Trump makes America fearful – of EMPs

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!

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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.

Executive Order on Coordinating National Resilience to Electromagnetic Pulses.

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!

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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.”

(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) 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.”

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

(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.

Fear makes us easy to rule

Conclusions

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).

See this list of Federal legislation mentioning measures to protect the electric grid.

For more about EMPs

  1. Renowned Physicists Cast Doubt on Gingrich’s Far-Fetched Scenario about EMP weapons.
  2. Another day in America, another exaggerated threat: about EMP weapons.
They want you to be afraid.
From iMediaEthics.

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. Our fears make us weak and easily manipulated.
  5. 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.

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

20 thoughts on “Trump makes America fearful – of EMPs

  1. An old one for consideration: And the LORD said, Behold, the people [is] one, this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. – Gen 11:6 KJV
    If the idea of EMP’s have been imagined than they just have to manifest. Already there but for time and ingenuity.

    1. 7Zander,

      It’s not that simple. Much like the equally common scary stories about terrorists with manpads (eg, Stingers), suitcase nukes, and dirty nuclear bombs – the mechanics are more complex than they appear on TV.

      Nuclear powers could build EMPs, but why? The conventional nuclear counter-strike would turn their nation into a radioactive desert just as it would if they used good old nukes.

      Citing the Bible is fun, but it is an unreliable guide to geopolitical reality.

  2. You guys should know, if you want peace, prepare for war.

    Desktop training for loss of wifi should be compulsory. During the beat up on Y2K we ditched our computers and got pen and paper out for 24 hours. Ran a mine, old school. Was great fun, and something I remember 20 years later.

    I banned twitter last month. Block our wifi for all but 2 hours per day. Anti-social media phase out. I’m trying a blogging diet, rather than the walled socialist-media gardens. Even started growing food in our tiny plot. We did an interesting trial with the kids a few months ago (12 and 13). See how long you can live on NZ$20 groceries, after say, and EMP pulse. We went 6 days. SO about $3 per day. There is something really cool about being hungry and needing food that you have grown.

    Who knows what the sun will spit out. Whats with the eleven year sunspot cycle, trending down. That red hot ball of nukes is worth keeping an eye on.

    Churchill knew (from his diaries) that German was not going to invade after Dunkirk in 1940. Yet he used the threat of invasion and the Blitz to ramp up operational readiness for England, which lead to saving of Western Civilization. (With a little help from Roosevelt and Stalin)

    1. Powder,

      You are conflating EMPs with solar events. As I said in the post, they are different things.

      Also, there risk of a solar event taking down the electric grid is quite small. Perhaps you should read the docs I link to about it

      There are much more serious risks to prepare for than EMPs and solar flares. You cannot prepare for every possible shockwave (high impact, low probability) event. Focus on the ones most likely where you live. During the Y2K hysteria, I knew people in California prepared for computing to end – but hadn’t made the slightest effort to prepare for an Earthquake (we lived on top of one of the two most dangerous faults in California).

  3. Back when the Army had a nuclear mission, I remember getting a briefing on nukes and EMP. After the class, we wondered how the electrical systems on Enola Gay and other a/c on the Hiroshima and Nagasaki missions were not impacted. There may be a simple answer, but we never got it.

    1. Cold War Vet,

      That’s a great question! Here’s an answer, from “Nuclear Pulse (I): Awakening to the Chaos Factor” by William J. Broad in Science, 29 May 1981. Excerpt:

      “The slowness of the awakening to the EMP threat is the result of two factors. The first is the circuitous way in which it was discovered. The second is the fact that most of the electronic equipment accidentally exposed in the 1960’s during U.S. nuclear tests in space was built with vacuum tubes and thus was too old and rugged to have been damaged by a split second pulse of tens of thousands of volts. The semiconductor revolution has changed all that.…

      “Hawaii had experienced some odd occurrences, and searches of other islands during the mid-1960’s revealed that some electrical systems there had experienced similar effects. In general, however, the unsophisticated state of most of the exposed technology delayed any deep comprehension by the U.S. military of the EMP threat. Most telephone systems on the islands, after all, had not shut down, since their circuits did not then employ semiconductor devices such as transistors: all switching centers were electromechanical. Most important, the U.S. military itself had not experienced problems, since most of the field equipment and ships exposed to EMP dated from the 1940’s and 1950’s, their electronic systems relying on vacuum tubes. In the 1970’s, it was discovered that vacuum tubes have about 10 million times more hardness against EMP than integrated solid-state circuitry.”

      1. Thanks for the answer.

        If we succumb to the peddled hysteria, we should purchase old RCA console television sets and invest in prepper homes in EMP-proof countries like North Korea or Cuba lol.

      2. Cold War Vet,

        Thank you for the rational comment. Most commenters just make up what they don’t know. It is a pleasure to see someone who asks.

        It was a good question, to which I didn’t know the answer.

  4. This article states that among numerous threats to our well-being / survival, EMP may not be one of them.
    As for the hype, it correctly stated, it is easier to “sell” this one, as most people don’t have a clue.
    OTOH, NEMP are viable strategic and, in the case of non-nuclear EMP ones, even tactical weapons. The standard strategic use of NEMP in a preemptive strike to damage opponent’s C2 is well understood and presumably defended against on all sides…

    However, it would be quite irresponsible not to research areas of defence against those dangers which may happen naturally. There was enough written about What If: e.g. Carrington Event occurred today — NEMP may have more power (applied for a very short time => Pulse over a limited area), but CME induced GMS could last for hours/days and be therefore equally damaging and surely more widespread. Power-grid protection is obvious, but protecting anything electrical/electronic with limited tolerance to EMF surges should be looked into more seriously and a warning system and emergency procedures for agencies, industries and general population should be created — as is common with extreme weather related events.

