December 8, 2015—Maybe a Gray Swan?

December 8, 2015—Maybe a Gray Swan?

Yesterday was the 74th anniversary of the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, a classic “Black Swan” event in that it was unexpected but should have been, as concluded after the fact. Two years ago, I suggested we were courting another “surprise” attack that should be identified now and countered while there may still be time to prevent or defend against it. Two years have passed, the threat has grown and we seem to be beginning to address it—so, a “Gray” Swan? Will we respond in time?

A Black Swan event is an unexpected event, after which experts and even laymen usually conclude: “it was bound to happen . . . similar incidences even have happened before.”

Lessons from World War II.

My December 11, 2013 message discussed the origin of this description and how the December 7, 1941 Japanese attack was just such a Black Swan event — famously demonstrated by Billy Mitchell and his band of Army Air Corps followers, but ignored by the “powers that be” of his era up to and including the President. 

Eventually, Mitchell’s outspoken challenge to their views and particularly his public assertions about the future importance of air power led to his 1925 court-marshal. In his pre-trial testimony before the “Morrow Board” and the trial itself, he warned of the coming war with Japan and of a Pearl Harbor attack — over 15 years in advance. He predicted the rise of Japanese strength and foretold its Sunday-morning attack on Pearl Harbor and the Philippines. He also argued, accurately at least until 1944, that aircraft carriers could not operate against land-based aviation. He saw war as global and imminent, and that airpower was the only way to master the situation.

December 8, 2015—Maybe a Gray Swan?Mitchell’s warnings came true after his 1936 death, and the Army Air Corps became a key to the allied World War II victories.  Many consider him to be the Father of the U.S. Air Force, in which I was pleased to serve.  He received many honors following his death, including a commission by President Roosevelt as a Major General. He is also the only individual after whom is named a type of American military aircraft, the North American B-25 Mitchell — used in America’s April 19, 1942 much lauded retaliatory bombing raid on Tokyo, led by his protégé, Jimmy Doolittle, another hero with whom I was privileged to serve on Air Force Scientific Advisory Boards during the 1970s.

So certain were the military brass of their “remote” safety in Hawaii on December 7, 1941 that they parked all the defensive fighter aircraft together — no doubt reducing the costs of guarding them against sabotage while making them easy targets for the Japanese to attack from the air.  And most of the Pacific Fleet was docked in the harbor, as the Japanese anticipated.

So, Mitchell’s “strategic” warning of an attack on Pearl Harbor was ignored, as well as “tactical” warning in the run-up to Pearl Harbor attack, as brilliantly analyzed after the fact by Roberta Wohlstetter in 1962.  Our lack of preparedness was costly not only in the lives lost in that attack but in the subsequent global war in Europe and the Pacific.

As for the War in Europe, Sir Winston Churchill called it the Unnecessary War:

“President Roosevelt one day asked what this War should be called. My answer was, “The Unnecessary War.” If the United Stated States had taken an active part in the League of Nations, and if the League of Nations had been prepared to use concerted force, even had it only been European force, to prevent the re-armament of Germany, there was no need for further serious bloodshed. If the Allies had resisted Hitler strongly in his early stages, even up to his seizure of the Rhineland in 1936, he would have been forced to recoil, and a chance would have been given to the sane elements in German life, which were very powerful especially in the High Command, to free Germany of the maniacal Government and system into the grip of which she was falling.

“Do not forget that twice the German people, by a majority, voted against Hitler, but the Allies and the League of Nations acted with such feebleness and lack of clairvoyance, that each of Hitler’s encroachments became a triumph for him over all moderate and restraining forces until, finally, we resigned ourselves without further protest to the vast process of German re-armament and war preparation which ended in a renewed outbreak of destructive war. Let us profit at least by this terrible lesson. In vain did I attempt to teach it before the war.”

The “greatest generation” now mostly in their 90s — can testify from their personal experiences about the costs of ignoring the clear warning signs in both theaters of the war that should have been anticipated. Following Pearl Harbor event, we had the safety of being oceans away from the primary fighting, time to build needed weapons and Providential help (e.g., at Midway) to defeat the Japanese in the Pacific and the Nazis in Europe.

We may not be so fortunate in avoiding even more catastrophic Black Swan Events if we ignore the clear warning of threats to our electric power grid that could lead to the death of most Americans. Little has changed since my warning two year ago — and repeated in last year’s Pearl Harbor anniversary message along with examples of “strategic” and “tactical” warning conditions we have already received.  Below is an updated listing.

Strategic Warning of an EMP Attack by Iran.

