Electromagnetic Pulse Weapons – keeping us fearful

Summary:  We are afraid of so many things. And so gullible that our leaders can reuse the same stories year after year, decade after decade. The combination makes us easy to control. Reform is impossible in America until this changes. Here is one example.

Fear makes us easy to rule

The Long War requires a constant bombardment of the Homeland by exaggerated threats in order to produce a state of fear in the public. This allows us to be easily controlled. It fuels the vast military-intel-security apparatus and allows the slow but steady erosion of our liberty.

Continuous information operations rain upon us, luridly describing a large array of threats. An individual might find the first dozen threats unconvincing, but the 13th might hit home — striking fear in his heart. Or the 14th. Or the 18th.

The vast DoD-intel-Homeland Security apparatus can easily generate this propaganda barrage. They overwhelm American’s critical facilities, especially the organizations who try to critically review the government’s assertions.

This post looks at one of the more bizarre threats: Electromagnetic Pulse Weapons, a terrifying form of nuclear weapon. For forty years we have heard that our enemies have them and might use them (despite the certainty of extermination from our counterstrike). For forty years we have heard that criminals can build EMPs, using them for Hollywood-like mega-heists, and terrorist build them to destroy America. Always exciting to read; so far always false. Now a new round of stories hits the news.

Rebuttals appeared along with the earliest claims. To no avail, of course. In America faux threats never die, so long as people are paid to propagate them – and so long as we fail to remember past false claims.

They want you to be afraid.
From iMediaEthics.

Decades of articles about EMP weapons

Fear-mongering and experts’ rebuttals.
A sampler from the thousands of articles about EMP threat.

(a)  Evaluation of Methodologies for Estimating Vulnerability to Electromagnetic Pulse Effects by the National Academy of Sciences (1984). The methods for evaluating EMP threats were well-known long ago.

(b) Effect of the Fast Nuclear Electromagnetic Pulse on the Electric Power Grid Nationwide: A Different View” by Mario Rabinowitz (physicist, see Wikipedia) in Power Engineering Review (IEEE), October 1987 — Abstract (red emphasis added).

“This paper primarily considers the potential effects of a single high-altitude nuclear burst on the U.S. power grid.  A comparison is made between EMP and natural phenomena such as lightning.  This paper concludes that EMP is no more harmful to the power grid than its counterparts in nature.  An upper limit of the electric field of the very fast, high-amplitude EMP is derived from first principles.  The resulting values are significantly lower than the commonly presented values.  Additional calculations show that the ionization produced by a nuclear burst severely attenuates the EMP.”

(c) E-BOMB” by Jim Wilson in Popular Mechanics, September 2001 — A masterpiece of speculative fantasy. Skillful fear mongering.

“In the blink of an eye, electromagnetic bombs could throw civilization back 200 years. And terrorists can build them for $400.”

(d) The Next Fake Threat” by Nick Schwellenbach in AlterNet, September 2005.

“A congressionally-mandated commission with ties to the defense industry is pushing a fake threat — electromagnetic pulse attacks — when the Pentagon can hardly conduct one itself.”

(e) EMPtyThreat?” by Nick Schwellenbach in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Sept/Oct 2005 — Gated.  See a summary here.

“The latest doomsday threat to emerge from Washington envisions terrorists unleashing an EMP to produce the mother of all blackouts. Don’t be afraid of the dark.”

(f)  Commission to Assess the Threat from High Altitude Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP), 2008. Summary recommendation…

“The current vulnerability of our critical infrastructures can both invite and reward attack if not corrected. Correction is feasible and well within the Nation’s means and resources to accomplish.”

(g)  “What a Single Nuclear Warhead Could Do“, Brian T. Kennedy, WSJ op-ed, 24 November 2008 — “Why the U.S. needs a space-based missile defense against an EMP attack.” Kennedy is president of the right-wing Claremont Institute.

(h)  “Aircraft could be brought down by DIY ‘E-bombs’” by Paul Marks in New Scientist, April 2009.

