Amb. Henry F. Cooper, Chairman . . . Lt. Gen. Daniel Graham, Founder
High Frontier . . Building Truly Effective Defenses . . Reagan’s Vision Lives
E-Mail Message 140220
Threat Potpourri…Including the Weather!
By Ambassador Henry F. Cooper
February 20, 2014
As the mainstream media’s awareness of threats to the electric power grid grows and recent weather reminds us of even worse events that will happen, the powers that be need to develop ways to shield against them. These threats extend from physical attacks, to cyber attacks, to natural and manmade electromagnetic pulse events that could take down the grid for an indefinite period of time, during which several hundred million Americans could perish.
Last week, our email message reflected on sobering recent press accounts that highlighted the vulnerability of the electric power grid to physical attack, several other vulnerabilities and recent reports suggesting Iran’s interest in a formal naval presence off our east coast.
Without dwelling on a repetition of last week’s account, which can be reviewed by clicking here, I refer you to very informative discussions by Jon Wellinghoff’s on C-SPAN (50-minutes) and the PBS News Hour (12 minutes). If you have limited time, I encourage that you watch the second—which will also expose you to a second less alarmed view. Perhaps that will encourage you to make the time to hear more of Wellinghoff’s position, with which I agree, and study the issue further.
NERC, FERC and All That.
Wellinghoff was Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory commission (FERC) at the time of the physical attack on a large substation in Jan Jose, California in the early morning hours of April 16, 2013 and, since leaving that post, has been conveying to all who will listen his concerns about the vulnerability of the grid to physical attack—and his message went viral on the mainstream media and even provoked action by senior Democrat senators, as reported last week. It will be interesting to see if anything comes of that initiative other than yet another study.
Notably, the News Hour also featured Mark Weatherford of the Chertoff Group, a former Department of Homeland Security Deputy Undersecretary for Cyber Security, and Vice President and Chief Security Officer of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) where he directed the organization’s critical infrastructure and cybersecurity program. This exchange illustrates the dysfunctional nature of the congressionally-mandated FERC-NERC relationship which so far has not even acknowledged the general vulnerability of the grid, let alone taken any serious interest in rectifying that condition. Notably, Weatherford observed that perhaps it had been shortsighted to focus on the cyber threat while paying too little attention to the physical attack threat. But, even though Weatherford stated he was less informed on the threat than Wellinghoff, he carried NERC’s water in downplaying it.
This dysfunctionality is why Congress should pass the Shield Act, bottled up in the House Energy and Commerce Committee for the past three years, no doubt because of NERC’s lobbying efforts—even though, reportedly, it has strong bipartisan support. Wellinghoff stated that we need a single regulatory commission, like the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which oversee our nuclear power infrastructure with authority and resources to act. The Shield Act would give FERC that capability. NERC is trying to block its passage.
The powers that be need to rectify this situation, for reasons including those illustrated below.
I was a first-hand witness to the East Coast storm that caused shutdowns throughout the eastern seaboard. Due to flight cancellations, we were stalled on our farm in South Carolina where the ice storm caused such damage that Governor Nikki Haley compared it to Hurricane Hugo—some 350,000 people were without power for days. Georgia had a similar experience. As the storm headed north the ice turned to snow and things also shut down around our Virginia residence, where the national capital region was covered with 1-2 feet of snow.
Interestingly, some of Sunday’s news reports connected these east coast difficulties with the west coast drought to claim this was evidence of manmade (or to be more politically correct, human-made) Global Warming—or at least Climate Change. This, in my view, was absurdly arrogant, since climate is always changing—has been for millennia and it’s been warmer and it’s been colder.
Perhaps the most ludicrous recent related event was Secretary of State John Kerry’s inclusion of alleged climate change in his discussion of international terrorism—calling it “the world’s largest weapon of mass destruction.” Was this just another bumbling attempt to divert attention from the administration’s obviously failing diplomacy, particularly in the Middle East and in his negotiations with Syria and Iran?
In fact, the climate has sometimes has been dramatically altered by Mother Nature, like the 1883 Krakatoa volcanic eruption, which created unseasonably cool weather, brilliant sunsets, and prolonged twilights due to the spread of aerosols throughout the stratosphere. A repetition of such—or worse—was the concern that was raised in the 1970s by the “Nuclear Winter” advocates seeking policies of nuclear abolition—when “Global Cooling” was in vogue.
A lesson from last week’s weather that did occur to me is that we are now much less prepared to deal with extreme variations. For example, I recall worse ice storms in Georgia and South Carolina during the 1940s that slowed us down less than the recent vigil. Some of our wells had hand pumps, we heated and cooked on wood, coal and kerosene stoves; the cows were fed and watered as usual (including in our pond)—producing plenty of milk, cream and butter; and we had salt cured pork in the smoke house and lots of canned goods from the past summer. Last week was very different for many who now depend on electricity and the just in time economy for comfort and sustenance.
