“In the most severe scenario of an all-out attack upon undersea cable infrastructure by a hostile actor the impact of connectivity loss is potentially catastrophic, but even relatively limited sabotage has the potential to cause significant economic disruption and damage.” ~ Former NATO Commander, Retired US Navy Admiral James Stavridis
ADM Stavridis wrote this warning in his Forward to Undersea Cables: Indispensable, Insecure, authored by conservative member of Great Britain’s Parliament, Rishi Sunak. Click here for this report and here for my December 19, 2017 message, which elaborated an important needed extension to the threats they discussed — and also those reflected by Great Britain’s most senior military officer, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach. Whatever may be shortcomings of their focus, they have identified a very important problem area, too long ignored!
Then yesterday, January 6th, the Asia Times published an important related more particularly focused article, as implied by its title: “Undersea Cables the Achilles’ heel in lead up to a new cold war.” Click here for this article by Editor at Large Doug Tsuruoka, a bit more focused as implied by its subtitle, “Hostile acts against submerged Internet cables would put critical communications, trillions of dollars in transactions and the world economy at risk.”
Thus, he emphasized that the damage from “hard-to-detect” acts could be enormous on military and diplomatic communications and to the economic interests of friend and foe alike: “As more nations exploit the Internet for political or military gain, it’s also clear that the tactical concept of undersea cables as critical assets to be attacked or defended is an idea whose time has come.”
While Tsuruoka considered global implications of this threat, he emphasized physical threats to Asia’s “choke points” where the cables converge. A primary focus was the Asian region and undersea cables depicted below to illustrate the extent of damage caused by the December 26, 2006 magnitude 7 earthquake that struck off the southwest coast of Taiwan, approximately 22.8 km west-southwest of Hengchun, Pingtung County, Taiwan.
Submarine cables in the South China Sea. Photo: Policy Exchange
Click here for more discussion of consequences of this earthquake that cut eight submarine cables, catastrophically disrupting Internet services in Asia, affecting many Asian countries, financial transactions, particularly in the foreign exchange markets, and significantly impacting submarine networks.
Tsuruoka also mentioned potential threats from a number of nations and the undersea cable in other regions. But he only discussed physical attack strategies and countermeasures. In my opinion, he like those authors referenced in my December 19 message, left out the global threat that could be posed by high-altitude nuclear explosions.
Imagine the additional difficulties following an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack that also caused permanent damage to all the electronic infrastructure required by the systems used to repair permanent damage to these cables.
Whether deliberate or accidental, the EMP from such high-altitude explosions could disable the world’s entire undersea cable network that reportedly carries about $10 trillion of financial transactions in a single day as well as huge volumes of data, from e-mails to classified government-to-government information. Moreover, such an event could disable the earth satellite communications — and Tsuruoka notes that under the best of conditions satellites could carry only 7-percent of the communications from the United States alone.
I welcome these articles identifying the critical role of the undersea cable systems and identifying at least some of the threats to their viable operations. But we need to also identity and prepare to deal with the consequences of an EMP attack, especially since North Korea’s Great Leader, Kim Jong Un, has identified achieving such a capability as a “strategic goal,” a fact that is generally ignored as the press and our leaders seem focused only on intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that carry nuclear weapons only to be delivered to attack U.S. cities.
For example, click here for CIA Director Mike Pompeo comments on last Sunday’s Face the Nation, including that the potential for the North Koreans to develop a nuclear weapon capable of putting a U.S. city at risk is a “few months away.”
But as I argued last week in the Washington Times, Kim Jong Un already can carry out an EMP attack that poses an existential threat to all Americans. Click here for that article or consider below an early draft of that article that also includes links to information supporting my position.
Whither North Korea, EMP and Conventional Wisdom?
President Trump‘s December 18, 2017 National Security Strategy identified a top priority need to counter vulnerabilities of our critical infrastructure to “existential threats” from “electromagnetic attacks.” He should urgently counter the existential electromagnetic pulse (EMP) threat that Kim Jong Un has identified as a “strategic goal.” Note the Great Leader recently threatened to use the “nuclear button on his desk.”
The President must urgently overcome administration and congressional resistance that has undercut past efforts to respond to this danger, as authoritatively discussed by the Chairman and Chief of Staff of the Congressional EMP Commission that for 17 years sought to wake up the powers that be and the American people. These threats have been and continue to be ignored or discounted by “conventional wisdom.”
Six months ago, conventional wisdom was that North Korea would take years before threatening the United States with a nuclear attack, which I disputed in “North Korea Dreams of Turning Out the Lights.” Within a month, the intelligence community reportedly acknowledged North Korea had up to 60 nuclear weapons that could be fitted for delivery on its ballistic missiles—see “North Korea now making missile-ready nuclear weapons, U.S. analysts say.”