My December 11, 2013 message discussed a “Black Swan” attack by Iran that could extinguish American civilization — indeed Western Civilization, which is the declared objective of Iran’s ruling mullahs.  Long-standing “strategic warning” events are:

  • The U.S. demonstrated high altitude electromagnetic pulse (HEMP) effects on “ancient” vacuum tube electronics nearly 1000 miles from our 1962 Starfish Prime nuclear test in the South Pacific — today’s solid state electronics are much, much more vulnerable to HEMP.
  • At considerable expense during the Cold War, the U.S. hardened its key military electronic systems to HEMP to assure the President could retaliate after a Soviet HEMP attack on the U.S. This capability was at the heart of our deterrent policy.
  • Post-Cold War discussions with Russia validated this investment — their high altitude tests were actually more extensive than ours and they included HEMP in their attack plans.
  • We continue to harden our strategic military systems but have done little or nothing to harden our civil critical infrastructure — especially the electric power grid, upon which the viability of most other critical infrastructure depends.
  • The Congressionally mandated nonpartisan EMP Commission reports warned of the devastating consequences of such an attack in 2004 and in 2008 provided previously classified information to back up these conclusions in a comprehensive report.
  • The EMP Commission identified the electric power grid vulnerabilities as being critically important, deserving remediation. Its Chairman testified that unless these vulnerabilities were rectified, starvation, disease and social collapse from a HEMP attack could lead to the death of most Americans within the following year.
  • Russia has shared its nuclear and ballistic missile technology with China, North Korea, Iran and, at least via the cacophony of proliferation if not directly, with others. This includes information that helps North Korea develop nuclear weapons to maximize EMP effects. For example, close collaboration between North Korea and Iran has benefited both — of course with help from Russia and China.
  • Iran has collaborated with North Korea and attended North Korean tests, which some experts believe were intended to demonstrate advanced designs that could easily be adapted for ballistic missile or satellite delivery to create HEMP effects.
  • Iran has pursued an extensive ballistic missile development program — including testing in the late 1990s that knowledgeable observers associate with an interest in a HEMP attack from a seagoing vessel.
  • A ten-day maneuver exercise in the summer of 2011 launched some 14 ballistic missiles of various ranges, after which Iran’s then Defense Minister, Gen. Ahmad Vahidi, boasted: “The war games…show Iran’s great capability in designing, producing and using various kinds of missiles based on domestic knowledge. This showed that the sanctions imposed had no effect on Iran’s missile program.”

 Tactical Warning of an EMP Attack by Iran.

 These activities bridge into more potential “Tactical Warning” events that may signal a near-term or eminent attack. A slightly edited version of last year’s list follows:

  • President Obama’s unverifiable Iran Deal agreed to over the objections of the majority in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives provides two pathways to a nuclear-armed Iran — Iran can cheat, or simply wait until the deal expires and then develop nuclear weapons. Some experts believe Iran may already have nuclear weapons. Even as the deal was consummated, Iran’s leaders declared nothing changed in Iran’s policies, with the Mullah’s chanting in the background, “Death to Israel” (the Little Satan) and “Death to America” (the Great Satan). A few weeks ago, Iran tested a nuclear-capable ballistic missile that could attack Israel.
  • Over several years, North Korea and Iran have launched satellites to their south, traveling over the South Polar region. They could easily have been directed over the U.S. in their initial orbit at an altitude to optimize HEMP effects over the entire continental U.S.
  • In September 2011, Iran indicated that its warships would sail “near maritime borders of the United States.” In February 2014, Iranian Naval Admiral Afshin Rezayee claimed that Iranian warships had “started their voyage towards the Atlantic Ocean via the waters near South Africa,” were headed to U.S. coastal waters and added that this move has a message.” Then in April, the Iranian ships were called home. A “cat and mouse” gambit?
  • Previously, Iranian officials had observed their ships can threaten U.S. coastal cities — particularly from the Gulf of Mexico. We are completely vulnerable to such an attack.
  • Over a year ago, EMP Caucus Chairman Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), made public that “The National Intelligence University of the United States recently translated an Iranian military doctrine called “Passive Defense” which referenced the use of nuclear EMP as a weapon more than 20 times. This doctrine stresses that electrical grids are vital to national existence. It includes a formula for calculating the value of electric power plants and for prioritizing the targeting of electric grid components and other infrastructures.”
  • As reported by Cylance, a private security firm, Iranian cyber operations referred to as Operation Cleaver involves a threatening Iranian team, “Tarh Andishan,” that has displayed an evolved skillset to perform attacks of espionage, theft, and the potential destruction of control systems and networks. They reportedly have targeted, attacked, and compromised more than 50 victims since at least 2012. Targets include “military, oil and gas, energy and utilities, transportation, airlines, airports, hospitals, telecommunications, technology, education, aerospace, Defense Industrial Base (DIB), chemical companies, and governments.”
  • Iranian military strategy includes the exploitation of EMP along with physical and cyberattacks, as implied by Cylance’s bottom line after tracking the Operation Cleaver team for over two years, that “the government of Iran, and particularly the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), is backing numerous groups and front entities to attack the world’s critical infrastructure.”

