full year, the ineptness and incompetence shown by the Biden administration is alarming. These were supposed to be the experienced professionals who know how to keep everything working. There has been failure after failure with little to point to as going well. Americans are on edge enough with what remains of the pandemic, inflation, businesses struggling to deal with worker shortages and supply chain issues, and the damage done to children from school closures. Now there are international tensions to watch and potentially crippling threats to infrastructure and the power grid.

The Monday bulletin goes on to point out that, since 2019, potential racially or ethnically-motivated violent extremists have explored attacking power stations in the Southeast if they disagreed with the outcome of the November 2020 election.

In October 2020, the Department of Justice charged four suspected racially-motivated domestic violent extremists who “believed in the superiority of the white race and discussed accelerationist objectives” with conspiracy to damage transformers in Idaho and surrounding states. The federal indictment alleged that a handwritten list of transformers, substations, and other components of the power grid in the Northwest were discovered among a defendant’s possessions by federal law enforcement.

The U.S. electric grid contains approximately 7,700 power plants, 3,300 utilities, and over 2.7 million miles of power lines, according to the Council on Foreign relations. Yet it functions as three separate U.S. grids, or “self-contained interconnections of power production and transmission” that include Eastern, Western, and Texas interconnections.

I’m not surprised that DHS points a finger at white nationalists and the 2020 election. That is a popular thing to do these days. However, I’m old enough to remember when it was the far-left who threatened power stations and disruptions to the power grid in the past. Remember all the nuclear energy protests, for example? None of this helps the national malaise that envelopes us. Only 27% of Americans think we are moving in the right direction. DHS says it shares information “with federal, state, local, tribal, territorial, and private sector partners to ensure the safety and security of all communities across the country.” Let’s hope they can all work together to stop anything that is coming our way.