Security and Resilience (Cyber and Physical)

Department of Justice Charges Two People With Conspiracy to Attack Maryland Substations

The U.S. Department of Justice on Feb. 6 announced the filing of a federal criminal complaint charging two people with conspiracy to destroy substations in Maryland.

The criminal complaint was unsealed upon the arrests of the defendants, Sarah Beth Clendaniel, of Catonsville, Maryland, and Brandon Clint Russell, of Orlando, Florida.

As alleged in the affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint, from at least June 2022 to the present, Russell conspired to carry out attacks against critical infrastructure, specifically electrical substations, in furtherance of Russell’s racially or ethnically motivated violent extremist beliefs.  

Russell posted links to open-source maps of infrastructure, which included the locations of electrical substations, and he described how a small number of attacks on substations could cause a “cascading failure.” Russell also discussed maximizing the impact of the planned attack by hitting multiple substations at one time, the DOJ said.

According to the DOJ, Clendaniel collaborated on a plan to carry out the attacks. Clendaniel conspired to secure a weapon and identified five substations she planned to target.

Clendaniel allegedly stated that if they hit a number of them all in the same day, they “would completely destroy this whole city,” and that a “good four or five shots through the center of them . . . should make that happen.” She further added, “[i]t would probably permanently completely lay this city to waste if we could do that successfully.” 

If convicted, Russell and Clendaniel each face a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison for conspiracy to damage an energy facility.

In a statement released on Feb. 6, investor-owned Exelon and its subsidiary Baltimore Gas & Electric said that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had notified Exelon and BGE that it had disrupted a plot to target several BGE electric substations with gunfire.

“We are working closely with the FBI and state and local law enforcement as they continue their investigation, and we are thankful for their vigilance and the precautions taken to protect the electric grid for our customers and employees,” the companies said.

Exelon and BGE noted that law enforcement acted before the perpetrators were able to carry out their plan, and there was no damage to any of the substations, nor was any service disrupted.

“The substations are not believed to have been targeted out of any connection to BGE or Exelon, or because of any particular vulnerability. We have a long-standing partnership with law enforcement and state and federal regulators of the grid to secure critical infrastructure; this work is even more important now as threats have increased in recent years. There are no currently known threats to any of our facilities,” the utilities said.

The American Public Power Association offers a wide array of resources to help its members create a more resilient and secure electric grid that is prepared for both cyber and physical threats. Click here for additional details.

APPA offers a suite of resources to help in hardening a utility's physical security including “Physical Security Essentials: A Public Power Primer,” which addresses physical security protective measures and describes leading practices that can help mitigate risks. This publication is available through the APPA product store. The physical security checklist associated with this publication can be accessed here.

The Electricity Information Sharing and Analysis Center recently released the Physical Security Resource Guide for Electricity Asset Owners and Operators. This publication is only available to logged-in APPA utility, joint action agency, or state association members.