“EMP weapons capable of frying the electronics in civil airliners can be built using information and components available on the net, warn counterterrorism analysts. All it would take to bring a plane down would be a single but highly energetic microwave radio pulse blasted from a device inside a plane, or on the ground and trained at an aircraft coming in to land.”

(i)  Excellent summary: “An Endless Bounty of EMP Crazies” by George Smith (aka Dick Destiny), 6 April 2009 — Part One, Part Two.

(j) The Newt Bomb: How a pulp-fiction fantasy became a GOP weapons craze” in The New Republic, 3 June 2009.

(k) Neocons Salivating Over Their Next Great Exaggerated ‘Threat’: Electromagnetic Pulse Attack” by Robert Farley in AlterNet, October 2009 — “A diverse array of right wing factions have united behind the effort to promote the EMP threat thesis.”

(l) The EMP threat: fact, fiction, and response” by Yousaf M. Butt (staff scientist at the Center for Astrophysics at Harvard) in the The Space Review, January 2010 — Part One, Part Two, Rebuttal.

(m) How North Korea Could Cripple the U.S.“ by R. James Woolsey & Peter Vincent Pry in a WSJ op-ed, May 2013 — “A single nuke exploded above America could cause a national blackout for months.” This op-ed accompanied Woolsey’s congressional testimony and new blitz. The WSJ ran a story about this the same day: “Former CIA Director Warns About Cyber Threats From North Korea“.

(n) The Growing Threat From an EMP Attack“ by R. James Woolsey & Peter Vincent Pry in a WSJ op-ed, August 2014 — “A nuclear device detonated above the U.S. could kill millions, and we’ve done almost nothing to prepare.”

(o) The Threat to Melt the Electric Grid“ by Henry F. Cooper & Peter Vincent Pry, WSJ op-ed, April 2015 — “An electromagnetic-pulse attack from North Korea or another U.S. enemy would cause staggering devastation.”

(p) Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Pulse?” by Sharon E. Burke and Emily Schneider at Slate — “Some in Congress and the private sector want to spend a lot of time—and money—preparing for the threat of electro magnetic pulse weapons. But is that the right priority?”

(q) Could North Korea Attack America with an EMP Weapon?” at the National Interest.

(r) Forget North Korea: Russia Is Now Building EMP Weapons” at the National Interest.


Forty years of warnings that EMPs are coming real soon, yet many Americans believe each new round of stories. This is a commonplace in modern America. Our gullibility makes us easy to rule. But there are ways we can change — see suggestions here. That is the first step to regaining control of America. The political machinery bequeathed to us by the Founders remains idle but powerful, needing only our energy to set it in motion.


For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about how fear governs us, about reforming America (steps to new politics, and especially these…

  1. Successful info ops, but who are the targets?,
  2. Psywar, a core skill of the US Military (used most often on us),
  3. How the Soviet Menace was over-hyped – and what we can learn from this,
  4. Renowned Physicists Cast Doubt on Gingrich’s Far-Fetched Scenario about EMP weapons.
  5. Another day in America, another exaggerated threat: about EMP weapons.

About our fear, making us easy to govern

The United States of Fear by Tom Engelhardt.

Fear for America a publication by the Department of Fear.

The United States Of Fear
Available at Amazon.
Fear for America
Available at Amazon.

12 thoughts on “Electromagnetic Pulse Weapons – keeping us fearful”

  1. No one knows, certainly not the author. Verbal rebuttals do not negate real world threats, except in the minds of people who believe them. But if the threat is real, no number of rebuttals can protect human beings.

    EMP is a genuine, well documented phenomenon. The call to harden infrastructure against EMP is quite different from scare-mongering. Taking practical steps to promote resilience is simple pragmatism.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      (1) I suggest reading the article before giving a rebuttal.

      The two uses commonly said for EMPs are by nation-states and private actors (eg, criminals, terrorists). Nations have not used EMPs for the same reason that nobody has used nuke weapons since WWII. Nobody wants to die from the counter-strike.