And I recall the winter of 1960 and my introduction to northern weather at Bell Laboratories in New Jersey. It was then alleged to be the worst winter since the 1880s. First snow fell around Thanksgiving and was still on the ground in March after several other snows of 18 inches or more. I don’t recall school stopping—and I never missed a day of work. A youthful President Kennedy seemingly ignored the cold in taking his oath of office and delivering his inaugural address, when everyone else seemed to be bundled up.
And so far as droughts go, remember the “dustbowl” of the 1930s that prompted a mass migration to the West Coast—a la John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath—and many of those folks, like many in my wife’s family, moved from Oklahoma to contribute to California’s aerospace boom—including “Rosie the Riveter” roles supporting our World War II effort and beyond? Was this weather manmade—pardon, human-made?
Then there is, in fact, much more deadly stormy weather beyond our control and headed our way—solar storms that go on all the time. One day, one will hit us!
Recently, the Earth passed within a week of when the emission from such a storm intersected the Earth’s orbit and could have produced a catastrophic “so-called Carrington event.” As we have discussed for many months, particularly last December 18th , the powers that be have so far not hardened the electric power grid to counter this electromagnetic pulse (EMP) threat—the loss of which could, indeed, have effects much worse than most terrorist of most, but not all, weapons of mass destruction—leading to the death of several hundred million Americans if we continue to ignore it. And I am not talking about climate change or environmental impact issues.
These massive solar emissions are real, happen frequently, and should not be—but are being—ignored by the powers that be. The National Weather Service Space Weather Prediction Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, Colorado maintain a watch on these events. When they detect such events, they provide formal warning to those who have an interest in the consequences. For example, the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) uses their warning to redirect flights that might be exposed to effects that might create risks to aircraft and passengers. But regrettably those responsible for the electric power grid have not yet taken steps to assure its survival to this existential threat.
One of the Center’s specialists, Mr. William Murtagh, discussed these events at the recent DuPont Summit in Washington, DC (cosponsored by the Policy Studies Organization and the InfraGard National EMP Special Interest Group). Key observations were:
- Such events go on all the time—not just during a solar maximum; and very consequential events can occur during the dwell period between solar maxima that occur on an 11-year cycle.
- The 1859 Carrington Event, often taken as a “worst case” event for planning purposes, occurred during such a dwell period—and it actually was not near the magnitude of the largest emissions that have been observed.
- A 1921 solar storm event that, among other things, put the entire signal and switching system of the New York Central Railroad below 125th Street out of operation and induced currents causing a fire in the control tower. (Systems depending on today’s electronics would have fared far worse.)
- In 2012, a much larger event than either of these barely missed enveloping planet earth with a lethal cloud of charges from a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME)—slightly different timing and it could have enveloped the earth and shut down the electric power grid in the U.S. as well as throughout the world.
- October 2013 “Halloween storms” should serve as another “wake-up call”—it illustrated the damaging effects of solar storms on the Global Positioning System (GPS) upon which navigation and numerous other applications depend—as well as other applications, such as communications and the electric power grid.
- The FAA pays particular attention to the National Weather Service assessments—and all flights have been diverted from major regions of the globe because of that warning—which normally is a day or so in advance, there was about 18 hours of warning in last year’s major CME.
While we would have 18 or so hours of warning of the arrival of solar wind particles from the sun’s surface, we would not know the cloud’s composition until it is identified by the Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) satellite at the L1 libration point between the earth and the sun. Until that composition is known, the power companies would not take action because of a possible false alarm, depending on the polarization of the particles’ associated magnetic field relative to the Earth’s magnetic field. About 30 minutes after determination of actionable warning those particles will interact with the earth’s geomagnetic field and possibly produce the EMP of concern.
Ironically, this is approximately the same time of for the flight of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) from Iran to the U.S. In that case, we have prepared for a rapid response . . . that is why the President always has with him an individual carrying the “football” with the launch codes for our retaliatory response to a nuclear attack. But in the case of the solar induced EMP, there will likely be insufficient time for the power companies to shut down and protect the grid.
So, alternative hardening measures are required—and possible. But the powers that be are not taking needed actions to protect the American people from this existential threat.
This incredibly dangerous condition was recently lamented at the DuPont Summit by Dr. Daniel Baker, a solar scientist and director of the University of Colorado-Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, while relating our good fortune in avoiding the largest-on-record, June 2012 CME. It occurred on the far side of the rotating sun just a week after that source area was pointed directly toward Earth. NASA’s STEREO-A satellite was flying ahead of Earth as the planet orbited the sun and recorded the event, including the intensity of the solar wind, the interplanetary magnetic field and a rain of solar energetic particles into space.
In commenting on lack of attention paid to the near miss, Dr. Baker has in sorrow observed:
“My space weather colleagues believe that until we have an event that slams Earth and causes complete mayhem, policymakers are not going to pay attention . . . The message we are trying to convey is that we made direct measurements of the 2012 event and saw the full consequences without going through a direct hit on our planet.”
