Thursday, January 13, 2011

The 2004 Bombing of a Hydro-Quebec Tower

In  "Cross Border Issues in Protecting Critical Infrastructure from Terrorism"  (2006), Kevin Freese, a U. S. Army researcher, discusses threats to the North American power grid, including its potential vulnerability to accidental or malicious disruption in Canada. A case in point for the latter is the 2004 bombing of a Hydro-Quebec transmission tower (a so-called Mae West pylon) in the Eastern Townships. The tower was part of a transmission line carrying electricity from a large hydro dam in James Bay, Quebec, to metro Boston. Discovered by a hunter in November, 2004, the bombing did not disrupt the flow of power into the U.S., although it was apparently meant to, and Freese finds the implications of this incident significant.

A group named the International Resistance Initiative (IRI) claimed credit for the bombing as a gesture of protest against the "sacking and pillaging of Quebec's resources" by the United States, a reference to the U.S.'s increasing dependence on Canadian energy, especially hydro-power. It also accused Hydro-Quebec of exploiting the province's natural resources. Freese comments that Hydro-Quebec's James Bay electricity network has caused much controversy because of its environmental impact, both actual and potential, and because of its impact upon the Cree nation.

But the real target was meant to be the U.S. Although the H-Q transmission network is vast, the bombing was carried out within a few miles of the U.S. border. Freese believes that this signals the IRI's intent to cause a blackout and major disruption in the U.S. In fact, he notes, if the bombing had been successful, it might have blacked out much of Canada as well.

Although the attack was amateurish, Freese finds it significant that the IRI issued its communique claiming credit to the al-Jazeera Arab satellite television network. Its suggests that "more hardened and callous" organizations have "potential allies" like the IRI close to the U.S. who are prepared to launch attacks on critical infrastructure beyond our borders but upon which we are becoming increasingly dependent.

Freese concludes that homeland security cannot be judged strictly a domestic issue, especially when it relates to critical infrastructure such as transmission lines. While America's neighbors Canada and Mexico proclaim protection of infrastructure as vital, "local problems complicate their ability to protect these targets."

Freese's concerns about Canada in 2006 were echoed last month, December 2010, by Canada's Defence Department itself. In Critical Energy Infrastructure Protection in Canada, a study commissioned by the Defence Department, author Angela Gendron warns that almost ten years after 9/11 Canada still has not formed a reliable strategy to protect energy infrastructure. The reality belies all the rhetoric, she comments.

As the Vancouver Sun phrased it on January 5, 2011, inaction by the federal government has left key energy assets vulnerable to a range of threats, from terrorism and natural disasters to the emerging danger of a cyberattack.

Canada's energy infrastructure remains a target for terror.

As it evaluates the Presidential Permit application by Northern Pass, it behooves the U. S. Department of Energy to consult the U. S. Department of Defense about Canadian protection of energy infrastructure. We await their findings.

Bury Northern Pass, a group of concerned citizens in Grafton County, belongs to the No Northern Pass Coalition. To join the mailing list, write to