“NORTHCOM was born because of the 9/11 attacks for there was no commander of the homeland. But we are not the commander in charge of defending against terrorist attacks for that is the mission of the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice. We are a supporting command to them in dealing with terrorist threats.” ~ Admiral William Gortney, Commander of Northern Command (NORTHCOM)
Admiral Gortney’s revealing comment might be missed in an April 22 Breaking Defense article by Robbin Laird and Ed Timperlake, “NORTHCOM: Defending North America at Ten and Two O’clock.” I encourage you to read this entire important interview, as Admiral Gortney nears the end of his tour as NORTHCOM Commander. I am particularly intrigued by his argument that we need a “commander for the homeland in a more classic sense.”
Though the Admiral does not specifically say so, I believe his comments refer to the fact that no one is in charge of assuring that we have strategy, tactics, and operational capabilities to defend the homeland and the American people against growing threats from rogue states and their terrorist surrogates.
This fact is the root cause of bureaucratic dysfunctionalities that inhibit our ability to defend our nation against serious, even existential, threats.
For example, Admiral Gortney is well aware of the electromagnetic pulse (EMP) threat, as illustrated over a year ago in an April 5, 2015 Pentagon Press Conference. (Click here for the Pentagon’s transcript, which I referenced in my April 14, 2015 message on this important revelation.) In particular, he referred to a major program (funded at the better part of a billion dollars) to restore critically important EMP-hardened electronic systems in Colorado Springs’ Cheyenne Mountain headquarters of North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).
As NORAD Commander, he continues the Cold War mission of providing needed tactical warning and critically important attack assessment information to the President and other key authorities should the United States be attacked by aircraft or missiles.
This is an important and well justified initiative. However, little or nothing is being done to harden the nation’s critical infrastructure — especially the electric power grid — that is essential to the survival of the American people. If he were the “commander for the homeland,” I have little doubt that he would urge a requirement for hardening the civil critical infrastructure as well.
The reason for this disconnect is, in part, because Admiral Gortney’s “Homeland Defense” job description as NORTHCOM Commander does not include assuring the viability of the nation’s critical infrastructure.
As he said in his Breaking Defense interview, he is a supporting command in the case of terrorists — and I would argue the entire Department of Defense ducks the entire responsibility because its leaders do not see assuring the viability of the nation’s critical civil infrastructure as being its job, even though the military depends on the viability of the civil infrastructure for its operations — and not only within the United States!
As I have written several times, various departments and agencies have responsibilities for portions of what might be called this mission area, but no-one is in charge of either providing an integrated plan of how that essential task should be done, or in monitoring — let alone directing — what is being done.
My earliest summary of the federal government’s dysfunctional arrangement was over three years ago in my February 25, 2013 message, “The Shield Act, Who’s on First?” I poked fun at these arrangements by recalling the famous Abbott and Costello “Who’s on First” comedy routine. But there was little humor in my recounting of the USG dysfunctionality. Some 16 months later, my June 24, 2014 message again attempted a bit of humor in its title, “What Did They Know and When Did They Know It?”
In referring to that famous Watergate question, I thought it might encourage remedial action from the then-current “powers that be” to consider how they would answer the same question following an attack that brought down the electric grid, leading to the death of most Americans. Regrettably, little if anything has changed — in either the Executive or Legislative branches — to that assessment, slightly updated below:
- The Defense Department, (possible the most technically competent to deal with the issue because of its unique Cold War responsibilities and consequent efforts to harden our strategic systems and their supporting command, control and communications systems) claims no jurisdictional responsibility for security of the electric grid — even though the operation of its military bases and viability of its troops depend on the same critical civil infrastructure as do all American citizens.
- The Department of Homeland Security is supposed to be concerned about our “homeland security” but doesn’t even include the threat of concern (manmade and natural EMP) among its fifteen or so threat scenarios for which all government agencies are supposed to prepare. (The worst threat conjured by DHS is “hundreds of thousands” of casualties after detonation of a 10-kiloton nuclear device in a single city. In comparison, an EMP attack could result in the death of 90-percent of all Americans.)
- The Energy Department’s lack of preparation for dealing with the consequences of this threat is especially troubling given Secretary Moniz’s promise to Senator Murkowski during his Confirmation Hearing—that he would look into the EMP issue as part of DOE’s emphasis on assuring resiliency in the power grid. (Click here and go to 4:40 minutes into this video to see that April 9, 2013 exchange.)
- The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which has unique regulatory responsibilities and should be technically competent to deal with the urgent EMP threat, has done nothing apparent for assuring the viability of the nation’s electric grid for which they are responsible—imagine the consequences of a major meltdown of nearly a hundred nuclear reactors around the country and the radiation fallout from many “Fukushima-like” meltdowns carried by the winds within the United States. (Click on the figure on top our webpage to get an idea of how your interests might be affected.)
And still, no one’s in charge!
