Amb. Henry F. Cooper, Chairman Lt. Gen. Daniel Graham, Founder
High Frontier . . Building Truly Effective Defenses . . . Reagan’s Vision Lives!
E-Mail Message 140624
What did they know and when did they know it?
By Ambassador Henry F. Cooper
June 24, 2014
As I watch the expanding tangled web in the Middle East drift toward including a soon to be nuclear-armed Shia Iran to help counter the al Qaeda off-shoot Sunni Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), I can’t help but note that America is drifting into an untenable situation that could end our way of life. These sworn enemies of each other agree on at least one thing—they hate Americans and would kill us all if they could. Soon they may be able to—and still we dawdle, refusing to harden the electric grid upon which our way of life depends. Who should be held accountable?
Some forty or so years ago, 18-minutes of tape recordings of Oval Office discussions mysteriously vanished—and that became pertinent in the Watergate Hearings that ultimately led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation. Folks my age will recall Senator Howard Baker (R-Tenn.) asking that unforgettable question during the hearings on the Watergate Scandal: “What did the President know and when did he know it?”
Check here for a brief video of NBC’s broadcast of then Senator Baker’s memorable question to John Dean, then former White House Counsel to President Nixon.
This was back in the day when the mainstream media did their job as independent monitors of government scandals, and the resulting bipartisan pressure on Dean and others in the Nixon administration led to damning testimony—for them and President Nixon. That was then—today, there is a much different environment.
In the case of Lois Lerner’s missing email information on the now destroyed IRS hard drive, much more than “18 minutes” is missing, and a paraphrase of the same question is in order for those trying to figure out what happened at the IRS, and for numerous other scandals of importance: “What did they know and when did they know it?”
The antecedent for “they” in today’s version of this question reflects the reality of many culprits and the “it” refers to a string of scandals and shortfalls: The heavy hand of the IRS, the Benghazi cover-up, VA mismanagement, Bergdahl and the Taliban Five, porous borders and pulsing immigration, Fast and Furious, resets, redlines, leading from behind, Obamacare, etc., etc.
In my opinion, there is a more important scandal than all these put together, which Washington and the press are ignoring—one that could lead directly to the destruction of our republic and the death of several hundred million Americans within a year’s time.
An Existential Threat Scandal?
After this truly disastrous event occurs, it will be of little consequence to hold hearings to ask “What did they know and when did they know it?” Perhaps surviving historians will record what happened and contemplate the wreckage and wasteland that America becomes . . . depending on whether “the survivors envy the dead”—to recall Herman Kahn’s description of life following the Cold War’s feared nuclear exchange.
For over a year, I have been writing about Washington’s dysfunctional arrangements that preclude dealing effectively with the existential threat posed by natural and manmade electromagnetic pulse (EMP) events. By burning out high voltage transformers and other critical equipment, EMP would take down America’s electric grid and ultimately collapse every other critical infrastructure.
My earliest summary of the federal government’s dysfunctional arrangement was on February 25, 2013—in an article entitled, “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—and still is—little humor in my recounting of the USG dysfuctionality. Little has improved in the subsequent 14-months.
Congress is still gridlocked and into the fourth year is still blocking legislative efforts to rectify the dysfunctional nature of their alleged regulatory creations, leaving us stuck with the regulatory equivalent of comedic clowns: The “toothless” Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the electric power industry’s “stooge,” the North America Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC). Click here for evidence of their unhelpful behavior—last week’s FERC-NERC produced Solar Storm Reliability Standard for the nation’s electric grid.
Details to be discussed later.
And the situation in the Executive Branch is little changed from my description 16-months ago—still, no one is in charge. In particular:
- The Defense Department, (probably 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) still 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.)
- Little visible has happened in the Energy Department to prepare for the consequences of this threat, especially troubling given Secretary Moniz’s response to Senator Murkowski over a year ago in 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.)
- A possible hopeful note is at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which has unique regulatory responsibilities and should be technically competent to deal with the urgent EMP threat—but I have insufficient visibility to assess what they are doing in the potentially very dangerous segment of the nation’s electric grid for which they are responsible—imagine the consequences of a major meltdown of a hundred or so nuclear reactors around the country and the radiation fallout from that many “Fukushima” meltdowns carried by the winds within the United States.
