WASHINGTON – U.S. national security experts have renewed their warning that the purpose of North Korea’s recent missile launch was to test its ability to put a satellite into orbit that could carry a nuclear weapon capable of causing a devastating electromagnetic pulse above the United States.
In an article in the National Review, the experts warned that the development constitutes an “existential threat” to the United States, demonstrating “an ability to kill most Americans with an electromagnetic-pulse (EMP) attack.”
The article was authored by former Central Intelligence Agency Director R. James Woolsey; former Strategic Defense Initiative Director Henry F. Cooper; William R. Graham, President Reagan’s science adviser and acting director of the National Aeronautical and Space Administration and former chairman of the congressionally-mandated EMP Commission; Fritz Ermarth, former chairman of the National Intelligence Council; and Peter Vincent Pry, executive director of the EMP Task Force on National and Homeland Security and a former CIA analyst.
“The White House has not recognized that a nuclear-armed North Korea has demonstrated an ability to kill most Americans with an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack,” they wrote. “And White House spokesmen and the media have misled the public with unjustified assurances that North Korea has not yet miniaturized nuclear warheads for missile or satellite delivery,” they wrote.
The experts previously warned that North Korea’s Unha-3 space launch vehicle could carry a small nuclear warhead and detonate it about 100 miles above the United States to create an EMP that would cause a protracted nationwide blackout.
“The resulting societal chaos could kill millions,” they said.
In addition to affecting the already vulnerable U.S. grid system, all grid-dependent systems could suffer from an EMP, including food-and water-supply chains, fuel-supply systems, communications, banking and finance.
“Indeed, the trajectory and altitude of North Korea’s last satellite orbited three years ago, the KSM-3, could have evaded detection by U.S. missile-tracking radars in its initial orbit and evaded interception by our National Missile Defense, exposing the 48 contiguous United States to an existential EMP attack,” they said.
They pointed out that Adm. William Gortney, commander of North American Aerospace Defense, or NORAD, has acknowledged North Korea’s nuclear missile threat.
Last year, Gortney warned that North Korea has mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs, called the KN-08, armed with nuclear warheads, that can strike the U.S. mainland.
Because of this concern, he said that NORAD has hardened its own critical assets against an EMP by moving back into an underground command post inside Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado at a cost so far of $700 million.
“I agree with the intelligence community that we assess that the North Koreans have the ability to miniaturize those weapons, and they have the ability to put them on a rocket that can range the U.S. homeland,” Gortney told the Atlantic Council last year.
Years of deception
The experts noted North Korea’s nuclear and missile development capabilities didn’t happened overnight.
“Apparently forgotten are North Korea’s equally dramatic gestures to deceive President Bill Clinton while cheating on his ‘nuclear deal’ called the Agreed Framework,” they said.
While North Korea developed long-range missiles and nuclear weapons, they said, Clinton and the press preferred to believe otherwise.
“North Korea stopped its Yongbyon plutonium reactor, allowed the United Nations to install cameras and seals to monitor nuclear activities, and acceded to virtual occupation of Yongbyon by U.N. inspectors,” they said. “All the while, North Korea’s clandestine underground nuclear-weapons programs continued unimpeded – indeed, its nuclear weapons existed before the Agreed Framework was signed.”
The experts didn’t limit their concern to North Korea, pointing out Iran “probably” has nuclear warheads for the Shahab-III medium-range missile, which they tested for making EMP attacks.
“At a time of its choosing, Iran could launch a surprise EMP attack against the United States by satellite, as they have apparently practiced with help from North Korea,” they said.
Despite the nuclear agreement recently reached with Western countries, they said Iran continues to “brazenly” develop and test its nuclear-capable missiles despite recent U.N. agreements to the contrary.
“We live in a very dangerous time, and we urge that the Senate immediately pass the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act (already passed by the House) to safeguard U.S. life-sustaining critical infrastructures against EMP attack,” they said. “We also recommend that a Congressional Iran Advisory Group be formed to objectively assess the Iran deal.”
