After announcing my departure from the Mitch Rapp series and putting the finishing touches on the Code Red manuscript, I’m finally back with the second installment of this year’s predictions recap. While there’s always a certain satisfaction to accurately foretelling world events, it’s also a little disconcerting. I want my books to have that ripped-from-the-headlines authenticity, but sometimes I wish the headlines were a little less terrifying.
In my January blog post, I covered the biggest dumpster fire of a prediction since I anticipated 9/11—the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This month I’ll be exploring a prophesy that hits a little closer to home—the threat to America’s electrical grid.
I’ve been thinking about the vulnerabilities of America’s power supply for a long time now. In 2007, I wrote Darkness Falls, a novel about an environmental terrorist group’s attempt to wipe out the world’s oil supply. My protagonist foils their plot, but over the years I began to muse about what would have happened if he’d failed. What America would look like without the energy that propels it.
I finally got my opportunity to explore the subject in Total Power. Again, I selected a domestic terrorist—this time John Alton, a brilliant, twisted megalomaniac. Why not a foreign power? Because it didn’t feel as plausible to me. Players like Russia, China, or Iran might be capable of this kind of attack, but it would be hard to justify it in light of the likely retaliation from both the US and our allies. Not to mention the devastation to the world economy that would occur if its primary driver were taken offline.
This turned out to be prescient. When I was writing the book, my research suggested that there had been very few physical attacks on our grid. Certainly, we have extensive evidence of our enemies attempting to infiltrate our systems, but actual assaults were few in number and limited in scope.
Since then, there has been a noticeable uptick in the targeting of our grid and, as I predicted, the threat has proved to be internal. Instead of my bored genius, though, it often comes from militias bent on fomenting an uprising against the US government.
While still disorganized and tracked by the FBI, these groups are a growing danger. Our grid consists of some 450,000 miles of electrical lines, 6,400 power plants, and 55,000 substations, and its vastness doesn’t translate into security. A government analysis suggests that as few as nine substations would have to be targeted to cause a nationwide blackout. That kind of attack seems well within the capabilities of a small, home-grown group of radicals. In fact, two men were recently convicted of planning just such an operation.
Fortunately, I’m not the only person thinking about this problem. The government is currently making progress in improving our defenses. Unfortunately, as this article points out, the focus has been on cyber threats and extreme weather—not physical security.
In the first eight months of 2022, there were 101 cyber and physical assaults on our power infrastructure. That number doesn’t include the North Carolina substations that were knocked out in early December, leaving around 45,000 people without power, nor does it include the Pacific Northwest attacks over Christmas. Since the end of August, there were at least eighteen more attacks in various states across the nation.
I have to admit that Total Power is the only novel I’ve written that’s made me take action in my own life. My house now contains quite a bit more in the way of emergency supplies and backup power than it did before I started researching the book.
Enemy of the State
Remember when Mitch rode an electric motorcycle to silently stalk a terrorist through the Iraqi desert? A model like the one he used is currently being tested by the US military and others are finding their way onto the battlefield in Ukraine. There’s even a motorcycle rack designed to be fitted to Black Hawk choppers. It debuted at the Dubai Airshow in 2021 and appears to be made specifically for the bike used by Mitch back in 2017.
Have you read the predictions in Part 1 of Stranger Than Fiction 2023? I talk about one of my most accurate prophesies yet.