The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) should have classified and protected a sensitive grid-related document created by its staff, the Department of Energy’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) said in a memorandum on Wednesday. 

Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) requested that the inspector general investigate sensitive information leaks suspected to have originated in FERC offices after The Wall Street Journal last month suggested that terrorists could cause a nationwide blackout by simply impairing nine key substations in the bulk power system. The newspaper also published non-public information relating to the investigation of the April 2013 attack on the Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s Metcalf substation located just south of San Jose, Calif.

The OIG determined that “at least one electric grid-related presentation” was accessible to FERC employees who do not have security clearances, and who were “not fully aware of their obligation to protect the information.” The document was also maintained on portable computers and e-mailed via unsecured means.

“The methods used in creating and distributing this document led us to the preliminary conclusion that the commission may not possess adequate controls for identifying and handling classified national security information,” wrote Department of Energy Inspector General Gregory Friedman.

Sonal Patel, associate editor (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)