Strange Series of Deadly Explosions in Massachusetts

[Content Note: Death; injury; explosions.]

Yesterday in Massachusetts, there was a very strange and troubling series of explosions in three communities, leaving one person dead, 20 injured, and many people displaced from their homes after officials called for widespread evacuations. Methuen Police Chief Joseph Solomon said there were so many fires "you can't even see the sky."

Lisa Creamer and Benjamin Swasey at WBUR report:
At least one person died and thousand of residents in three Merrimack Valley communities were urged to evacuate from their homes after a series of gas explosions ignited fires in the area.

The affected communities are Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover.

Leonel Rondon, 18, of Lawrence, died after a chimney from a house explosion fell on the car he was in on Chickering Road, the Essex County district attorney's office said in a statement late Thursday.

About 20 other people, including at least one firefighter, were injured and being treated at local hospitals as a result of the explosions or fires.

...As of late Thursday, it remained unclear what exactly caused the blasts. The state fire marshal's office had said the fires followed a high pressure gas main explosion. State emergency management officials said that "possible gas line over-pressurization" could be the source of the explosions. However, state police officials said in a tweet Thursday evening that it is "far too early to speculate on [a] cause."
It may be too early to speculate on a cause, but I will tell you what I fear that it was: I fear that it was the first significant cyberattack on our utility grid.

We know that Russia has been planning an attack on U.S. utilities, and that hackers have already reached "the control rooms of U.S. electric utilities." We know that Russia has been using Ukraine as a testing ground for cyberattacks, including on utility companies. And we know that Russian diplomats, presumed to be Russian intelligence agents, have been "waging a quiet effort to map the United States' telecommunications infrastructure, perhaps preparing for an opportunity to disrupt it."

We also know, coincidentally, that Russia is currently staging its "biggest military maneuvers since the fall of the Soviet Union" in Siberia and in the Bering Sea, which separates Russia from Alaska. NATO is concerned enough to be closely monitoring the drills, which involve "300,000 troops, over 1,000 military aircraft, and two naval fleets," and during which Vladimir Putin delivered a speech to soldiers, vowing "to strengthen the Russian army and supply it with new generation weapons and equipment."

We also know, coincidentally, that Energy Secretary Rick Perry arrived in Russia on September 11, and that Russia state media has announced he's meeting with sanctioned Russian state nuclear energy corporation Rosatom while he's there.

And we also know, coincidentally, that Special Counsel Bob Mueller struck a plea deal with Paul Manafort late yesterday, and it is still unclear as of this writing whether he was given the deal without any promise of cooperation with the Russia probe. Spencer S. Hsu and Devlin Barrett at the Washington Post note: "People familiar with the plea discussions have previously said that Manafort has no intention of cooperating with Mueller, so it's possible any prospective agreement could allow him to admit guilt without providing information to investigators."

So, those are the things I'm thinking about at the moment, and why I fear that the explosions in Massachusetts represented the first significant cyberattack on our utility grid.

I also fear that, even if that is indeed the case, we may never get confirmation of it from officials, who feel obliged to conceal it out of some misplaced belief in maintaining public safety by lying to us. (And/or because they are themselves compromised.)

It's frankly very concerning to me, as well, how little national coverage this story has gotten, even despite coverage of the hurricane.

Anyway. Here we are.

My condolences to the family and friends of Leonel Rondon. I'm so sorry for your loss. My thoughts remain with the people who were injured; I hope they have access to the resources they need to recover. I also hope that people whose homes were damaged or destroyed will be treated well by their insurance companies, and get back to something resembling regular life with as few barriers as possible.

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