Steve Elwart, P.E., Ph.D., is the executive research analyst with the Koinonia Institute and a subject matter expert for the Department of Homeland Security. He can be contacted at email@example.com.More ↓Less ↑
Can the United States actually protect itself from the effects of an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) attack, or is the nation merely a sitting duck just waiting for disaster?
The EMP Commission, a panel established by Congress, has written that “EMP is one of a small number of threats that can hold our society at risk of catastrophic consequences. … It has the capability to produce significant damage to critical infrastructures and thus to the very fabric of U.S. society … .”
The effects of an EMP have been known for 50 years, but it is virtually unknown by the general public. Sadly, many who do know about EMP either discount the threat or consider those who talk about it are “fear mongers.”
The fact is the scenario of a nation-state threatening to use an EMP device against the U.S. is a real threat. There have already been instances of an EMP threat being used against America.
In a recent webcast hosted by hosted by The United West, U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., offered this anecdote to illustrate just how real the threat is.
In May 1999, a congressional delegation that included Bartlett, met in Vienna, Austria, to ask the Russians for help in resolving the conflict in Kosovo. He and other members of the U.S. government met with members of the Russian legislature (the Duma) to work toward a peaceful resolution to the fighting in the region. The chairman of the Duma International Affairs Committee was Vladimir P. Lukin, who was also the former ambassador to the United States. Bartlett said the Russians were the only ones the Serbs really trusted and anything they agreed to, the Serbs would agree to.
U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md.
During the course of the negotiations, Lukin displayed his displeasure with what Russia perceived as U.S. interference on Russia’s sphere of influence. Lukin asked Bartlett, “You spit on us, now why should we help you?”
Near the end of the three days of negotiations, Lukin warned Bartlett that Russia was not helpless to oppose the U.S.
Lukin said, “If we really wanted to hurt you with no fear of retaliation, we would launch an SLBM [submarine-launched ballistic missile] and detonate a single nuclear warhead at high altitude over the United States and shut down your power grid and communications for six months or so.”
The third ranking Russian in the delegation, Alexander Shabanov, smiled and added, “And if one weapon wouldn’t do it, we have some spares.”
Bartlett was criticized for telling that anecdote, that he may give people ideas. Bartlett’s response was that maybe one in 50 people even knew about the EMP threat.
Members of the Russian military have offered similar threats.
In 2004, Russian Maj. Gen. Vladimir Belous openly advocated an “asymmetric response” against the U.S., writing: “During a crisis situation period, ‘space’ mines can be inserted into space. They are dispersed in orbit around enemy objects and, detonating on command from Earth, disable them at the necessary moment. The ‘blinding’ of enemy territory by disabling his electronic and power network also is possible. American specialists determined that in case a large nuclear charge were detonated at an altitude of hundreds of kilometers above the geographic center of the United States, the state of Nebraska, a powerful electromagnetic pulse will disable electronic and power systems on the territory of the entire country for a certain time.”
U.S. Amb. Henry Cooper
U.S. Amb. Henry Cooper also warns of the EMP threat. Cooper was the chief U.S. negotiator at the Geneva Defense and Space Talks with the Soviet Union and was named the first civilian director of SDI, the Strategic Defense Initiative, from 1985 to 1989.
Cooper has stated that a nation-state or terrorist organization doesn’t need an ICBM to inflict catastrophic damage on the U.S., but that “60-year-old SCUD technology is quite sufficient.”
In an Aug. 3 webcast, Cooper said Iran, among other nations, well understands the potential catastrophic effects an EMP can produce. He went on to say that, “They [Iran] have written about it … they have actually tested it [in the Caspian Sea].”
Reza Kahlili, a WND contributor and former Revolutionary Guardman, marked for assassination by the Iranian government has written a book titled, “A Time to Betray,” about just how serious a threat Iran is to the U.S. and to the world.
Kahlili has said Iran has obtained bombs from the former USSR, but does not have the codes. It can, however, use the material in the bombs for use in an EMP attack.
Amb. Cooper said terrorists are also a threat, as they are trying to obtain a nuclear device. Launching the device on the head of a SCUD missile from a ship docked at port or lying off the coast of the U.S. is very real possibility.
Cooper has disagreed with other experts in that Aegis missile systems have, in fact, the capability of bringing down a missile while in ascent and not have to wait until it is in its transition or decent stages.
An Aegis cruiser is usually in transit along the coast and could bring down a SCUD if they are at the ready and near enough to respond. Even at port they can provide protection from attack.
Cooper once asked the captain of a U.S. Navy cruiser station in Norfolk, Va., what he would do if he detected a SCUD missile ascending off the coast. The captain said that, if he had the opportunity, he would attempt to shoot it down. Cooper isn’t sure if naval captains have the authorization to do that, but supposes that some may respond to the threat even if they are not fully authorized.
Cooper’s main concern is with our “soft underbelly” in the Gulf of Mexico, because our Aegis ships do not patrol there. This vulnerably could be exploited by “Iran, terrorists, or even Venezuela”. “This vulnerability could be rectified by deploying ‘Aegis to shore’ on military bases around the Gulf of Mexico.”
He also wonders why, if we can protect our allies with “Aegis-to-shore” batteries, why we can’t protect our own shores.
An EMP from nuclear missiles is not the only threat facing the U.S.
Dr. Lowell Wood of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has also referred to “God’s EMP,” which is associated with solar storms. The interaction of the Earth’s magnetic field with solar wind during these storms mimics the low-frequency components of EMP. These effects have been known for years and widely reported.
There have been large-scale blackouts associated with severe solar storms in America in recent decades.
According to a NASA study, on March 10, 1989, astronomers witnessed a powerful explosion on the sun. The burst released a billion-ton cloud of gas into space. It was likened to thousands of nuclear bombs exploding at the same time.
The solar flare that accompanied the outburst immediately caused short-wave radio interference, including the jamming of radio signals from Radio Free Europe into Russia. It was first thought the signals had been jammed by the Russians.
Three days later, the solar storm was severe enough to cause the collapse of Quebec’s electrical transmission system. Six million people were without power within six seconds.
Even as far back as 1921, solar flares interfered with man’s technology.
Congressman Bartlett is one of the few scientists in Congress, and has been advocating the U.S. do more to protect the nation from the effects from an EMP.
In 1995, he convened the first unclassified hearing on EMP. He and 22 other members of the House also co-sponsored the SHIELD Act, standing for “Secure High-voltage Infrastructure for Electricity from Lethal Damage” Act.
The purpose of the SHIELD Act is to “To amend the Federal Power Act to protect the bulk-power system and electric infrastructure … of the United States against natural and manmade electromagnetic pulse (‘EMP’) threats and vulnerabilities.” It would implement standards to protect the electronic grid against an EMP event.
While standards are important, they do not necessarily apply to existing equipment.
Fritz Ermarth, chairman of the National Intelligence Council, has stated the U.S. needs to build an affordable, real, plan for hardening. He says we need to test nukes against existing electrical transformers. Ermarth also noted the need for testing is only one of the reasons why the U.S. should not ratify the U.N.-proposed Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
It’s estimated the cost to protect the transformers would be between $100 to $200 million, less than $1 per life. The cost to protect the entire electrical grid would be $1 billion to $2 billion.
It is critical to protect these transformers since the technology to replace this equipment resides in China, Japan and Germany.
Launching a protective response to an EMP is problematic at best. The only real defense is to harden what we have.