On November 10, 2009, a blackout left 18 of the 26 Brazilian states without power, also effecting Paraguay. At the time, it was the worst accident of its kind for the Itaipu Plant, from its inauguration in 1982. Paraguayan and Brazilian authorities reported a "total shutdown" of the turbines. A map of the event can be accessed here.
The explanation of the event was never clear and is still considered the largest blackout occurred in the country. Brazilian authorities, specifically the Minister of Mines and Energy, Edison Lobao pointed to meteorological reasons for the event, which was confirmed later by a government commission to study the only open case.
However, a cable from the U.S. State Department coordinating both the Embassy in Brazil and the consulates in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, provides new information on the event and a strange coincidences of events.
First, about the cause of the blackout. The cable 09BRASILIA1382 reveals:
“Two days after the incident, according to a credible source, security officials in Brazil were attributing the outage to 'human error' on the part of a Brazilian national who is a system operator. Accordingly to the source, that operator was under investigation. Source is unavailable for further comment on whether evolving assessments may have affected that hypothesis and the status of that particular investigation is unknown.”
The hypothesis of "human error" was raised at the time, although under discredit, by the Paraguayan newspaper ABC Color based on 'sources in the energy sector. Although the Brazilian National Space Research Institute has not recorded any storm in the region of Itapu's Plant at the time of the blackout, the hypothesis of the storm was officially announced by the Government of the time.
Interestingly, three days before, the American program "60 Minutes" devoted one of their episodes promoting the idea that the previous blackouts in Brazil were caused by hack attacks. The rumor, the day after the blackout on November 10, originated from the New York Times. In 11 days, the newspaper reported: “The blackouts came three days after CBS´s "60 Minutes" news program reported that several past Brazilian power outages were caused by hackers. Brazilian officials had played down the report before the latest outages, and Lobao did not mention it”. [The original version of the story was found at http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/11/10/world/AP-LT-Brazil-Blackouts.html, but is currently unavailable. We had use a copy from here: http://www.trustlc.com.br/noticias_det.asp?cod=330.]
The fact was not ignored by Brazilian authorities. According to the same cable:
“There was also private speculation in at least one conversation among some government officials, apparently based in part of the coincidental "60 Minutes" program just days earlier suggesting vulnerabilities in the Brazilian system, that U.S. private sector interests may have engineered the blackouts to gain better commercial access to the grid”.
It is worth bringing to light the comment from Geraldes Wilkins, representative of the ONS (National Electricity System Operator) to Econoff according to the cable: “Geraldes described the events of November 10 as unusual, not in the interruption of the system, but in the confluence of events that led to the overall catastrophic scale of the blackout”.
The same article of the New York Times highlights another point: '''It's sad to see such a beautiful city with such a precarious infrastructure,'' said Igor Fernandes, a shirtless 22-year-old law student peddling his bike down a dark Copacabana beach.
Again, this concern also affects the Brazilian government. “Geraldes acknowledged that the spotlight of the Olympic Games brings an increased scrutiny of the system” says cable 09BRASILIA1382.
Finally, a look to why such a situation might be seen as an advantageous to the United States:
“ONS has a protocol to guard against electricity disruptions which has been utilized during special events such as the Pan Am Games in 2007 and will be used in upcoming events including the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. Geraldes acknowledged actual physical security was a low priority under this protocol and said no special plans were made even during events. As Geraldes said, 'That has been less of a concern for us than for you.' However he agreed that there could be an increased focus on physical security in advance of the games, particularly after this incident has called attention to possible weaknesses in the system," appears in the same cable.
Stating more explicitly how the situation could favor the U.S. government, the document stamped by the Charges d'Affaires Lisa Kubiske indicates:
“We will know more about the immediate cause of Brazil's major blackout in a few weeks but in the meantime, there are opportunities for the USG to take advantage of GOB's [Brazilian Government]openness, highlighting the outage as reason for more engagement as well as preparations toward the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics”.
"This would be an excellent occasion to encourage the military to military Communication and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) (…) We could also consider a cybersecurity working group. Brazil might be open to pursuing cooperation on critical infrastructure protection, and MME has already told us they would be interested in learning more about our emergency broadcasting system. It is clear that physical security has not heretofore been a major focus for planners but officials acknowledge the possibility of an attack and are working on developing protections”.
The program "60 Minutes" three days before the incident, the appreciation by the New York Times raising rumors based on the program and the olympic games factor, the 'mystery' and 'unexpected coincidence of factors' that led to the accident and the evident willingness of the U.S. government for taking advantage of the whole situation put the event of November 10, 2009 in a scenario of pure conspiracy. The truth in the midst of all this? We do not dare point, the reader will be obligated to think about.
International media sources:
Local media/blogs sources for the case: