“The Russians had developed what they called the ‘‘super-EMP’’ weapon that could generate fields in the range of 200 kilovolts per meter. And we had seen in other open literature that the Russians appeared to be using that figure as an upper bound for the kind of EMP that could be produced by nuclear weapons. So, we weren’t surprised, too surprised, to see it. They also told us that both there were Russian and other technologists, engineers and scientists, who were working with North Korea and receiving Western wages, they emphasized, helping North Korea with the design of its nuclear weapons. So, we found it extremely interesting in talking to them.” ~ Dr. William R. Graham, 2008 Testimony to the House Armed Services Committee
My last two messages (Click here and here.) observed that we were “whistling past the graveyard” in collectively pretending all is well while ignoring the looming existential threat to all Americans posed by natural and manmade electromagnetic pulse (EMP) events.
The first message criticized the prepared testimony of four witnesses before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific in a hearing on “North Korea’s Perpetual Provocations: Another Dangerous, Escalatory Nuclear Test.” In my opinion, their prepared testimony badly understated the threat from North Korea — and I expressed hope that the full hearing rectified this failure. Regrettably, that did not happen. (Click here for the 1.5-hour video of the hearing — start about 40 minutes into the linked video.)
The second message criticized the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)-North American Electrical Reliability Corporation (NERC) alliance as being a “self-licking ice cream cone.” NERC, heavily funded by Electric Power Companies, develops and recommends regulations of the electric power industry — and FERC approves them. Like having the only path to life-saving medicine based on recommendations from businesses selling the same medical products, without a third party independent government screening of the pharmaceutical suppliers.
Surprise: The all too real existential EMP threat is still being ignored.
Both messages referred to 2008 EMP Commission testimony (Click here.) to the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) as ground truth that should be, but is not, the basis of current programs to protect the American people from the existential EMP threat. That testimony over eight years ago gave clear warning of these threats that since have largely been ignored by the “powers that be” in both the legislative and executive branches — which stand behind the “FERC-NERC self-licking ice cream cone.”
Today’s message will review lessons from that testimony that long ago should have been assimilated by the “powers that be,” a situation that should be rectified before it is too late — hopefully with major inputs from the EMP Commission reinstated almost a year ago . . . if ever the “powers that be” enable it to begin this urgently needed work. So far, their advice has been mostly ignored — not to mention the extensive elaboration provided by the associated EMP Commission authoritative reports in 2004 and 2008. (Click here.)
Point 1 – The Existential EMP threat is real, as we have known for decades.
As noted in numerous High Frontier messages and briefings, the EMP Threat has been understood since the 1960s — and we have worked hard to assure that our strategic nuclear forces and their associated command and control systems would remain viable under an EMP attack. However, we have not assured that our critical civil infrastructure would remain viable — and indeed its vulnerabilities are well known by our enemies.
One of the more graphic open discussions of this fact is found in the opening statement by then Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) who told the following story:
“I was sitting in that hotel room in Vienna, Austria, with a number of other Members of Congress and three members of the Russian government — Vladimir Lukin, who was the [Russian] ambassador here at the end of Bush I and the beginning of the Clinton Administration; Alexander Shabanov, who I think was the third-ranking communist; and Vladimir Rushkov, a young, aspiring Russian. Vladimir Lukin was very angry, and he sat with his arms folded, looking at the ceiling, for a couple of days during these discussions [in 1999]. We developed a framework agreement, which, about a half a dozen days later, was adopted by the G–8 and ended the Kosovo controversy.
“At one point, Vladimir Lukin looked up. He said, ‘If we really wanted to hurt you, with no fear of retaliation, we would launch an SLBM [submarine-launched ballistic missile] from the ocean, detonate a nuclear weapon high above your country, and shut down your power grid and your communications for six months or so’ . . .” [Emphasis added]
In continuing his exchange with the Chairman of the EMP Commission, Dr. William R. Graham, Mr. Bartlett then referred to Bill Forstchen’s book, One Second After, and noted that a nuclear weapon detonated about 300 miles high over Nebraska would create Forstchen’s scenario, shutting down our infrastructure countrywide with the result that at the end of a year, “90 percent of our population is dead; there are only 25,000 people still alive in New York City. The communities in the hills of North Carolina are more lucky: only 80 percent of their population is dead at the end of a year.” Then he asked if “this is a realistic assessment of what a really robust EMP laydown could do to our country?”
“Dr. GRAHAM. We think that is in the correct range. We don’t have experience with losing the infrastructure in a country with 300 million people, most of whom don’t live in a way that provides for their own food and other needs. We can go back to an era when people did live like that. That would be — 10 percent would be 30 million people, and that is probably the range where we could survive as a basically rural economy.”
This is precisely the nature of the existential threat we have long known we face from the former Soviet Union and now Russia. But as the initial verbatim exchange between Rep. Bartlett and Dr. Graham makes clear — this well-defined threat is known to all who wish us ill, including rogue states and terrorists.
Point 2 – The EMP Threat Greater Than Anticipated.
“Mr. BARTLETT. It is my understanding that, in interviewing some Russian generals, that they told you that the Soviets had developed a ‘‘super-EMP’’ enhanced weapon that could produce 200 kilovolts per meter at the center? [Emphasis added.]
