Former CIA Director James Woolsey recently co-authored an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in which he warned an electromagnetic pulse or EMP attack “could bring our civilization to a cold, dark halt.” What is EMP and why should Arizonans care about it?
EMP, or electromagnetic pulse, is simply a burst of electromagnetic energy which can be produced by both natural causes, such as a solar flare, and by man-made mechanisms or weapons. Such pulses of sufficient intensity are capable of overwhelming or destroying any electrical device that is not specifically shielded against such a burst of energy. Unfortunately, basically all of America’s electric grid and infrastructure currently falls in the category of being unshielded against such an occurrence.
You have been warning about this for years. How real is the threat?
This phenomenon has happened before and our susceptibility to it continues to grow. Within the last two years, we saw a potentially devastating solar flare that, despite missing Earth by approximately two weeks, nonetheless interfered with GPS satellites around the world.
What would an EMP attack look like?
An enemy could intentionally detonate a nuclear device at high altitude above the United States. According to the Federation of American Scientists, “A large device detonated at 250 to 312 miles over Kansas would affect all of the continental U.S.”
How would our lives change in this country if an enemy attacked us in this way?
Our entire American way of life relies upon electricity and electronic technology. Our household appliances, food distribution systems, telephone and computer networks, communication devices, cars, airplanes, factories, power plants, bank ATMs, even water and sewage plants could potentially grind to a halt without it. Moreover, while much of our critical military hardware is shielded against EMP, our military relies upon our largely unsecured civilian grid for more than 90 percent of its electricity needs in this country without which it cannot affect its military mission.
According to experts, including Dr. William Graham, who was the White House science adviser during the Reagan administration, an EMP attack over the continental United States could render 70-90 percent of our population unsustainable.
What countries have EMP capability that we should worry about?
Theoretically, any country that has a nuclear capability and fairly rudimentary missile technology could have the capability to conduct an EMP attack. And we know that Iran — the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism, which has provided weapons to terrorist groups around the world for years — is not only actively pursuing a nuclear weapons capability, but has specifically conducted military tests that are consistent with an EMP attack.
What should the United States be doing to defend itself against this threat?
As chairman of the EMP Caucus in Congress, I have introduced two vital pieces of legislation that address the threat posed by EMP. The SHIELD Act, HR 2417, and the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act (CIPA), HR 3410. These bills would take a number of important steps, including increasing awareness about the threat, helping states begin to secure their respective infrastructures, bridging the gap between industry and government to create standards and processes necessary to harden our grid against the threat.
What’s the prospect for those ever passing in Congress?
I believe language from both bills has a very realistic chance of ultimately becoming law.
There is a moment in the life of every problem when it is big enough to be seen by reasonable people and still small enough to be effectively addressed. Experts are beginning to see that the time to address America’s vulnerability to EMP has come.