      For forty years fear mongers have said that private actors will build EMP weapons, either nuke-based or purely electronic. Not happened yet. No vidence that it will happen in the foreseeable future.

      For forty years the gullible have been scared, and they will continue to be scared, by this kind of propaganda.

      (2) “No one knows, certainly ”

      Forty years of experience is a rebuttal to the claims of imminent EMP use.

    2. Yes, indeed there is no evidence that there is an imminent danger of EMP usage.

      On the other hand, accepting “forty years of experience is a rebuttal” would seem to be an example of a “Normalcy bias”.

      Carrington events are a proven danger, however.

      1. Larry Kummer, Editor


        “would seem to be an example of a “Normalcy bias”.”

        Not at all. One of the easiest and most effective ways to evaluate sources is to look at their past track record.

        The point of these posts is going one step further – look at our track record of believing people who have who consistently been wrong for decades, or even generations. That’s Failure to Learn on an epic scale. Looking in the mirror is the first step to reform of American, not booing more loudly at the people picking on poor little awesome us.

  2. Read up on this years ago. Forget the political will to do so, the physics is rather tricky, and not as simple or devastating as scare mongering try to promote. However, it wouldn’t hurt to beef up things a bit more in preparation for another Carrington event.

  3. You might think Bill Lind is a “right wing wacko” but he’s right about the MIC: it generates papers to present at conferences to warn us about threats that are not likely to materialize. The whole purpose is to generate more funding for the MIC. Non-trinitarian threats have been kicking our butts in the post-WWII era but the MIC tends to ignore this threat we can’t seem to beat. Why? Ways of countering non-trinitarian threats are surprisingly low-tech and don’t involve much firepower. IOW, it doesn’t take money to beat them. It takes better leaders at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels. America is surprisingly short on good leaders. As J. Gresham Machen noted in the 1930s, few great men are even born in the West nowadays. The great leaders of the 20th century were mostly born in the 19th.

    I suppose an EMP attack is possible given that anything is possible. Is it likely? No.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      (1) “You might think Bill Lind is a ‘right wing wacko’”

      Nope. Totally wrong.

      • I’ve mentioned Lind’s work favorably hundreds of times.
      • I’ve reposted dozens of his articles.
      • I mail him my posts (that I believe he’d find of interest). He has mailed back valuable critiques, which I take seriously.
      • I call him occasionally for advice. It’s always valuable.
      • He’s mentioned my work favorably in several of his articles.

      (2) “The whole purpose is to generate more funding for the MIC.”

      Quite so. I’ve written hundreds of posts describing that, as have brighter lights such as Lind, Chuck Spinney, Chet Richards, and many others.

      But that’s an incomplete description of the purpose. Keeping us frightened and hence docile and obedient is, imo, the larger purpose. It’s a cause. Getting funds for the MIC is an effect.

  4. John W Slater Jr.

    We’re in the process of digitizing the grid to a far greater extent than was previously the case. That adds a new factor to evaluating the level of vulnerability. Additionally, my understanding of the relative magnitude of risk is that a sufficiently powerful solar pulse comparable to the 1859 event would present a far higher magnitude of risk than any high altitude nuclear device could achieve. Recurrence of such natural phenomena appears to be sufficiently predictable as to justify additional hardening of the infrastructure without any need for terrorist or rogue state boogeymen.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      That’s an important point! See the articles cited by Nick Schwellenbach. That’s exactly what he proposes. Also, see my post about the danger of solar storms.

      I hope that the grid upgrades are providing increased protection to solar events. After all, the great National Academy report warning about the danger was published in 2008. But probably not. We’ve ignored more serious dangers.

      In 2016 Obama signed an Executive Order about preparing for such events. It would be interesting to see what results that produced.

  5. The cost of preparation is so much lower than the catastrophic effects of a Carrington Event or even a limited EMP, why not prepare the grid? They already have in Texas, whose grid is separate from the other 47 contiguous states.

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