“Dr. GRAHAM. Yes, Mr. Bartlett. We engaged two senior Russian generals — who were also lecturers and authors from their general staff academy, who had written about advanced weapons — and actually brought them over to the U.S. and spent a day meeting with them and questioning them about EMP-type weapons; and they said a number of interesting things. One was that, in fact, the Russians had developed what they called the ‘‘super-EMP’’ weapon that could generate fields in the range of 200 kilovolts per meter. And we had seen in other open literature that the Russians appeared to be using that figure as an upper bound for the kind of EMP that could be produced by nuclear weapons. So, we weren’t surprised, too surprised, to see it. They also told us that there were Russian and other technologists, engineers and scientists, who were working with North Korea and receiving Western wages, they emphasized, helping North Korea with the design of its nuclear weapons. So, we found it extremely interesting in talking to them. [Emphasis added]
“Mr. BARTLETT. This is about, what, four times higher than anything that we ever built or tested to, in terms of EMP hardening? [Emphasis added]
“Dr. GRAHAM. Yes.
“Mr. BARTLETT. Which means that, even if you were some hundreds of miles away from that [burst point], that it would be somewhere in the range of 50 to 100 kilovolts per meter at the margins of our country, for instance? [Emphasis added]
“Dr. GRAHAM. Yes. Over much of the margin, yes.
“Mr. BARTLETT. So, we aren’t sure that much of our military would still be operable after that robust laydown. Is that correct? [Emphasis added]
“Dr. GRAHAM. We just don’t have test data to tell us one way or the other. [Emphasis added]
“Mr. BARTLETT. I also understand that we aren’t certain that we could launch, through a series of robust EMP laydowns, that we could launch our intercontinental ballistic missiles.
“Dr. GRAHAM. We designed both the missiles and their bases and the strategic communication systems during the Cold War to be able to survive and operate through EMP fields on the order of 50 kilovolts per meter, which was our concern at the time, before we realized that weapons could be designed that had larger EMP fields. We added margin to the protection of those systems. And to the extent that they have maintained that hardness, they would survive greater than 50 kilovolts per meter, but I don’t think we have any data telling us how much greater. [Emphasis added]”
Point 3 – Our Critical Civil Infrastructure Is Vulnerable.
“Mr. BARTLETT. I would just like to spend a moment looking at the national infrastructure of our country. It is my understanding that a robust laydown, likely to be produced by a single weapon of 200 kilovolts per meter that made it 300 miles high over Iowa or Nebraska, would probably shut down all of our national infrastructure.
“There would be no electricity. That Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) units in our sub-stations and so forth would all be gone. The large transformers would be destroyed. And we don’t make those; it would take a year and a half or so to buy them from somebody overseas who makes them.
“We would then be in a world, it is my understanding, where the only person you could talk to is the person next to you, unless you happen to be a ham operator with a vacuum tube set, which is a million times less susceptible. And the only way you could go anywhere is to walk, unless you happened to have a car that had coilend distributor and you could get some gasoline to put in it. Is that a pretty accurate description of the world we would be in? [Emphasis added.]
“Dr. GRAHAM. We did conduct tests of SCADAs, automobiles, and other systems. And while, as a commission, we don’t have either the funds or the staff that would be needed to do a comprehensive test of those, all of the data we did obtain indicate that your description is accurate. [Emphasis added.]
Point 4 – Need 16th Official National Threat Scenario (Still True Today).
“Mr. BARTLETT. Your initial report came out about four years ago. We have had four years in which we could have been doing something to protect — I am very concerned that we don’t have the equivalent of an insurance policy. It is unlikely my home will burn, but I would not sleep well tonight if it did not have an insurance policy. I don’t hire somebody to stand there watching for a fire, to yell, ‘‘Fire, fire,’’ but I do have an insurance policy. That is what I would like my Nation to have for an EMP protection. We don’t have anything near that, do we? [Emphasis added.]
“Dr. GRAHAM. No, we don’t. The commission has been trying for over a year, through working with the Department of Homeland Security and the Homeland Security Council staff in the White House, to look at the 15 canonical scenarios they have defined as potential terrorist threats to the U.S., which included a nuclear weapon; but it is a nuclear weapon going off at ground level in a city, to either add to that as another category of nuclear weapon attack or add a 16th scenario of a high altitude EMP attack. But as yet, we have been unable to obtain their cooperation in adding that threat to the homeland security threat list.” [Emphasis added.]
Point 5 – Terrorists Pose An Existential EMP Threat (Still True Today).
“Mr. BARTLETT. I would just like to end by re-emphasizing what you emphasized in your testimony. A terrorist group, not even a nation group, but a terrorist group with a tramp steamer and a Scud launcher and a crude nuclear weapon, and if they miss by 100 miles, it doesn’t matter, does it? [Emphasis added.]
“Dr. GRAHAM. No. [Emphasis added.]
“Mr. BARTLETT. And they could launch that weapon and shut down, what, all of New England?
