Editor’s note: The following story is one adapted from the latest issue of Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin, the weekly, online, premium intelligence newsletter published by the founder of WND. Annual subscriptions now available for half price and monthly trials have been slashed to $9.95.
WASHINGTON – Most of the U.S. civilian population, military bases and nuclear-weapons assembly plants are within range of missile attacks by terrorists or rogue nations using merchant ships as launching platforms, warn counter-terror experts.
Both the U.S. military and foreign military forces – including Iran’s – have tested missile launches from non-military vessels.
At the top of the risk list is the Russian-made Scud family of missiles, all too often found on the weapons’ black market, and, according to counter-terror analysts, undoubtedly on the minds of terror organizations such as al-Qaida, which is known to have shown interest in the Scud maritime option.
A bird’s eye view of U.S. coastlines reveals more than 75 percent of the nation’s population, about 290 million people, resides along thousands of miles of shores and up to 200 miles inland.
According to information from the Pentagon and from independent sources, three-quarters of U.S. military assets, from naval bases to nuclear-weapons assembly plants, are within these coastlines, posing highly tempting targets, not only for possibly enemy rogue nations such as North Korea and Iran, but also for global jihadi planners, G2 Bulletin reports.
Sources in the maritime industry say there were about 130,000 merchant ships registered in 195 countries at the beginning of 2005. This huge transport system, crisscrossing the world’s oceans, with many visiting U.S. ports or sailing close to the U.S. coastline, has been described by counter-terror analysts as a major concern to national security.
Undetected merchant vessels have for years been landing thousands of illegal immigrants on Canadian and U.S. shores, proving time and again the vulnerability of North America’s coastlines.
Terrorists, who by definition do not respect any law or international agreement, naturally disregard international maritime laws. For them the sea, or a country’s territorial waters, is an open avenue for terrorist actions, although so far having been used only in a few localized instances, such as Palestinian terrorist landings of on the Israeli coastline and the October 2000 case of the USS Cole in Yemen.
In 2004, the Israeli navy intercepted and seized in the Red Sea the Karin-A, a weapons-carrying vessel sailing from Iran, purchased by the Palestine Liberation Organization. This event demonstrates how terror groups can purchase a cargo ship and how easy it is to load it with any type of weapons and explosives and possibly be used even as a huge floating suicide bomb.
However, the option of a Scud-carrying ship seems to pose the more imminent threat. Scud missiles were sold by the Soviets to many countries including Sudan and Egypt, and following the disintegration of the Soviet Union hundreds of these missiles were left unguarded in dilapidated military junkyards. North Korea developed its own Scud version and has supplied the missile to several countries, as was discovered in 2002 when Spanish and U.S. naval units intercepted a North Korean cargo ship carrying a shipment of Scuds en route to Yemen. This dangerous load was later released by the U.S. and apparently reached its initial destination. Some reports indicate the same vessel may have been involved in other delivery missions to unspecific purchasers.
The U.S. military has tested Scuds fired from naval platforms as part of a test for anti-missile systems. Similar tests were conducted by North Korea and Iran.
According to military analysts, should a 700-kilometer-range Scud-D be fired from the ocean toward a U.S. target it will not matter much whether the aiming and guiding mechanisms are of high quality. In reality a missile launched from a cargo ship, in the correct elevation and direction, can hit a densely populated urban environment as deep as 200 miles inland from the coastal strips. It would be irrelevant, they say, to the terrorists whether such a projectile hits New York City or Newark, N.J. in the east, or inside the 200-mile land stretch from the coast of Los Angeles in the west. The effect of such an attack, even with a conventional warhead, would be enormous, including a devastating blow to the morale of the population. Should any type of weapon of mass destruction be used, whether nuclear waste, chemical or biological substances, total havoc could ensue. Events in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina were well studied by terrorists who can now visualize the horrific results in an urban center struck with a Scud, especially one carrying a weapon of mass destruction, G2 Bulletin reports.
Another even more terrifying component of the threat from the sea is the possibility of a rogue nation or terrorist group successfully firing a Scud armed with a nuclear weapon and timed for detonation above a U.S. population center.
As G2 Bulletin and WND reported exclusively earlier this year, government officials are increasingly concerned about the threat of this kind of an electro-magnetic pulse attack that could cripple cities and entire regions of the U.S. by knocking out electrical grids and computer technology.
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.
G2 Bulletin and WND first reported the shocking findings of the U.S. EMP commission that rogue nations, such as Iran and North Korea, have the capability of launching an undetected, catastrophic EMP attack on the U.S. – and are actively developing plans.
