F. Michael Maloof, writing for World Net Daily a conservative website, alleged that the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) hasn’t identified a serious national security threat, one that could make living in the United States “unsustainable” for 70 to 90 percent of the population.
The threat in question is a phenomenon termed Electro Magnetic Pulse (EMP), an enormous burst of energy that can fry electrical networks in all directions for thousands of miles.
Continent-straddling EMP can be generated by the detonation of nuclear weapons at high altitude, six miles or more above the Earth’s surface. Below that level the phenomenon is more generally confined.
The generation of EMP was recognized at the dawn of the nuclear age in 1945 and has been seriously studied by
military organizations around the world ever since.
Maloof’s assertion that DHS hasn’t identified EMP as a serious threat comes on the same day that a Homeland
Security spokesperson testified before the Congressional Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection, and Security Technologies. The spokesperson opened the subcommittee testimony by discussing the nature of the threat posed by electromagnetic pulse and the Department’s preparations to respond to and recover from potential EMP attacks.
In addition to the EMP created when a nuclear weapon is detonated, naturally occurring solar weather can generate similar, but usually far less intense, effects. Such EMPs can be high frequency, similar to a flash of lightning or a spark of static electricity, or low frequency, produced by solar storms interacting with the Earth’s magnetic field. According to the DHS testimony, an EMP can spike in less than a nanosecond or can continue longer than 24 hours, depending on its source. The consequences of an EMP range from permanent physical damage to the national electricity grid to temporary system disruptions. EMP can result in fires, electric shocks to people and equipment, and critical service outages.
The Homeland spokesperson also described the case of a potential terrorist attack, during which an electromagnetic field might be generated by an improvised nuclear device, a crude nuclear device that could be built from the components of a stolen weapon.
Such an attack would be much more limited in range than that from a high altitude attack. It would only affect a delimited geographic area, sending extreme spikes of energy along any metal conductors, including cables, telephone lines, and power cords out to 70 miles or more. While EMP is not the primary reason a terrorist would detonate a nuclear weapon, the DHS spokesperson said it is important to note that all ground-based detonations create EMP of sufficient magnitude to cause major infrastructure disruptions.
Tests carried out since the 1960s indicate that weapons, both nuclear and conventional, can be optimized to produce EMP as a primary destructive source.
The US military has long since designed its weapons systems, communications, and transport to be EMF resistant. However, according to Maloof’s report, Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz, who is on the House Armed Services Committee, has also testified that the military is still highly vulnerable to an EMP event, since it relies some 99 percent on the national electrical grid to accomplish its functions.
The greatest danger to the US, most experts agree, is the economic damage that could be inflicted on the country. Newer technologies, such as those employed in computers and in web-based or Ethernet-dependent systems, are much more
vulnerable than older technologies to damage if left unprotected from EMP.
“Should a nuclear weapon from a rogue state such as Iran be detonated in Earth’s atmosphere at a sufficient height above the continental United States, the blast of electromagnetic energy could immediately cripple America’s electric power grid.
“Currently, the vast majority of the United States’ infrastructure is unsecured and exposed,” Franks said.
Not only would the power grid cease to function, most vehicles would be immobilized because their engines are controlled by transistorized circuits. Hard-wired telephones could be disrupted and cell phones would not work because the cell towers they transmit to would be disabled. Modern heating and air conditioning systems would be affected even if power were available to run them.
Modern banking, credit cards, ATMs, the stock market, and most related financial systems would cease to function. Hence, Franks contention that living in the U.S. could be “unsustainable.”
Franks is sponsor of H.R. 668, known as the Shield Act, which provides authority to protect transformers, a critical and vulnerable component in the national power grid. The legislation has passed the House of Representatives, but no action is currently planned in the U.S. Senate.Natural EMP events happen during solar storms, which are predicted to reach their 11-year cyclical peak during 2013. According to DHS, in the last 200 years, only two solar superstorms, powerful enough to significantly damage today’s US power grid, have occurred, in 1859 and 1921. If such a storm were to occur tomorrow, many experts believe it would likely damage key elements of the power grid and could cause very long-term power outages and major economic havoc over much of the United States.