The news items were pages apart and totally unrelated. Or were they?
On the cover of the morning newspaper is an AP account of North Korea successfully testing a nuclear-capable missile. The Seoul-datelined story opens: “North Korea on Monday boasted of a successful weekend launch of a new type of ‘medium long-range’ ballistic rocket that can carry a heavy nuclear warhead.” The rocket flew 490 miles
Inside the Nevada section there is an interview with the commander of the 99th Air Base Wing at Nellis Air Force Base. In it he talks about the role of Nellis, which includes discussion of the base’s cyberwarfare role. The “bird” colonel commented that an example of cyberwarfare would be “figuring out how, if our nation decided, we would take down the electrical grid in North Korea.”
In fact a story at Townhall today talks about what could be used to take down our grid — electromagnetic pulse or EMP, which could be delivered by a solar flare or a high-altitude nuclear detonation, which could delivered from a ship or submarine less than 490 miles off either coast.
As we noted three years ago, Dr. Peter Pry testified before Congress that an EMP event could wipe out 90 percent of America’s population.
“Natural EMP from a geomagnetic super-storm, like the 1859 Carrington Event or 1921 Railroad Storm, and nuclear EMP attack from terrorists or rogue states, as practiced by North Korea during the nuclear crisis of 2013, are both existential threats that could kill 9 of 10 Americans through starvation, disease, and societal collapse,” he said.
There was a bill in the House, H.R. 3410, at the time that was intended to start the relatively inexpensive process of hardening the nation’s grid against such an attack. Nevada Rep. Joe Heck was a co-sponsor. It passed the House in December 2014 and has since languished, apparently for a lack of urgency in the Senate and White House.
I have been writing about this topic since 1980 to no avail.
Rep. Trent Franks, R.-Ariz., who introduced H.R. 3410 in October 2013, said three years ago “every single facet of modern human life” would be “crippled” by an EMP event. “It strikes at my very core when I think of the men, women, and children in cities and rural towns across America with a possibility of no access to food, water, or transportation,” he said. “In a matter of weeks or months at most, a worst-case scenario could bring devastation beyond imagination.”
The cost to do this grid work has been placed at somewhere between a half a billion dollars and a couple of billion. Washington spends three times that in one minute.
The headline on that Townhall story reads: “Tick, Tock: EMP War Looms.”
Here is an excerpt from that story by Katie Kieffer:
A unique menace in that it can occur naturally (via a geomagnetic storm) or by man (via the high-altitude detonation of a nuclear weapon), EMP is a rapid acceleration of particles that creates a high-power burst of electromagnetic energy.
55 years ago, during the Cold War, the United States experienced an accidental EMP blast when the JFK administration tested a 1.4-megaton nuclear warhead 250 miles above Johnston Atoll in the Pacific Ocean. The test, Operation Starfish Prime, malfunctioned. Traffic lights 850 miles away in Hawaii immediately went out, six satellites above the Pacific died, and radio networks were disrupted in Alaska, Hawaii and California.
Starfish Prime was a powerful warning — had we listened. Unfortunately, today our country is virtually defenseless against an EMP attack. Furthermore, the ramifications of an EMP attack in 2017 are far greater than in 1962 due to the proliferation of grid-dependent smartphones, computers, cars, medical facilities, financial institutions and food distribution channels. Even our military is far more electricity-dependent.
“Electricity could be out for months or years because the grid would need to be assembled completely anew since its components would melt,” EMP expert Avi Schurr told NATO. Hospitals, banks, and grocery stores would be unable to function for months — and possibly permanently. Without power or communications systems, chaos would erupt and tens of millions of Americans would die.
The good news? We know how to prevent an EMP attack—and with a relatively modest monetary investment.
The bad news? More than any president in U.S. history, Barack Obama had unique congressional studies at his fingertips alerting him to the danger of an EMP attack, plus manifold prevention recommendations from the congressional EMP Commission. Yet Obama only took steps to weaken America’s already-anemic defenses.