“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 Dr. Lowell Wood, acting chairman of the commission appointed by Congress to study the threat. “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.”
The commission concluded in its report to Congress earlier this year: “EMP is one of a small number of threats that may hold at risk the continued existence of today’s U.S. civil society.”
Rep. Roscoe Bartlett
“The number of U.S. adversaries capable of EMP attack is greater than during the Cold War,” said Rep. Roscoe Bartlett. “We may look back with some fondness on the Cold War. We then had only one potential adversary. We knew him quite well.”
Bartlett pointed out that Iran has tested launching of a Scud missile from a surface vessel, “a launch mode that could support a national or transnational EMP attack against the United States.”
“Iran has conducted tests with its Shahab-3 missile that have been described as failures by the Western media because the missiles did not complete their ballistic trajectories, but were deliberately exploded at high altitude,” he said. “This, of course, would be exactly what you would want to do if you were going to use an EMP weapon. Iran described these tests as successful. We said they were a failure because they blew up in flight. They described them as successful. Of course, they would be, if Iran’s intent was practicing for an EMP attack.”
Bartlett added: “Potential adversaries are aware of the EMP’s strategic attack option. Ninety-nine percent of Americans may not know very much about EMP, but I will assure you … that 100 percent of our potential enemies know all about EMP. I think that the American people need to know about EMP because they need to demand that their government do the prudent thing so that we will be less and less susceptible, less and less at risk to an EMP attack year by year. The threat is not adequately addressed in U.S. national and homeland security programs. Not only is it not adequately addressed; it is usually ignored, not even mentioned, and it certainly needs to be considered.”
“Terrorists could steal, purchase, or be provided a nuclear weapon and perform an EMP attack against the United States simply by launching a primitive Scud missile off a freighter near our shores,” he said. “We do not need to be thinking about missiles coming over the pole. There are thousands of ships out there, particularly in the North Atlantic shipping lanes, and any one of them could have a Scud missile on board. If you put a canvas over it, we cannot see through the thinnest canvas. We would not know whether it was bailed hay or bananas or a Scud launcher. You cannot see through any cover on ship. Scud missiles can be purchased on the world market today for less than $100,000. Al-Qaida is estimated to own about 80 freighters, so all they need, … is $100,000, which I am sure they can get, for the missile and a crude nuclear weapon.”
Bartlett revealed Russian, Chinese, and Pakistani scientists are working in North Korea and could enable that country to develop an EMP weapon in the near future.
The congressman also raised the question of retaliation – and how an EMP sneak attack could not only go undetected, but that it might be impossible to find out who was responsible after the fact.
“If it were launched from the ocean, we would not know who launched it,” he said. “So against whom would we retaliate? Even if we knew who launched it …if all they have done is to disable our computers, do we respond in kind, or do you incinerate their grandmothers and their babies? This would be a really tough call. Responding in kind might do very little good. There is no other country in the world that has anything like our sophistication in electronic equipment, and no other country in the world is so dependent as we are on our national infrastructure.”
Though an EMP attack would not kill people with a blast or with radiation, over time it would likely result in much more death than a nuclear attack on a major city, he said.
A candid, recently declassified Justice Department report explained that terrorism represents a greater threat to the U.S. than any other the nation has faced in its history.
While the deterrence of mutually assured destruction kept an uneasy peace with the Soviet Union throughout the Cold War, policymakers have recognized that a MAD doctrine is futile against a terrorist whose greatest weapon is the suicide attacker and the fact that he has no traceable address for retaliation.
Some answers to this acute problem are in the making through research and development in the U.S. and Israel. Lockheed-Martin is in the process of developing counter-measures and warning systems to find and detect nuclear-armed Scuds, which can be launched from a ship.
David Kier, vice president of Lockheed-Martin’s Protection Division, told UPI earlier this month: “They don’t need international ballistic missiles to attack us. An enemy could put a Scud on a tramp steamer and launch it off the coast.”
Lockheed-Martin has already received the first part of a Pentagon budget for a five-year development plan. Some analysts say a detection system is important although it should not be limited to nuclear warheads only and that for the time being the U.S. and other nations under terror threat will have to develop an improved maritime reconnaissance system from the air and from the sea. They also suggest a new strategy to deploy more Coast Guard and naval units on “sentry duties” off the U.S. coast should also be undertaken without delay.
Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin reports today that Chinese military strategists are pushing Beijing to pursue electromagnetic pulse weapons and other exotic, high-tech arms to counter and defeat the more technologically developed and technologically reliant U.S. in a potential showdown in the future.