So, if we experience the expected devastating consequences of a natural or manmade EMP event, back to my question, “What did they know and when did they know it?”
Certainly all of Congress was informed by the EMP Commission’s 2004 report, and an associated closed session of Congress was briefed by the non-partisan and eminently qualified Commissioners. While the bulk of the Commission’s initial report was then classified and withheld from the public (Cleared Executive Branch authorities and the appropriate congressional committees were fully informed—and an Executive Summary was publically available.), a full report was made openly and publically available in 2008. Click here for the 2004 Executive Summary and the 2008 full report.
What’s Happening at the Top of this Heap?
Since “the powers that be” clearly were not dealing with this existential threat, my fellow Directors of the Foundation for Resilient Societies and I wrote of our concerns to President Obama, a year ago this weekend. Our letter had the subject line, “Government Emergency Actions on Electromagnetic Pulse Threats.”
- In addition to the President, copies of our letter were sent in the White House to Sylvia Mathews Burwell (Director, Office of Management and Budget), John P. Holdren (Director, Office of Science and Technology Policy), Lisa O. Monaco (Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism) and Susan E. Rice (Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs).
- Beyond the White House, copies were sent to Charles T. Hagel (Secretary of Defense), John F. Kerry (Secretary of State), Ernest J. Moniz (Secretary of Energy), Janet Napolitano (Secretary of Homeland Security), James R. Clapper (Director of National Intelligence), Allison M. Macfarlane (Chairman, Nuclear Regulatory Commission), Kathryn Sullivan (Acting NOAA Administrator), and Jon Wellinghoff (Chairman, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission).
After a year we have received no administration response to our letter. Evidence that it was received is posted, however obscurely, on the NRC webpage—this is some evidence that the NRC is at least giving consideration to our concerns. Click here for our full letter that was sent to the NRC, the President and the other administration department and agency heads listed above.
Our June 28, 2013 letter noted that recent actions of Iran and North Korea—including ongoing nuclear weapons development and missile tests—increased the chance that these nations will threaten and perhaps even execute a high altitude nuclear EMP attack against the continental United States. We argued that, if Presidential initiatives were to protect even a modest proportion of the U.S. electric power grid against EMP, nuclear deterrence could be strengthened and benefits to nuclear proliferators diminished.
To begin on a positive note, we recognized the Administration’s support for bipartisan efforts to protect against naturally-occurring EMP—also called “solar storms” or “geomagnetic disturbances”—and a recent White House report, “Space Weather Observing Systems: Current Capabilities and Requirements For The Next Decade.” We also applauded the positive ruling of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on a petition submitted by our Foundation to require unattended backup power systems at nuclear power plants vulnerable to solar storm EMP.
(As noted above, Fukushima amply showed that nuclear power plants without grid power—and without reliable and protected control and backup systems—can pose a catastrophic danger to surrounding populations. Hopefully, the June 19, 2014 FERC-NERC “whitewash” of the impact of a major solar storm on the entire electric power grid will be ignored by the NRC, and they will do the right thing re. the nuclear power reactors that produce about 20-percent of the nation’s electricity. But “hope is not a strategy” for dealing with this critically important issue.)
In last year’s letter to the President, we then turned to a largely unaddressed issue—that a high-altitude nuclear EMP attack from North Korea is an imminent threat to the United States, and that an EMP attack from Iran could shortly become an imminent threat.
We proposed three protective actions against rogue nations with nuclear EMP capability. In the short term, we proposed emergency deployment of cost-effective missile defense systems, including Aegis systems that can defend against southern approaches to the continental United States. In the medium term, we proposed E1 (high frequency, fast pulse) protection of electric grid control rooms at regional balancing authorities, as well as E1 and E3 (low frequency, slow pulse—magnetohydrodynamic pulse) protection of critical, difficult to replace, Extra High Voltage (EHV) transformers. In the long-term, we proposed that all high-priority critical infrastructures when upgraded or replaced should be subject to nuclear EMP protection standards; for example, all of the Bulk Power System under jurisdiction of FERC should eventually have both E1 and E3 protection.
I encourage you to read our entire letter for a brief discussion of more specifics, including possible Presidential actions and the exploitation of proven technologies to almost immediately begin improving our current vulnerable state.
