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Bush Blocks Independent Blackout Investigation

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Bush Moves To Consolidate Blackout Probe

By H. Josef Hebert


WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Bush administration on Tuesday moved to consolidate the investigation into the nation's worst power blackout, saying that an industry watchdog group would forgo its independent probe and work with a U.S.-Canadian task force.

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, a co-chair of the task force, would not speculate on what might have caused the blackout that cascaded across a vast region from Michigan to New York City last Thursday.

"It is way too early to engage in speculation about the role any (incident) might have had in the overall problem," Abraham told reporters at a news conference.

The North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC), an industry-sponsored group that monitors power grid reliability, so far has been in the forefront of the investigation. The group has pointed to problems in a number of high-voltage transmission lines in Ohio, belonging to FirstEnergy Corp., saying that is where the power cascade that led to the blackout apparently began.

"It's important that we withhold judgment before all the facts are in," said Abraham.

Abraham said it was felt that there needed to be "one ultimate finding" by a single investigation.

He said that the NERC "has agreed to work with the task force and forgo its own investigation of the incident."

Abraham said, "We applaud ... what they have done so far" but it was felt "the public would not want two or three entities producing their versions of what happened."

Abraham said the task force would use "all the resources at our disposal," including the federal research laboratories as well as experts in private industry.

Abraham gave no estimate on when any findings would be made public.

Other government sources said the task force might issue an interim report by mid-September. Abraham said there was no time table, but that the task force would find answers "as quickly as possible and begin implementing solutions."

"We owe our citizens an explanation of this incident and an assurance that steps will be taken to address the cause," he said.

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1997 NSA Simulated 'Hack

Attack' On Power Grid

From Nico Haupt

[email protected]


The "electronic Pearl Harbor" that White House terrorism czar Richard A. Clarke fears is not just a threat, it has already happened. Much of the scenario above -- except for the plane and stock market crashes and the panic -- occurred in 1997 when 35 hackers hired by the National Security Agency launched simulated attacks on the U.S. electronic infrastructure.

"Eligible Receiver," as the exercise was called, achieved "root level" access in 36 of the Department of Defense's 40,000 networks. The simulated attack also "turned off" sections of the U.S. power grid, "shut down" parts of the 911 network in Washington, D.C., and other cities and gained access to systems aboard a Navy cruiser at sea.


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Ohio Plant Spewed

Ash Before Blackout

From Doug [email protected]

By M.R. Kropko Associated Press Writer


EASTLAKE, Ohio - Roughly two hours before the nation's largest power outage, steam and ash started spewing from FirstEnergy Corp.'s coal generation plant here, blanketing nearby homes, cars and picnic tables.

The plant had released ash before, but neighbors said Thursday's eruption was the worst in recent memory.

"We noticed the dust and we said 'What the heck is that?'" said Mike Tangora, 73, who lives nearby in northeast Ohio's Timberlake. "It was almost like it was snowing. We've been here since 1962 and that's the worst I've seen it."

The plant shut down about 2 p.m. Thursday, the first of several sites where transmission failures occurred in the Cleveland area before the blackout. Investigators are examining whether the failures sparked the outage that left 50 million people in eight states and parts of Canada in the dark. FirstEnergy owns most of the failed lines.

FirstEnergy spokesman Ralph DiNicola declined to talk about specifics of the investigation, saying the company was turning over data to investigators.

Investigators say about an hour after the Eastlake plant shut off, FirstEnergy's Chamberlin-Harding power line followed.

The Chamberlin substation, slightly smaller than a football field, is tucked away from the road, down a gravel path and behind a chain-link fence. Workers from a nearby Chrysler stamping plant said the lights dimmed about 3:30 p.m. Thursday.

"I thought it was just a power surge like we get all the time," said Tom Irons of Akron. "The power never went out."

The outage at Chamberlin put strain on FirstEnergy's Hanna-Jupiter line, heating the wires and causing them to sag into a tree and trip off.

Surrounded by farms and acres of emerald green trees, the Hanna Substation in Rootstown is considerably larger than the one in Chamberlin, stretching about the length of four football fields. The area is so remote the only sounds heard are roosters crowing and birds chirping.

There were no visible signs Sunday of damaged lines or trees. Circuit breakers and powerline towers go as far as the eye can see. The substation is fenced off and a "No Trespassing" sign is posted.

Across the road, Jim Wilburn said he and his neighbors never lost power Thursday.

"I didn't even know that the power went out until I came in and turned on the TV. I was outside all day," Wilburn said.

Wilburn's daughter-in-law, Carmeine Wilburn, said lights flickered about 4 p.m. but the store never fully lost power, and the flickering soon stopped.

Rootstown resident Gus Mackey was surprised when he heard the local station may have been involved in the outage: "Rootstown didn't even lose power."

Back in Eastlake, Tangora has kept a sandwich bag of ash, should investigators want to examine it.

Robert Burns, senior research specialist at Ohio State's National Regulatory Research Institute, said an unusual release of fly ash, or airborne particles, may be an indicator of operational problems.

Timberlake Mayor Sam Santangelo, who can see the plant from his back yard, said he was driving home shortly before 3 p.m. Thursday and heard a loud noise, indicating a release from the stacks.

"There was a rushing noise out of the stack and given the size and the pressure, the noise is deafening," he said.

Timberlake resident Frank Vanah, 71, said he called the power plant after hearing the noise and reached a manager.

"He told me there was some kind of electrical short or something like that," he said.

Henry Reed, 47, put a finger on an outdoor table on Sunday.

"You could put your finger here Thursday and write your name on the top of the table. The fly ash was about the depth of three layers of chalk on a blackboard. It's highly unusual. I've never seen anything like it."

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