The concern echoes comments Cooper and Pry recently gave to G2 Bulletin following North Korea’s successful missile and satellite orbit.
Cooper said the U.S. lacks sufficient anti-ballistic missile defenses in the southern part of the U.S., especially if the satellite turns out to be a nuclear device that could orbit above the U.S. and explode above an altitude of 150 miles.
He said it would be difficult to distinguish a test from an actual attack, and the best way to counter such a threat to the U.S. homeland would be to knock out the missile at the time it begins its trajectory over a southern polar route. But he acknowledged such an action would be politically unpalatable.
“It’s long past time to counter this threat,” Cooper told G2 Bulletin.
The North Koreans have been continuously upgrading the Sohae launch complex to handle larger, longer-range rockets with heavier payloads, Cooper pointed out.
He disputes the contention of most experts that Pyongyang is still years away from a credible intercontinental ballistic missile capability that could threaten the U.S. mainland.
He said “these experts usually ignore the threat from a nuclear weapon carried on a satellite – a capability demonstrated more than three years ago,” when North Korea first succeeded in launching an ICBM in December 2012.
At that launch, Pyongyang successfully orbited a satellite assessed to be large enough to contain a nuclear weapon.
Cooper said the Japanese Ministry of Defense already has ordered its military to be prepared to destroy any missile fired by North Korea that poses a threat to Japan.
He said U.S. leaders could do the same to protect Americans from an “already demonstrated de facto North Korean Fractional Orbital Bombardment System (FOBS) first developed by the Soviets during the early days of the Cold War.”
“The resulting attack from the south could create an EMP that would shut down the electric grid indefinitely – potentially leading to the death of most Americans with a year,” Cooper said.
Upon further review …
North Korean preparations to conduct an ICBM test come three weeks after Pyongyang announced it had conducted an underground hydrogen bomb test.
Most nuclear weapons experts downplayed the event, concluding it had an insufficient kiloton yield and a relatively small seismic wave. Even the Pentagon initially disputed the North Korean claim.
But after further analysis, the Pentagon said that, given the depth of the detonation, it may have been a test of a component of a hydrogen bomb.
As WND recently reported, Pry, an expert on electromagnetic pulse weapons, said the explosion indeed was consistent with a device designed for low yield while emitting an enhanced amount of gamma rays – the type of electromagnetic energy that can destroy unprotected electronics.
Pry said the test, which followed three others each in the range of 10 kilotons or less, was “another kind of H-bomb,” a neutron bomb or an enhanced radiation weapon, which he termed a “super-EMP weapon.”
He said such weapons constitute essentially a “very low-yield H-bomb that typically has yields of one to 10 kilotons, just like the North Korean device.”
Pry has warned that Pyongyang was working on a low-yield radiation bomb with very high emissions of gamma rays.
A year ago, Pry told WND that North Korea was working on such a device but that the Obama administration denied Pyongyang had developed miniaturized nuclear warheads and missiles to deliver them.
To underscore the Obama administration’s lack of concern about the potential of an EMP, especially from a satellite that can detonate a nuclear weapon at a high altitude over the U.S., Cooper and Pry were among 31 influential Americans who wrote to President Obama, asking that he issue a directive to end the existential EMP threat to the U.S.
The letter was sent May 14, 2015, but there has been no reply, according to Pry.
However, Pry told G2 Bulletin that the Obama administration might argue that its National Space Weather Action Plan addresses the threat.
But the plan responds only to a natural EMP threat and only calls for more studies, Pry argued.
“(Former CIA Director James) Woolsey and I blasted their plan as having very little ‘action’ and being mostly about conducting further studies,” Pry said. “And it does nothing to address manmade EMP from nuclear threats and non-nuclear RF (radio frequency) weapons.”
The 2015 letter called for Obama’s “personal intervention” to protect the American people against an EMP.
“The consequent failure of critical infrastructures that sustain our lives is a major national security threat and would be catastrophic to our people and our nation,” the letter said.
In addition to 31 influential Americans signing the letter, copies also were sent to Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.
Neither the White House nor any of the Cabinet members charged with the national security of the United States responded to the letter.