U.S. planners should consider the full spectrum of threats, including direct attacks like the 2 AM sniper attack on the Metcalf substation near San Jose in April 2013, followed by another attack last August.  Such repeated successful attacks on such an important substation do not provide confidence in the power company’s countermeasures, even after a year for their application —a highly publicized bad message to have sent to an Iran planni ng to attack the United States. Good news for Iran; bad news for us. 

The most devastating threat could occur once Iran mates nuclear weapons to its ballistic missiles and can launch a HEMP attack with nuclear detonations a hundred or so miles above the U.S. — combined with cyber and a Metcalf-like attack operations

Some Hopeful Signs:

There are signs that both houses of Congress are beginning to pay attention to these warning signs of an existential threat to all we hold dear.  Key among those signs are:

  • The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), signed by President Obama and now the “law of the land,” re-establishes the EMP Commission after an eight year hiatus since publishing its important 2002 and 2008 reports, which made public the nature and extent of the EMP threat and a host of “Cold War” data and information on how to protect key civil critical infrastructure to the EMP threat. Furthermore, the NDAA expands the charter of the Commission to include all threats to the nation’s civil critical infrastructure
  • The Critical Infrastructure Protection Act (CIPA) and SHIELD (Secure High-voltage Infrastructure for Electricity from Lethal Damage) Act have been passed by congress — and are awaiting action, hopefully with a signature by the President. The former act will, among other things, direct the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to include EMP among the major threat scenarios that must be considered by all (federal, state and local) authorities.  The latter will prescribe a number of key measures to help assure the survival of the electric power grid. 
  • As discussed in my recent messages, e.g., last week, Ted Koppel’s book Lights Out should be an enormous help in marshalling the support of the general public in assuring that the electric grid is protected against all threats.

While these measures will be very important to making future progress in protecting the American people from threats to the electric grid, major issues will no doubt remain.  For example,

  • The key obstacles blocking effective U.S. countermeasures have been and probably will remain purely political. The threat is well known — and validated by numerous competent technical reviews. The cost of hardening is minimal by any reasonable measure—the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which doesn’t have the authority and resources to rectify the situation, has estimated the annual cost to be less than that of a postage stamp per subscriber.
  • The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) is a captive of the Electric Power industry which has blocked the SHIELD Act. Its passage by Congress will not likely block all resistance—and assuring appropriate actions should be a major task of the re-constituted EMP Commission.
  • Some (apparently including Ted Koppel who focused his study on the cyber threat) believe that Iran would not attack the United States for fear of retaliation. These views ignore the stated willingness of the ruling Mullahs to commit suicide to achieve their stated objective of eliminating the Great Satan (America) and Little Satan (Israel) and to hasten the return of the Mahdi according to their end times prophesy.
  • The clock clicks on — toward a disaster that will make Pearl Harbor look like a picnic . . . another date that will live in infamy????

We have had ample warning, and the threat is now being taken much more seriously than in previous years. These are encouraging signs — if the “powers that be” act with dispatch, we may in time counter the existential threats posed by cyber, physical and electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attacks.

Perhaps, we might refer to a HEMP attack in spite of these promising initiatives as composing a “Gray Swan” rather than “Black Swan” event, especially if they are being constructively pursued with deliberate speed. Not good news in any case.

So we could avoid a Black Swan event because we are finally beginning to deal with the threat . . . . but we are not yet out of the woods in avoiding a devastating “gray swan” event.  Small consolation if we are attacked before we can make amends.

Stay tuned!!!

Bottom Lines.

Urgently needed is a serious assessment of all aspects of the threat to the electric power grid — a worthy objective for the re-established EMP Commission. Then they should monitor the plans for addressing these threats. After an eight year hiatus, they deserve a most hearty “Welcome back” to the fray — and with an expanded charter!

Pray for better leadership in another year. We have been here before, most recently with the “malaise” of the late 1970s — with Ronald Reagan at the helm, we made our way back to an America that made us proud. Pray we can find a way to repeat that return to the American dream that has previously stirred so many — and kept us free.

Include a prayer that we preserve this the greatest nation in History for our posterity

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 that threat.  Our leaders have been failing at their sworn duty “to provide for the common defense.” 

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.

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, 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, 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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