F. Michael Maloof, staff writer for WND and G2Bulletin, is a former senior security policy analyst in the office of the secretary of defense.More ↓Less ↑
WASHINGTON – As the technologically sophisticated U.S. faces the increasing threat of an electromagnetic pulse attack from a man-made, high altitude nuclear explosion or an “inevitable” massive solar flare, Republicans in the U.S. House are trying to prepare a defense.
They are proposing legislation to protect the vulnerable U.S. electrical grid from an attack so cataclysmic 90 percent of Americans could be affected, including many who would face starvation
The legislation aims to get the federal government to ensure that vital hardware and other devices are installed in the national grid system to protect critical infrastructure such as systems that supply water, food, fuel, communications, transportation, financial transactions and emergency services.
The protection would be employed by hardening the grid to ensure that it can be brought back should it be subjected to such an event.
The alternative, said Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., who will introduce the legislation called the SHIELD Act, could leave the nation without electricity for months and possibly years and affect some 90 percent of the American people, subjecting them to starvation and death.
SHIELD stands for Secure High-voltage Infrastructure for Electricity from Lethal Damage Act.
“This is a problem big enough to be seen but small enough to fix before an EMP happens,” Franks said at a news conference.
He was accompanied by former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has been outspoken in recent years on the threat of an EMP attack.
Gingrich believes an EMP event is the greatest national security threat facing the United States today.
Franks explained that the U.S. is not more vulnerable than before but has “become a victim of our technological sophistication and scientific advancement.”
“Why does the U.S. need to be vulnerable to such a threat?” he asked. “EMP is the ultimate cyber security threat.”
In terms of coping with external man-made threats, Franks pointed out that Congress has seen to it that the military’s triad of land, sea and air assets has been hardened against the prospect of an EMP attack. Yet, the military is 99 percent dependent on the national grid, making it difficult for it to respond in the event of such an attack.
He pointed out that at the cost of two B-2 strategic bombers, the U.S. could fix the grid so that it could come back in short order should it be brought down.
“The SHIELD Act is a bill that goes in the right direction,” he said.
The legislation passed the House in the last Congress but never made it through the Senate.
Sources on Franks’ staff said that they are actively looking for a Senate version, possibly to be introduced by Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.
The SHIELD Act would amend the Federal Power Act to encourage cooperation between industry and government in developing and implementing standards and processes needed to address the shortcomings and vulnerabilities of the grid to a major EMP event.
It does not include provisions to deal with cyber-security threats which legislators decided to leave to a separate bill. However, Franks said that an EMP attack, whether natural or man-made, would be “the ultimate cyber-security threat.”
The legislation also would give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission authority to develop standards but won’t preclude industry from developing its own.
“This increased authority is necessary to protect the entire grid,” a congressional fact sheet on the SHIELD Act said. “Some industry stakeholders may develop these standards on their own, but unless the entire grid is uniformly resilient to EMP, cascading effects of blackouts resulting from stakeholders that did not protect their entities from EMP will most likely still cause rolling blackouts and massive outages.
“Some industry stakeholders may not view EMP as a credible threat (e.g., Southern stakeholders may not feel threatened by solar storms because of their relative latitudinal protection,” the fact sheet said. “Therefore, we cannot rely on voluntary action by industry stakeholders to protect against this threat.”
The legislation also offers “hardware-based solutions,” available at minimal cost. The hardware will automatically react to an EMP disturbance, removing the “guessing-game” operators currently face.
“If we are going to be serious about avoiding such a catastrophic event” as an EMP, “a priority on this legislation is greater than defense spending,” Gingrich said.
“We can literally see a civilization crash,” he said, referring to the U.S. dependency on the grid’s technology-based infrastructure.
He pointed out that the people of the Netherlands have a particular problem with their dikes. If repair is neglected, he said that more than 40 percent of the country would be underwater. Consequently, he said, there is no question in their minds to maintain the dike system because of this alternative.
The same should apply to the U.S. ensuring protection of the U.S. electrical grid system.
“We could lose 90 percent of the population if an EMP only hit the U.S,” Gingrich asserted.
The U.S. then would have “massive needs of foreign assistance” if no other country were affected.
“That would mean we’d lose our sovereignty,” Gingrich declared.
Peter Vincent Pry, staff director of the original EMP Commission that first revealed the threat of an EMP hit on the nation’s critical infrastructures, pointed out that Russia and China and even North Korea would be the only countries prepared for an EMP event. In effect, they would emerge as the new world leaders.
If the U.S. became disabled from an EMP attack, “is that what we want?”
“The problem,” Franks said, “is fixable.”
Earlier this week, WND reported Maine became the first state in the nation to pass legislation ordering its grid to be hardened against an electromagnetic pulse event.
The law not only requires preparation against a natural or man-made EMP, it encourages other states to take a similar initiative, since the federal government has refused to make the potential for an EMP event a priority.
The Act to Secure the Safety of Electrical Transmission Lines was introduced by Maine Rep. Andrea Boland, D-Sanford.