WASHINGTON – Former CIA chief James Woolsey affirms the work of a special commission investigating the threat of a nuclear-bomb generated electromagnetic pulse attack on the U.S. by rogue states or terrorists and is urging the country to take steps necessary to protect against the potentially devastating consequences.
In testimony before the House International Terrorism and Non-Proliferation Subcommittee, chaired by Ed Royce, R-Calif., Woolsey, director of the CIA from 1993 through 1995, referred to the nuclear EMP threat, characterized in intelligence circles, he said, as "a SCUD in a bucket."
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"That is a simple ballistic missile from a stockpile somewhere in the world outfitted on something like a tramp steamer and fired from some distance offshore into an American city or to a high altitude, thereby creating an electromagnetic pulse effect, which could well be one of the most damaging ways of using a nuclear weapon," he said.
Woolsey commended the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from EMP Attack for its years of work on the subject and for its dire report concluding that it is a means of attack that could lead to the defeat of the U.S. by a much smaller enemy and utter devastation of the country.
"That is a very serious threat," he told the committee. "And one thing we need badly to do is to figure out ways to harden our electricity grid and various types of key nodes so that electromagnetic pulse blasts of nuclear weapons, or other ways of generating electromagnetic pulse, even if it knocks out our toaster ovens will not knock out, for example, our electricity grid."
Woolsey, like the commission, specifically mentioned the new dimension a nuclear Iran would add to the risk of such an attack.
"We do not have the luxury of assuming that Iran, if it develops fissionable materials, for example, would not share it under some circumstances with al-Qaida operatives," he said. "We don't have the luxury of believing that just because North Korea is a communist state, it would not work under some circumstances to sell its fissionable material to Hezbollah or al-Qaida."
There is increasing concern within the administration and Congress over Iran's missile program, which has been determined by a commission of U.S. scientists to pose a serious threat to U.S. security.
A report first published in Joseph Farah's G2 Bulletin, a weekly, online, premium, intelligence newsletter affiliated with WND, revealed last week that Iran has been seriously considering an unconventional pre-emptive nuclear strike against the U.S.
An Iranian military journal publicly floated the idea of launching an electromagnetic pulse attack as the key to defeating the U.S.
Congress was warned of Iran's plans last month by Peter Pry, a senior staffer with the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse Attack in a hearing of Sen. John Kyl's subcommittee on terrorism, technology and homeland security.
In an article titled, "Electronics to Determine Fate of Future Wars," the journal explains how an EMP attack on America's electronic infrastructure, caused by the detonation of a nuclear weapon high above the U.S., would bring the country to its knees.
"Once you confuse the enemy communication network you can also disrupt the work of the enemy command- and decision-making center," the article states. "Even worse today when you disable a country's military high command through disruption of communications, you will, in effect, disrupt all the affairs of that country. If the world's industrial countries fail to devise effective ways to defend themselves against dangerous electronic assaults then they will disintegrate within a few years. American soldiers would not be able to find food to eat nor would they be able to fire a single shot."
WND reported the Iranian threat last Monday, explaining Tehran is not only covertly developing nuclear weapons, it is already testing ballistic missiles specifically designed to destroy America's technical infrastructure.
Pry pointed out the Iranians have been testing mid-air detonations of their Shahab-3 medium-range missile over the Caspian Sea. The missiles were fired from ships.
"A nuclear missile concealed in the hold of a freighter would give Iran or terrorists the capability to perform an EMP attack against the United States homeland without developing an ICBM and with some prospect of remaining anonymous," explained Pry. "Iran's Shahab-3 medium range missile mentioned earlier is a mobile missile and small enough to be transported in the hold of a freighter. We cannot rule out that Iran, the world's leading sponsor of international terrorism might provide terrorists with the means to executive an EMP attack against the United States."
Lowell Wood, acting chairman of the commission, said yesterday that such an attack – by Iran or some other actor – could cripple the U.S. by knocking out electrical power, computers, circuit boards controlling most automobiles and trucks, banking systems, communications and food and water supplies.
"No one can say just how long systems would be down," he said. "It could be weeks, months or even years."
EMP attacks are generated when a nuclear weapon is detonated at altitudes above a few dozen kilometers above the Earth's surface. The explosion, of even a small nuclear warhead, would produce a set of electromagnetic pulses that interact with the Earth's atmosphere and the Earth's magnetic field.
"These electromagnetic pulses propagate from the burst point of the nuclear weapon to the line of sight on the Earth's horizon, potentially covering a vast geographic region in doing so simultaneously, moreover, at the speed of light," said Wood. "For example, a nuclear weapon detonated at an altitude of 400 kilometers over the central United States would cover, with its primary electromagnetic pulse, the entire continent of the United States and parts of Canada and Mexico."
The commission, in its work over a period of several years, found that EMP is one of a small number of threats that has the potential to hold American society seriously at risk and that might also result in the defeat of U.S. military forces.
"The electromagnetic field pulses produced by weapons designed and deployed with the intent to produce EMP have a high likelihood of damaging electrical power systems, electronics and information systems upon which any reasonably advanced society, most specifically including our own, depend vitally," Wood said. "Their effects on systems and infrastructures dependent on electricity and electronics could be sufficiently ruinous as to qualify as catastrophic to the American nation."