We didn’t read about any of this in the Times or the Post.
But George Hulme, author of Information Week’s Security Weblog, earlier this month (7/9) took this potential threat to US National Security seriously.
Congress will be hearing testimony on a potential attack that could shut down most every electronic device, everywhere, and render the entire U.S. power grid dysfunctional for months, if not for more than a year.
The House Armed Services Committee will be getting an earful of testimony from William R. Graham, who was President Reagan’s science adviser and is the current chairman of the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack.
Simply put, an Electromagnetic Pulse attack would occur when a nuclear weapon is discharged at a very high altitude. The explosion affects the ionosphere and Earth’s magnetic field in such a way as to cause an electromagnetic pulse to rush down to the surface. That pulse then bakes just about every electronic device within a very wide geographic area. By some estimates, a single device detonated over Kansas could cripple the nation’s entire technical infrastructure.
Kenneth Timmerman reports that Graham’s testimony was downright alarming.
Iran has carried out missile tests for what could be a plan for a nuclear strike on the United States, the head of a national security panel has warned.
In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee and in remarks to a private conference on missile defense over the weekend hosted by the Claremont Institute, Dr. William Graham warned that the U.S. intelligence community â€œdoesnâ€™t have a storyâ€ to explain the recent Iranian tests.
One group of tests that troubled Graham, the former White House science adviser under President Ronald Reagan, were successful efforts to launch a Scud missile from a platform in the Caspian Sea.
â€œTheyâ€™ve got [test] ranges in Iran which are more than long enough to handle Scud launches and even Shahab-3 launches,â€ Dr. Graham said. â€œWhy would they be launching from the surface of the Caspian Sea? They obviously have not explained that to us.â€
Another troubling group of tests involved Shahab-3 launches where the Iranians “detonated the warhead near apogee, not over the target area where the thing would eventually land, but at altitude,â€ Graham said. â€œWhy would they do that?â€
Graham chairs the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack, a blue-ribbon panel established by Congress in 2001.
The commission examined the Iranian tests â€œand without too much effort connected the dots,â€ even though the U.S. intelligence community previously had failed to do so, Graham said.
â€œThe only plausible explanation we can find is that the Iranians are figuring out how to launch a missile from a ship and get it up to altitude and then detonate it,â€ he said. â€œAnd thatâ€™s exactly what you would do if you had a nuclear weapon on a Scud or a Shahab-3 or other missile, and you wanted to explode it over the United States.â€
The commission warned in a report issued in April that the United States was at risk of a sneak nuclear attack by a rogue nation or a terrorist group designed to take out our nationâ€™s critical infrastructure.
If even a crude nuclear weapon were detonated anywhere between 40 kilometers to 400 kilometers above the earth, in a split-second it would generate an electro-magnetic pulse [EMP] that would cripple military and civilian communications, power, transportation, water, food, and other infrastructure, the report warned.
While not causing immediate civilian casualties, the near-term impact on U.S. society would dwarf the damage of a direct nuclear strike on a U.S. city.
â€œThe first indication [of such an attack] would be that the power would go out, and some, but not all, the telecommunications would go out. We would not physically feel anything in our bodies,â€ Graham said.
As electric power, water and gas delivery systems failed, there would be â€œtruly massive traffic jams,â€ Graham added, since modern automobiles and signaling systems all depend on sophisticated electronics that would be disabled by the EMP wave.
â€œSo you would be walking. You wouldnâ€™t be driving at that point,â€ Dr. Graham said. â€œAnd it wouldnâ€™t do any good to call the maintenance or repair people because they wouldnâ€™t be able to get there, even if you could get through to them.â€
The food distribution system also would grind to a halt as cold-storage warehouses stockpiling perishables went offline. Even warehouses equipped with backup diesel generators would fail, because â€œwe wouldnâ€™t be able to pump the fuel into the trucks and get the trucks to the warehouses,â€ Graham said.
The United States â€œwould quickly revert to an early 19th century type of country.â€ except that we would have 10 times as many people with ten times fewer resources, he said.
â€œMost of the things we depend upon would be gone, and we would literally be depending on our own assets and those we could reach by walking to them,â€ Graham said.
Dr. Grahams’s prepared testimony warned:
Several potential adversaries have the capability to attack the United States with a high altitude nuclear weapon-generated electromagnetic pulse, and others appear to be pursuing efforts to obtain that capability. A determined adversary can achieve an EMP attack capability without having a high level of sophistication. For example, an adversary would not have to have long-range ballistic missiles to conduct an EMP attack against the United States. Such an attack could be launched from a freighter off the U.S. coast using a short- or medium-range missile to loft a nuclear warhead to high-altitude. Terrorists sponsored by a rogue state could attempt to execute such an attack without revealing the identity of the perpetrators. Iran, the worldâ€™s leading sponsor of international terrorism, has practiced launching a mobile ballistic missile from a vessel in the Caspian Sea. Iran has also tested high-altitude explosions of the Shahab-III, a test mode consistent with EMP attack, and described the tests as successful. Iranian military writings explicitly discuss a nuclear EMP attack that would gravely harm the United States. While the Commission does not know the intention of Iran in conducting these activities, we are disturbed by the capability that emerges when we connect the dots.