We concluded that focused EMP protection of the most critical infrastructure is both practical and cost-effective, and that lack of timely EMP protection could result in the death of over one hundred million Americans and threaten the existence of the United States as a functioning country.
We noted the increasing public awareness and concern over EMP threats, and that this legitimate public concern, if not addressed, could have a destabilizing effect on our society. We noted that the current “prepper” movement, where individual citizens store food and water and sometimes take more extreme measures, cannot supplant the constitutional duty of the federal government to provide for a common defense.
We urged the Administration to take concrete steps for EMP protection before the next major solar storm and before the Islamic Republic of Iran conducts a successful nuclear test. From my perspective, it was most important that we argued that actions for EMP protection be made public—because secret plans will not reassure the populace, nor will secret EMP defenses deter rogue nations.
Finally, given the importance and immediacy of EMP threats to the United States and its population, we asked for the courtesy of a reply from the Administration—as noted above, not yet provided.
These recommendations were backed up by seven Appendices:
- Extracts from Executive Report of Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from EMP Attack
- An Immediate Plan to Defend U.S. against Nuclear EMP Attack
- EMP/GMD Protection of the U.S. Electric Power Grid
- Presidential Plan to Protect from Long-Term Electric Grid Outage Due to GMD
- Legal Authority for the President of the United States to Order Interruption of U.S. Electric Generation and Related Electric Grid Protections during a Severe Solar Geomagnetic Storm
- Recognizing Electromagnetic Pulse Attack
- Vulnerability of Nuclear Power Plants to Electromagnetic Pulse
Given our 40-pages of detailed discussion on the nature of the EMP threat in our letter to the President, the extensive list of administration addressees, and our commonsense and cost-effective recommendations on what should be done, we clearly can give a pertinent answer to the question, “What did they know and when did they know it?”
And to recall another memorable question, “What difference does it make?”
I’ll end this note with another note of comedy. I’m reminded of Sgt. Shultz in Hogan’s Heroes—almost everyone in Washington seems to be a Sgt. Shultz, who memorably excused himself with an “I know nothing . . . “ Click here for a brief (35 seconds) segment that seems pertinent to our question.
But the sad bottom line is that, so far as I can see, little positive of note has happened in response to our letter to the President—and last week’s FERC-NERC produced Solar Storm Reliability Standard for the nation’s electric power grid is a significant step backward.
Why can that be?
Food for thought for my next email message.
How about you? Now, given what you know—what will you do?
Defend America, Now!
We need to persuade the powers that be to move beyond their singular focus on defending against ICBMs that approach the U.S. from over the North Pole. (Congratulations are due to the Missile Defense Agency for yesterday’s successful test of an improved version our ground based interceptors dedicated to our defense of threats from the North.) In addition:
- For our Aegis ballistic missile defense (BMD) ships that operate near our coasts, they need to be sure their crews are trained, awake and alert. They have the inherent, tested capability to shoot down short, medium and intermediate range ballistic missiles, if they are stationed appropriately.
- To protect against an attack from the Gulf of Mexico (and other places South), we need other defenses because our Aegis BMD ships are not normally in the Gulf. My recommendation is to deploy Aegis Ashore sites at military bases around the Gulf of Mexico. The Aegis Ashore system is being developed for deployment in Romania (2015) and Poland (2018), so there would be negligible development costs for sites around the Gulf of Mexico—just the deployment costs.
- They should harden our electric power grid—using well known methods developed during the Cold War to harden our strategic systems and their supporting command, control and communication systems.
- They should prepare our local and state authorities to deal with the EMP threat. DHS should provide scenarios for planning and exercising the infrastructure needed to support local and state authorities.
Not too much, if only we can get the Washington bureaucracy to do the right thing—and if our state and local authorities are prepared.
Near Term High Frontier Plans.
Given the lethargy in Washington, we will continue our efforts to inform state and local authorities about the EMP threat and expand our work with the National Guard to help them gain knowledge and workable plans to help harden the electric power grid and counter the EMP threat. This work should go hand in hand with the efforts to gain support from State legislators to expand on the excellent work in Maine and Virginia, who have passed legislation requiring serious studies of the EMP threat and the needed countermeasures to protect the electric power grid.
The most recent bill passed in record time without single negative vote in Virginia can be used as a ready pattern.
We will continue working with South Carolinians 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—and 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 Virginia and the National Capital region.
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.
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