Feds reveal motive behind Washington power grid attacks on Christmas Day
TACOMA, Wash. (KPTV) - Federal law enforcement authorities have revealed the alleged motives behind attacks on four power substations in Washington state on Christmas Day that left thousands of people without electricity.
The four substations that were targeted were the Graham and Elk Plain substations operated by Tacoma Power and the Kapowsin and Hemlock substations operated by Puget Sound Energy. The damage to just the Tacoma Power substations was estimated to be at least $3 million.
On Tuesday, the FBI identified 32-year-old Matthew Greenwood and 40-year-old Jeremy Crahan as the perpetrators of the attacks after analyzing their phone records.
One of the Tacoma Power substations caught images of one of the suspects and a pickup truck that was tied to the two men. When law enforcement arrested Greenwood and Crahan, they found the same clothing caught on camera and seized two unregistered guns, one with a makeshift silencer.
The two men were charged with conspiracy to damage energy facilities and possession of an unregistered firearm. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, conspiracy to attack energy facilities is punishable by up to 20 years in prison, and possession of an unregistered firearm is punishable by up to ten years in prison.
Prosecutors will ask that both men remain detained at the Federal Detention Center at SeaTac.
According to the criminal complaint, the reason for the attacks on December 25, which occurred over a 12-hour period and hundreds of miles apart, was to burglarize a nearby business while the power was out for nearly 15,000 customers in the area.
The outer chain-link fence around the Hemlock substation, which is run by Puget Sound Energy, was cut early on Christmas Day. A “bank high side switch” was tampered with, leading to an outage that affected about 8,000 users.
The next target was the substation in Elk Plain. In order to enter the substation, padlocks on the pedestrian gates had to be removed. Once inside, high side breakers were altered, which resulted in an outage. The Graham substation was the scene of the third attack, which involved the manipulation of high side breakers and the cutting of a chain-link fence.
7,500 consumers experienced power interruptions as a result of the $3 million in damage to those two Tacoma Power substations. According to the lawsuit, replacing both “de-energizer taps” for each affected transformer that have been damaged will take up to 36 months.
The fourth attack took place at the Puget Sound Energy-run Kapowsin substation later that evening, on December 25. To obtain access, a chain-link fence was cut. The substation began to arc and spark after the suspects allegedly interfered with the bank high side switch and attempted to pry the linkage open.
Greenwood admitted, after being informed of his Miranda rights, that he and Crahan “have been preparing to disrupt power to commit a burglary,” according to a probable cause summary by FBI Special Agent Mark Tucher.
Crahan is accused of going inside the fourth substation. After the Graham and South Hill attacks, the two went to a nearby company where Crahan drilled out a lock and Greenwood entered to steal from the cash register, according to Tucher. This was done while the electricity was off. That company is not mentioned in the complaint.
According to the FBI, the suspects’ arrests were made possible by cellphone data identifying them at each of the four substations and security video showing one of the suspects and the getaway vehicle. According to the complaint, a short-barreled weapon with an illegal handmade silencer was discovered during a search warrant of the trailer where both men resided.
Copyright 2023 KPTV-KPDX. All rights reserved.