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WASHINGTON – In the Republican presidential debate Tuesday on CNN, presidential candidate and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich announced a threat to U.S. national security that no other candidate has discussed and that commentators described as “out of the box” until they researched it for themselves.
The potential threat Gingrich referred to was an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, attack that “would literally destroy the country’s capacity to function.”
Gingrich pointed out that no one is talking about the potential for such an attack to cripple America’s critical infrastructure.
Business Insider said that “at first, we thought Gingrich had been playing too many video games, but after looking into it, it turns out EMP attacks are actually real and pretty damn scary.”
The CNN debate was sponsored by two conservative Washington-based think tanks, the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation.
An EMP is generated from a nuclear bomb explosion in the atmosphere. It is a pulse of energy that is produced from the explosion.
It also can be generated from such a natural phenomenon as a severe geomagnetic storm that can affect all civilian electronics and electrical systems.
Gingrich’s brief reference to the potential dangers from an EMP attack during the debate with eight other presidential candidates isn’t the first time he has mentioned the threat.
In a recent video before EMPACT America’s EMP conference, the former House speaker who also is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said that an EMP attack “may be the greatest strategic threat we face, because without adequate preparation, its impact would be so horrifying that we would basically lose our civilization in a matter of seconds.”
He also addressed the issue in 2009:
Following Gingrich’s comments at last night’s presidential debate, CNN began to look into the effects of an EMP attack and in a later broadcast referred to one expert, James Jay Carafano of the Heritage Foundation, who underscored its devastating effects.
In August, Carafano released a Heritage paper titled “Clear and Present Danger: Time for a National EMP Awareness Day” in which he said such an attack, either from a nuclear weapon or powerful solar activity, could be devastating.
“Communications would collapse, transportation would halt, and electrical power would simply be nonexistent,” Carafano said. “Not even a global humanitarian effort would be enough to keep hundreds of millions of Americans from death by starvation, exposure, or lack of medicine.”
An EMP attack over the middle of the continental U.S. “has the capability to produce significant damage to critical infrastructures that support the fabric of U.S. society and the ability of the United States and Western nations to project influence and military power,” according to Dr. William R. Graham, who led a 2008 congressional study on the effects of an EMP attack on the U.S.
That 2008 report, which has gone largely ignored, is titled the “Report of the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) attack.”
“Several potential adversaries have the capability to attack the United States with a high-altitude nuclear weapon-generated electromagnetic pulse, and others appear to be pursuing efforts to obtain that capability,” Graham said.
Graham was the science adviser to President Ronald Reagan.
Findings from the report his commission published in 2008 determined that the catastrophic effects of an EMP attack would affect the very heart of the nation’s infrastructure that Graham said supports “the fabric of U.S. society and the ability of the United States and Western nations to project influence and military power.”
Graham pointed out that the U.S. is particularly vulnerable to such an attack since the it is heavily dependent on electric power, electronics, telecommunications, information networks and an extensive set of financial and transportation systems that leverage modern technology.
It also would have a serious impact on the means of obtaining food, water and medical care as well as on trade and the production of goods and services.
If there were an EMP attack, the impact would be “something you might imagine life to be like around the late 1800s, but with several times the population we had in those days and without the ability of the country to support and sustain all those people,” Graham said.
Graham also said that starvation would be a distinct possibility. Life would be even more primitive than the 1800s, he said, since back then Americans had food from the farms.
“This asymmetry is a source of substantial economic industrial and societal advantages for the U.S.,” he said. “But the critical interdependencies and normally reliable operation of the infrastructures create potential vulnerabilities if multiple, simultaneous disruptions and failures can be made to occur.”