Meanwhile, the threat continues to mature as elaborated by recent articles by several of my colleagues. For example, in Monday’s Washington Times article, “The Miniaturization Myth,” Jim Woolsey and Peter Vincent Pry describe why North Korea probably already has miniaturized warheads that can be delivered by ballistic missiles and satellites it already has flown to produce devastating HEMP attacks. And Peter Huessy’s Gatestone article “Iran’s Nuclear Missiles in our Future” discusses in great detail the threat from Iran.
As to a general reflection on the consequences, consider the May 1, 2015 Wall Street Journal article I co-authored with Dr. Peter Vincent Pry, “The Threat to Melt the Grid,” which keyed on Admiral Gortney’s then recent Pentagon briefing — and my May 5, 2015 message which also elaborates the facts associated with the misunderstanding displayed by a large number of individuals who commented on our article. If you have the time and can download the Wall Street Journal article, you may find of interest the responses from a variety of readers, illustrating the ignorance of the general public on this important matter. As I wrote a year ago:
“Many were from well informed supportive readers, but some displayed a wide misunderstanding of the nature of the electromagnetic pulse (EMP) threat and what can be done about it. Of greatest concern to me were those normally well informed readers of the Journal who were so badly mistaken about some very key facts important to moving the “powers that be” to counter this existential threat.”
But to return to my main theme today, it is certainly wise to improve NORAD’s mission by improving Admiral Gortney’s confidence that the NORAD mission can be done following a high-altitude EMP (HEMP) attack — created by a nuclear weapon detonated in space above the atmosphere over the continental United States.
That mission is certainly important as we contemplate Russia’s growing adventurism that smells a lot like the Cold War Soviet threat, China’s expanding threat to the United States, and the growing threat from rogue states like North Korea and Iran — to the degree that deterrence delivered by the threat of retaliation insures our safety.
But it is not clear that “Cold War Deterrence Theory” is valid in today’s world, if ever it was. This is especially true of rogue states like North Korea and especially Iran.
The Grand Ayatollah and his loyal Mullahs may not care so much about retaliation following an attack that kills a hundred million or so more people in the Great Satan America or the Little Satan Israel. Moreover, it could have no bearing if their surrogate jihadi terrorists execute the threat such that their attack is not easily traced back to Iran.
Lest you think this threat is hypothetical, consider Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) July 21, 2015 comments below made at the last International Electric Infrastructure Security (EIS) Summit in Washington. To doubly emphasize the key bottom line message, the National Intelligence University translated a six-year-old report on Iranian Military Doctrine that references some 22 times “the use of EMP as a weapon to damage or disable civilian electric grids of potential opponents.” This EMP weapon is “an advanced and useful weapon in modern warfare.”
So, wake up, America! Demand that your elected official straighten out this mess! Literally, your life is at stake!
Congress should pass legislation to address the problems, and on behalf of the American People demand that the Executive Branch end this dysfunctionality and provide for the common defense.
Congress should also provide a more constructive regulatory arrangement of the electric power operations that deals effectively with the reality of the EMP threat, as well as other threats to the grid. More for another message.
There are some signs of movement in the right direction — for example, with helpful language in the Energy Bill for Fiscal Year 2016. But we have a long way to go before Admiral Gortney’s successor, soon to be sworn in, can report that part of her job will be to help protect the American People as part of the NORTHCOM mission.
Hopefully, the Defense Department will soon re-establish the EMP Commission, as directed by the National Defense Authorization Act of 2016. These issues should be high priority items on their agenda. Not the least should be to help identify “Who’s in charge?” . . . or more importantly to recommend, “Who Should Be in Charge!”
Near-Term High Frontier Plans.
We will continue to inform our readers of the looming threats we confront — and where appropriate urge them to engage in countering those threats. We will press for building the most cost-effective ballistic missile defenses possible and working with South Carolina folks to build a coalition to engage constructively with private citizens and their local and state representatives and other authorities to work with the SC National Guard in understanding and responding to the existential threats to the electric power grid.
We are especially focused on the nuclear power reactors that produce 60-percent of SC electricity—and more generally 20-percent of the nation’s electricity. If it can be assured that they “operate through” a major blackout of the electric power grid — and I believe it can, then these reactors can play a very important role for resurrecting the grid over an extended time and supporting the general public’s survival in the meantime.
See the new figure just added to the top of our webpage for an illustration of how wind patterns might carry far and wide any significant radiation from the nation’s reactors if we don’t get this right!
What can you do?
Join us in praying for our nation, and for a rebirth of the freedom sought, achieved and passed to us by those who came before us.
Help us to spread our message to the grass roots and to encourage all “powers that be” to provide for the common defense as they are sworn to do.
Begin by passing this message to your friends and suggest they visit our webpage www.highfrontier.org, for more information. Also, please encourage your sphere of influence to sign up for our weekly e-newsletter.
Encourage them to review our past email messages, posted on www.highfrontier.org, to learn about many details related to the existential manmade and natural EMP threats and how we can protect America against them. I hope you will help us with our urgently needed efforts, which I will be discussing in future messages.
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