Washington substation attacks alleged motive revealed

The FBI has revealed the alleged motive for four substation attacks in Washington state that cut power for thousands on Christmas Day, yet still no arrests have come a month after electric grid sabotage knocked out power for days for an entire North Carolina county amid nationwide concerns of domestic terrorism. 

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington announced Tuesday that two men – Matthew Greenwood, 32, and Jeremy Crahan, 40, both of Puyallup – were to appear in Tacoma federal court on the charge of conspiracy to damage energy facilities. Greenwood is also charged with possession of an unregistered short-barreled rifle and a short-barreled shotgun.

The criminal complaint revealed the alleged motive for the attacks on four substations dozens of miles apart within a 12-hour time frame on Dec. 25, 2022, was to commit a burglary at a business while power was down for some 15,000 customers in the area. 

The Department of Homeland Security warned last month that the U.S power grid is vulnerable to domestic terrorism, noting online calls to sabotage critical infrastructure. Officials have not publicly cited domestic terrorism in the Washington case. 

TWO WASHINGTON MEN CHARGED IN 4 SUBSTATION ATTACKS ON CHRISTMAS THAT CUT POWER FOR THOUSANDS: FBI 

In the early morning hours of Christmas Day, the perimeter chain-link fence was cut to gain entry to the Hemlock substation, operated by Puget Sound Energy. A “bank high side switch” was manipulated, causing an outage for some 8,000 customers. The criminal complaint noted suspects did not steal any copper or cut any wires. 

On Dec. 26, 2022, Tacoma Power provided the FBI with surveillance footage of a suspect seen at the Elk Plain substation at the time of the attack. Federal agents and local law enforcement later conducted search warrants on Dec. 31 and found a short-barreled rifle with what appears to be a homemade silencer inside a trailer.

On Dec. 26, 2022, Tacoma Power provided the FBI with surveillance footage of a suspect seen at the Elk Plain substation at the time of the attack. Federal agents and local law enforcement later conducted search warrants on Dec. 31 and found a short-barreled rifle with what appears to be a homemade silencer inside a trailer. (Department of Justice )

The Elk Plain substation was struck next. Padlocks were cut on the pedestrian gates to gain entry to the substation, where high side breakers were manipulated, causing an outage. The third attack happened at the Graham substation, where a chain-link fence was cut, and high side breakers were manipulated. 

One of the power substations in Graham, Washington, that was targeted on Christmas Day, according to police.

One of the power substations in Graham, Washington, that was targeted on Christmas Day, according to police. (Google Maps)

The damage on those two substations, both operated by Tacoma Power, was estimated at $3 million and caused outages for 7,500 customers. The complaint notes damage to both “de-energizer taps” for each impacted transformer requires replacement, resulting in up to 36 months’ repair time. 

Two mobile transformers at each facility now maintain power to customers, and combined output went from 50 megawatts to 15. 

PSE provided the FBI a map showing the proximity of all four substations attacked on Dec. 25, 2022.

PSE provided the FBI a map showing the proximity of all four substations attacked on Dec. 25, 2022. (Department of Justice)

Later that evening on Dec. 25, the fourth attack happened at Kapowsin substation, operated by Puget Sound Energy. A chain-link fence was cut to gain entry. According to the complaint, suspects tampered with the bank high side switch and tried to pry the linkage open, causing the substation to start arcing and sparking. 

After being advised of his Miranda rights, Greenwood stated that he and Crahan “have been planning to disrupt power to commit a burglary,” FBI Special Agent Mark Tucher wrote in a probable cause summary. Crahan allegedly drove them both to the first three facilities, acting as the getaway driver while Greenwood entered the substations using bolt cutters provided by Crahan. 

Tacoma Power provided the FBI with video footage of a vehicle that arrived at the Elk Plain substation at the time of the attack on Dec. 26, 2022.

Tacoma Power provided the FBI with video footage of a vehicle that arrived at the Elk Plain substation at the time of the attack on Dec. 26, 2022. (Department of Justice)

Crahan allegedly entered the fourth substation. While the power was out, after the Graham and South Hill attacks, the two went to a local business, where Crahan drilled out a lock, and Greenwood entered to steal from the cash register, Tucher said. The complaint does not name that business. 

The FBI said cellphone records placing the suspects at all four substations and surveillance camera footage of one of the suspects and the getaway truck led to the arrests. A search warrant of the trailer where both men lived uncovered an illegally possessed short-barreled rifle with a homemade silencer, the complaint says. 

Work to restore power is in progress on Dec. 5, 2022, in Moore County, North Carolina, after two substations operated be Duke Electric were shot at in Carthage.

Work to restore power is in progress on Dec. 5, 2022, in Moore County, North Carolina, after two substations operated be Duke Electric were shot at in Carthage. (Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Despite federal prosecutors applauding the FBI’s swift work in securing arrests in the Washington case on New Year’s Eve, they acknowledged no suspects have been apprehended in the Dec. 3, 2022, attacks on two substations in Moore County, North Carolina, that left some 45,000 customers without power.

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“We are still getting into the facts obviously, we are paying attention to what happened in North Carolina. There have been prior attacks here in the Northwest as well, not just most recently, this is a national problem, but we are still investigating this case and a lot to be determined about the facts,” Nick Brown, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Washington, said Tuesday, according to KOMO. 

Authorities said someone or a group drove up to two substations operated by Duke Energy and opened fire, causing extensive damage. The incident is being investigated as a “criminal occurrence.” In that case, the Moore County Sheriff’s Office asked for court approval for several search warrants, and the FBI was also looking into cellphone records. The motive remains unclear. 

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