Essentially at the same time, North Korea demonstrated an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that could reach any American city and tested a large-yield hydrogen bomb (H-Bomb), demonstrating it understands nuclear weapons design fundamentals.
Over a decade ago, the EMP Commission was informed that Russia “accidentally” passed to North Korea how to build a low-yield “Super-EMP” weapon—which may have been tested several times during the past several years, but counted by conventional wisdom as failures.
Connecting the dots, North Korea’s nuclear weapons could be carried by any of its existing ballistic missiles today to be detonated over the atmosphere and create EMP attacks, which, in turn, would meet its claimed “strategic goal.” Moreover, a September 3rd CNN report implied that North Korea’s boasts it can make such capabilities “in volume.”
Thus, North Korea can already use EMP attacks to “turn out the lights in South Korea” and wherever they might reach with their demonstrated ballistic missile capabilities—leveling the playing field as part of an attack strategy that could overwhelm U.S. forces in the region.
Nevertheless, current conventional wisdom foolishly is that North Korea still has to demonstrate its weapons can be carried by an attacking reentry vehicle that can survive the intensely hot reentry into the earth’s atmosphere with sufficient accuracy to attack a city. However, an EMP attack would not require reentry into the atmosphere or any notable accuracy.
More important, conventional wisdom is ignoring another major EMP threat: Even a high altitude demonstration test over open ocean areas, well away from any populated land area, could create havoc throughout the world. This possibility exists because of the world’s dependence on the undersea cables that are likely vulnerable to the EMP from such a high altitude burst.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, Great Britain’s most senior military officer, recently emphasized that cutting or disrupting the undersea cables in well-known locations, criss-crossing the seabed connecting counties and continents, would “immediately and potentially catastrophically” affect the international economy.
These undersea cables transmit an estimated 97% of global communications and $10 trillion in daily financial transactions—and their vulnerability poses a “new risk to our way of life.”
Jonathan Beale elaborated this concern in his December 15, 2017 BBC article, which in turn referenced a Policy Exchange report “Undersea Cables, Indispensable, Insecure” that focused on the threat of physical attacks. These reports emphasized Russia’s threat to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, (NATO), but the threat actually is global and involves much more than concerns about Russia.
Sir Stuart rhetorically asked, “Can you imagine a scenario where those cables are cut or disrupted, which would immediately and potentially catastrophically affect both our economy and other ways of living?”
Certainly, I can—and in particular for the rapidly developing North Korean threat and Kim Jong Un’s announced strategic goal for an EMP attack capability. Given the density of undersea cables, imagine the impact of the EMP from high altitude nuclear detonations over the Pacific Ocean and/or other locations. It precisely poses Sir Peach’s concern.
Even ill-placed atmospheric testing would likely trigger Sir Peach’s concerns—as the Foundation for Resilient Societies emphasized in its pertinent report, Five High Consequence Scenarios for North Korean Atmospheric Nuclear Tests, that there are no “low risk” or “low impact” North Korean testing options, including those that impact China’s commercial interests.
Perhaps President Trump can use this fact in his efforts to get China’s and Russia’s help to throttle back—instead of aiding—North Korea’s persistent efforts to threaten America and our allies around the world with nuclear attack.
In any case, we must get beyond the legacy of allowing “conventional wisdom” to blind us to truly existential threats already posed by North Korea. And we must take effective initiatives to protect our critical infrastructure, through hardening that infrastructure and building effective defenses against the existing and growing ballistic missile threat.
There is growing awareness of “physical” threats to the undersea cable system that undergirds much of our international communications and financial transactions — and that’s a good thing.
But notably missing is an awareness of the catastrophic consequences of high-altitude nuclear explosions over international waters that would cause no immediate physical effects to people on the surface of the Earth — except as a consequence of fragilities of infrastructure upon which ongoing life depends; e.g., such as aircraft that might crash and disasters and/or deaths due to the failure of other critical infrastructure. The long-term effects could be catastrophic.
While a main focus of my message today is on the threat from North Korea, its longstanding ally Iran should not be forgotten — and the Mullahs can pose the same threat if/when they gain the nuclear capability. Thanks to the terrible Iran deal that released $150 billion in previous sanctions, the Mullahs can buy whatever they wish from a cash starved North Korea.
President Trump should keep this fact in mind as he considers how to deal with President Obama’s terrible Iran deal that he inherited. Click here for yesterday’s important National Review article by Fred Fleitz urging an end the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA); click here for my September 19, 2017 discussion of the key issues, here for a September 21, 2017 letter to President Trump, signed by 45 former national security experts, including yours truly, urging him to end the deal, and here for my October 17, 2017 update after the President decided instead to kick the can for another 120 days, including an important assessment by former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.
Hopefully, this time (His decision is due by January 15.), he will “decertify” to Congress Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA and withdraw from it.
Moreover, we should be siding with those Iranians seeking to be free of the Mullahs and their ilk, who continue to seek “Death to America.”
More for another day.
What can you do?
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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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