So, is he wrong? Will we pay attention to this important threat??? Or just wait for disaster to strike.
Then There’s Iran.
I cannot close this reflection on threats without mentioning the looming threat from Iran—also highlighted by recent events, including Iran’s increasing bellicosity and obviously failing U.S. diplomacy.
As mentioned above, if Iran were to launch a nuclear armed intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) at us “over the North Pole,” our ballistic missile defense (BMD) system should be prepared to shoot it down during its 30 minute or so flight time. But if Iran employs a nuclear weapon on a shorter range missile launched from a vessel off our coast, we would have only a few minutes to respond—but we have defenses that, if prepared, could respond.
In either case, a nuclear weapon detonated a hundred miles or so above the United States would harm no one immediately. But the consequent EMP would (among other things) shut down indefinitely the unhardened electric power grid by severely damaging its extremely high voltage (EHV) transformers—the consequences within a year would return the nation to its 18th century existence without the 18th century agrarian support. The resulting chaos would no doubt lead to the death of several hundred million Americans.
These nuclear produced EMP effects actually would be more severe than those caused by solar storms, which are bad enough. And we know how to counter them, if and when the powers that be decide to do so.
We could shoot down these attacking missiles if our Aegis BMD ships along the coast or in port are prepared to do so. As previously reported, on a day chosen at random in 2012 there were 4-6 such ships—all that is needed is training for them to deal with the possibility of an off-coast missile attack. (With an appropriate radar in Maine, they can also help defend against Iranian ICBMs coming over the North Pole.) But Aegis BMD ships do not normally enter the Gulf of Mexico—so we are vulnerable to attack from there or from other points south.
To illustrate this threat is in fact not hypothetical, note that last July, as we reported on July 19, 2013, Panamanian officials intercepted a North Korean vessel smuggling through the Canal rockets (originally designed to be) capable of carrying nuclear weapons. Furthermore, as indicated in the figure below, this particular vessel had interacted with charter members of the cacophony of proliferation on this very trip.
To counter this threat, I strongly urge that the Pentagon consider the merits of deploying Aegis Ashore sites at military bases around the Gulf of Mexico. We are building such sites in Romania (by 2015) and Poland (by 2018) to protect our NATO allies from Iranian missiles, and we already have built a site in Hawaii for testing for these European sites. Surely we can afford to protect Americans from Iranian missiles launched at us from the south. You think?
We also need to protect against an Iranian satellite that could carry a nuclear weapon over the South Pole to attack us from the South. Iran and North Korea (Iran’s partner which already has nukes) have repeatedly launched satellites into such orbits that can easily be steered over the U.S. Today, this “back door” is wide open because our defenses are deployed against missiles approaching the U.S. from the North.
And we need to harden the electric grid in any case to deal with the electromagnetic pulse if our defenses fail or from a solar storm. The Carrington event happened 155 years ago—and we are due for an encore.
We know how to do this. No additional development is needed to get started—though we might be able to improve on the hardening technology developed and applied to harden our nuclear forces and their command and control systems for decades.
So, Connect the Dots!
Tune it to Judge Judy at 9 P.M. (EST) Saturday evening for an hour’s discussion of these existential threats.
Click here for Frank Gaffney’s excellent two-and-a-half minute summary of our situation on CNBC.
No more studies—let’s get started!
In particular, let’s work to get the Shield Act out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee—and for the powers that be to engage in fixing a badly broken federal system, including congressional oversight and the activities of most of the Executive Branch.
Given the past performance of the federal establishment, let’s also work from the bottom up to engage citizens and local and state authorities to acquaint them with the problem and what can and should be done about it.
In particular, let’s engage with the National Guard—which, unless and until mobilized by Federal authorities, works for the governors of the several states and is already tuned to working to protect the citizens within their charge.
And to quote one of my heroes, Winston Churchill: “Never, never, never give up.”
Near Term Plans.
We will continue 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 this serious threat. We will expand this effort to neighboring and other states.
We are informing SC state legislators and senators about the threat and what can be done to deal with it—and hopefully they will follow Maine and Virginia in seeking to harden the electric power grid. We also expect support from Cong. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) whose district includes my SC farm—who is a member of the Congressional EMP Caucus seeking passage of the Shield Act and the Infrastructure Protection Act, as well as other SC representatives.
We will be working with members of the EMP Coalition and others who are seeking to take our message across the country—especially with Bob Newman, a former Adjutant General of Virginia to help us link our SC plans more broadly and especially into the National Capital region.
And we will continue to support Virginia State Senator Bryce Reeves to help with his initiative where we can—it unanimously passed both the Senate and the House Science and Technology Committee and is headed for the floor of the House of Delegates.
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.
Get involved— in particular, let your electric power company know of your concern and urge them to harden the electric power grid.
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!
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