    One could wonder — wouldn’t it be prudent to use this fad-scare of EMP as pretext to developing the necessary emergency measures?

    1. Jako,

      (1) “NEMP are viable strategic and, in the case of non-nuclear EMP ones, even tactical weapons.”

      No, they are not. As has been pointed out a zillion times in the articles cited in this post. They are nukes, and both the US and Russia have stated that the counter-strike will be by nukes. EMPs offer no advantages over regular nukes, and many disadvantages.

      (2) “strategic use of NEMP in a preemptive strike to damage opponent’s C2 is well understood and presumably defended against on all sides…”

      To a limited extent, military equipment is hardened against EMPs. But since real nukes are just as effective and almost impossible to defend against, why bother?

      (3) “it would be quite irresponsible not to research areas of defence against those dangers which may happen naturally.”

      I hear this constantly about shockwaves. Apparently Google doesn’t work for everyone. Try it and you’ll see that there is 4 decades of research about EMPs.

      (4) “CME induced GMS could last for hours/days and be therefore equally damaging …”

      Do you have a cite for that? I hate to think you were just making stuff up.

      (5) “One could wonder — wouldn’t it be prudent to use this fad-scare of EMP as pretext to developing the necessary emergency measures?”

      1 – Wow. Fifty years of crying wolf has resulted in widespread skepticism by Americans against warnings of every kind – and some people still want to use this tool?

      2 – Why the obsession about solar events over other shockwaves? Have you analyzed all potential shockwave events and decided that Solar Storms are the big one? I’d like to see your analysis.

      3 – Did you follow the links provided, to assess the US utility industry’s programs to defend against solar events? How do the assess Canada’s programs done after the 1989 Quebec outage?

      4- Why do you believe that US engineers are deficient in their study of and recommendations in this field? This is a common belief, most notably before Y2K – “those stupid programers are not aware that 1/1/00 is coming!” As it turned out, the world did just fine – even in the rest of the world, which ignored our hysteria and made only modest preparations.

      1. (3) & 2 – “…shockwaves…” ???

        Link (from a rudimentary Google search):
        https://www.sciencealert.com/here-s-what-would-happen-if-solar-storm-wiped-out-technology-geomagnetic-carrington-event-coronal-mass-ejection

        Near Miss:
        https://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2014/23jul_superstorm/
        Did anyone issue any warning?

        Wikipedia (Solar storm of 1859):
        “In June 2013, a joint venture from researchers at Lloyd’s of London and Atmospheric and Environmental Research (AER) in the United States used data from the Carrington Event to estimate the current cost of a similar event to the U.S. alone at $0.6–2.6 trillion.”
        And that didn’t include the consequences (communication, even water & food supply, security etc…)

        The intensity of magnetic field of 1-1.5 uT (micro-Tesla), sufficiently fluctuating, would be able to damage unprotected long-running conductor connected and inductor containing electrical/electronic equipment…

      2. Jako,

        None of that is responsive to my questions to you. Not in the slightest. I’ll assume you were making stuff up, as I said. In the future, try replying to a direct quote, so your reply is relevant to my question.

        If you want actual information, I suggest you review the links I provided in the post. Google knowledge is not real knowledge.

      3. Jako,

        I find it absurd that you believe I’ve written 3000 words about these phenomena, including multiple references summarizing the best current research – and that you can defend your misstatements by citing these elementary descriptions.

        You would know more than you do now if you read the section in this post about solar storms.

        I note that you still fail to reply to some kind of direct quote, so that your reply is at least remotely relevant to what I said.

  5. Not being one who utilizes Facebook or Twitter, I wish you had a “like” section on this site.

    Many moons ago while serving in military intelligence, I noticed a positive correlation between adoption of the Pentagon budget and the timely propagation of federal government/mass media false/misleading security scare stories, the party in power being irrelevant.

    The more things change, the more things stay the same.

    1. Chad,

      (1) “I noticed a positive correlation between adoption of the Pentagon budget and the timely propagation of federal government/mass media …”

      Me, too. Not a recent development!

      “Mr. President, if that’s what you want there is only one way to get it. That is to make a personal appearance before Congress and scare the hell out of the country.”

      — Senator Arthur Vandenberg’s advice to Truman about starting the Cold War. Truman did so in his famous speech on 12 March 1947. From Put yourself in Marshall’s place by James Warburg (he helped develop the US WWII propaganda programs).

      (2) “I wish you had a “like” section on this site.”

      WordPress has almost everything! I’ve never used it. Now turned on.

  6. “Conflating the two makes no sense, except as a vehicle for DoD to achieve long-sought funding. It’s a new frontier!”

    Perhaps the Space Force can go on patrol in high orbit to keep out the Emps.

    1. SF,

      As a boy, I loved watching “Rocky Jones: Space Ranger” on TV, reading the Tom Corbett, Space Cadet books, and especially Robert Heinlein’s stories about the Space Patrol (e.g., the novel Space Cadet). Now everybody gets to spend billions in a faux effort to imitate those stories!

  7. EMPs and CMEs freaked me out when I first heard of them. Thought about building Faraday cages, the whole bit.
    Googled, found some actual physics studies, and stopped worrying about it. Now when it pops up in the news, it’s just another indicator to me that some politician or MIC player is trying to manipulate us. That’s a comprehensive list of sources you made. Didn’t see this one though. Pretty recent.

    2018 report of the USAF  Electromagnetic Defense Task Force (EDTF)”

    Never heard of the EDTF or LeMay center. How many of these entities we’ve never heard of, are out there spending our money on questionable priorities?

    1. Steve,

      Thanks for that cite. I’ve added it to the post!

      “spending our money on questionable priorities?”

      It is a matter of perspective. As so many people familiar with DoD have said, getting more money is the highest priority of DoD.

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