Summary: Trump trots out an oldie among military threats – EMPs, scaring Americans for four decades. This is much more fun for the military and its contractors than fulfilling his campaign promises (here and here). Let’s review this history – grim or funny, depending on your perspective. Perhaps someday we will learn from experience, a step to renewal of America.
EMPs are coming for our children!
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 funds the vast military-intel-security apparatus and allows the slow but steady erosion of our liberty.
A continuous stream of information operations bombard us, luridly describing a large array of threats. The vast DoD-intel-Homeland Security apparatus can easily generate the necessary propaganda. They overwhelm our critical facilities, and flood the few resources of organizations who try to provide alternative perspectives. Trump plays his part in this expensive farce.
Issued by President Trump on 26 March 2019.
“An electromagnetic pulse (EMP) has the potential to disrupt, degrade, and damage technology and critical infrastructure systems. Human-made or naturally occurring EMPs can affect large geographic areas, disrupting elements critical to the Nation’s security and economic prosperity, and could adversely affect global commerce and stability. The Federal Government must foster sustainable, efficient, and cost-effective approaches to improving the Nation’s resilience to the effects of EMPs. …
“To achieve these goals, the Federal Government shall engage in risk-informed planning, prioritize research and development (R&D) to address the needs of critical infrastructure stakeholders, and, for adversarial threats, consult Intelligence Community assessments.”
This Executive Order conflates two different threats. Solar storms are known natural events, unpredictable, and powerful serious threats. NASA and the National Academy of Sciences have warned about these for decades. The NAS published “Storms from the Sun” in 2002. They published a larger and stronger warning in 2008: “Severe Space Weather Events: Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts.“ See the summary here.
Solar storms are very different than EMPs. EMPs are orders of magnitude more powerful than solar storms. affect a much larger area, and of dubious military value (they are nukes, and we will reply with nukes). Conflating the two makes no sense, except as a vehicle for DoD to achieve long-sought funding. It’s a new frontier!
Decades of articles about EMP weapons – the zombie threat
For four decades DoD and their servants tell us that our enemies have EMPs and might use them really soon (despite the certainty of extermination from our counterstrike). They tell us that criminals can build EMPs, using them for Hollywood-like mega-heists, and that terrorist can build them to destroy America. Journalists and the public love these exciting stories. Nobody minds that they have been false for four decades. Every few years 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 – so long as we fail to remember past false claims – so long as we refuse to learn skepticism.
Fear-mongering followed by experts’ rebuttals.
A sampler from the hundreds 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. Then, as now, serious analysis debunks the threat.
(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 and 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.”
“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) funded by the DoD (2008). Summary recommendation, similar to all those in reports funded by the DoD.
“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“ by Brian T. Kennedy in a 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 (Wikipedia).
(h) “Aircraft could be brought down by DIY ‘E-bombs’” by Paul Marks in New Scientist, April 2009. I cannot find who Paul Marks is, but he commented often about EMPs. A decade later, no aircraft have been downed by EMPs.
“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.”
(j) “The Newt Bomb” by Michael Crowley (editor) in The New Republic, 3 June 2009 – “How a pulp-fiction fantasy became a GOP weapons craze.”
(k) “Neocons Salivating Over Their Next Great Exaggerated ‘Threat’: Electromagnetic Pulse Attack” by Robert Farley (prof of diplomacy at U KY) at AlterNet, October 2009 – “A diverse array of right wing factions have united behind the effort to promote the EMP threat thesis.” Dead link to this good article.
(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-a, Part One-b, Part Two, A rebuttal.
(m) “How North Korea Could Cripple the U.S.“ by R. James Woolsey (former CIA director) and Peter Vincent Pry (CIA alumnus, advocate for DoD funding on EMPs) 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 Fr.m an EMP Attack“ by R. James Woolsey and 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–” They boys try again.
(o) “The Threat to Melt the Electric Grid“ by Henry F. Cooper (former director of the Strategic Defense Initiative, another multi-decade boondoggle) & Peter Vincent Pry in a 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?” Originally published as “Enemy Number One for the Electric Grid: Mother Nature” at SAIS Review of International Affairs (Spring 2015). Burke was an Asst. Secretary at DoD and advisor at CNAS and C-Span. Schneider has long experience in defense matters (her bio).
Time for another burst of EMP propaganda!
(q) “Could North Korea Attack America with an EMP Weapon?” by by Malcolm Davis (Senior Analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute) at the National Interest, Sept 2017 – “Does Kim have it?” Skilled fear-mongering.
(r) “Forget North Korea: Russia Is Now Building EMP Weapons” by Michael Peck at the National Interest, December 2017 – “Could this be the real EMP threat?”
(s) “North Korea’s Satellites Could Unleash Electromagnetic Pulse Attack” by Peter Pry (again) at Newsmax, Mar 2019. Pry is always confident and always wrong, which journalists believe makes him an expert.
(t) “2018 report of the USAF Electromagnetic Defense Task Force (EDTF)” – Their not-so-astonishing conclusion: more money is needed.
Since WWII Americans have been bombarded with warnings about imminent threats. Since 1984 Iran has been two years from having nukes. Russia is always about to eat us. And EMPs are coming real soon. Americans are the wonder of the world for the enthusiasm with which we believe each new round of stories. We are gullible. See The Big List of Lies. It makes us easy to rule, a gift to our elites. This is one reason for my new, dark picture of America’s future.
But we can learn to see the world more clearly – 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.
Are we protecting the electricity grid from solar storms?
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has been moving steadily, incrementally, to push electric utilities to take stronger measures. On 18 November 2018 they approved the Geomagnetic Disturbance Reliability Standard. The General Accounting Office has published studies about these risks. In February 2018 they released “Electricity Suppliers Have Taken Actions to Address Electromagnetic Risks, and Additional Research Is Ongoing.” On December 19 they released “Protecting the Electric Grid from Geomagnetic Disturbances,” reviewing what is being done and alternative measures for the future. Despite the scary articles in the news media, they note that the risk is poorly understood – and some studies suggest that the risk of severe damage has been exaggerated.
“Several organizations have studied the level of risk posed by GMDs to the U.S. electric grid. However, there is some disagreement among the studies about the level of risk and the scale and extent of potential consequences that could result. The varying conclusions are, in part, a function of the numerous factors that influence how geomagnetic disturbances are caused, the magnitude of GIC that could be generated, and the amount of damage that could result.”
Other agencies have also been active in this area. DoE published a “DOE Electromagnetic Pulse Resilience Action Plan” (January 2017). Homeland Security has issued many reports about the risks from solar storms and EMPs. Their latest is “The Strategy for Protecting and Preparing the Homeland Against Threats of Electromagnetic Pulse and Geomagnetic Disturbances” (October 2018).
For more about EMPs
- Renowned Physicists Cast Doubt on Gingrich’s Far-Fetched Scenario about EMP weapons.
- Another day in America, another exaggerated threat: about EMP weapons.
For More Information
- Successful info ops, but who are the targets?,
- Psywar, a core skill of the US Military (used most often on us),
- How the Soviet Menace was over-hyped – and what we can learn from this,
- Our fears make us weak and easily manipulated.
- America’s New Year’s Resolution: see the future without fear!
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.