“Dr. GRAHAM. Yes, probably with a Scud-B they could cover essentially all of the East Coast or all of the West Coast. And the coasts tend to be where most of the population is.
“Mr. BARTLETT. Which would be Katrina how many times over? [Emphasis added]
“Dr. GRAHAM. Oh, several times over.[Emphasis added]
“Mr. BARTLETT. At least an order of magnitude.
“Dr. GRAHAM. Something on that size, yes.
“Mr. BARTLETT. The average city has a three-day supply of food? [Emphasis added]
“Dr. GRAHAM. I think that is about what we estimated.”
Point 6 – A Major Asymmetric Well-Understood Threat.
“Mr. BARTLETT. Okay. Well, I want to thank you very much. I am very appreciative, Mr. Chairman, that you set up this hearing. I think that, as the testimony indicated, I think this is the most asymmetric attack that could occur in our country. Am I wrong in that? Can you think of any more asymmetric attack on our country? [Emphasis added.]
“Dr. GRAHAM. I think there are very few that go with this. One, as I mentioned, was a cyber attack, possibly a very widespread and contagious biological attack. But this is one of a very small set and very asymmetric. [Emphasis added.]
“Mr. BARTLETT. Doesn’t our very vulnerability invite this kind of an attack? [Emphasis added.]
“Dr. GRAHAM. Yes, Mr. Bartlett. That is our primary concern, that if the country does nothing about it, we are essentially advertising to a world which already has a good understanding of the implications of EMP and has written about it extensively. Not just from the U.S., but in our survey of potentially hostile countries, they talk about this extensively in the open literature, and did before the commission was even established. And it is a very asymmetric situation that we could face. [Emphasis added.]
Point 7 – No Secret: Our Enemies All Understand How to Destroy Us!
“Mr. BARTLETT. I have been told that I shouldn’t be talking about this because it gives our adversaries ideas. They already know about this, correct? [Emphasis added.]
“Dr. GRAHAM. They knew about it before the commission was ever established. [Emphasis added.] And that was the first thing we checked. We said, ‘‘How much can we say without giving away information that isn’t available to our adversaries’’? And when we reviewed the literature, why, we found there was an extensive knowledge of EMP and its effects widespread.
Point 8 – And Still We Dither . . .
“Mr. BARTLETT. Why is there so little interest on the part of our leadership to do something about this? Is it just too hard? They just don’t want to face it? [Emphasis added.]
“Dr. GRAHAM. That is a good question. It might be better to ask a sociologist than an engineer and physicist that question. [Emphasis added.] But it falls into the category of a problem which hasn’t happened yet. Certainly, our ability to predict very unusual and significant events, whether it is Pearl Harbor, the start of the Korean War, 9/11 and whatever—we have, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, much to be humble about in our ability to predict these events before they happen. Of course, once they happen, then there tends to be a massive response. But somehow it is just not within our character and our society to look for these events before they occur.”
There are numerous additional interesting and important exchanges in this hearing over eight-years ago. One of the more interesting was with Rep. Ortiz (R-TX), who requested information on what could be done to counter the EMP Threat, to which Dr. Graham responded:
“I think the first thing is to recognize the problem and let other countries know that we understand what might happen and we are taking steps to mitigate that. Another step early on would be to identify those parts of the infrastructure that are most likely to be damaged and, particularly, the ones that are hardest to replace and focus on those, to protect them. [Emphasis added]
“Let me give you an example of that. August 13, 2003, a power transmission line got hot enough that it sagged down and touched a tree and shorted the ground, and that dropped that power transmission line. And for the next hour, 2,000 megawatts of generating capacity kept looking for a route to get to the north-central part of the United States. And as that power switched from one transmission system to another, it kept overloading them and dropping them, as well, until finally the whole Northeast, with very few exceptions, was blacked out. Because the protection circuitry in the power system was properly arranged, nothing was damaged in our power system during that outage, and within the next two days, the country was able to bring back the power to that area.
“The problem with EMP is that protection circuitry itself and the protection systems, many of which are based on these SCADA computers, would be damaged. [Emphasis added] They would be damaged immediately, and therefore they could not provide proper protection immediately and could lead to the damage of other parts of the system, including things such as large power transformers and switches. So, building these small, relatively inexpensive control devices, SCADAs, which are changed out every few years, anyway, in a way so they won’t fail from EMP, and, particularly, won’t be damaged by EMP, is, in our view, an important step and one that we would like to encourage the government and the private sector to work together on. [Emphasis added] And, in fact, the commission has a plan to build a demonstration model of a protected SCADA, so that we can show people it is not either terribly expensive or terribly difficult to do that.
“But recognizing what has happened, since this would be very unusual, is a key to our response. It is quite possible that the system operators will do more damage to the system after an EMP event in trying to recover the system, if they don’t know what has happened; and it is not expensive to recognize this, but we don’t have the means to do that today.” [Emphasis added]
Rep. McHugh (D-NY) asked what the Commission meant by allowing for “graceful degradation” in protecting the grid, to which Dr. Graham responded:
“We don’t envision the country having the resources to try to protect everything in the civilian infrastructure. [Emphasis added] It is a massive infrastructure, and, in fact, elements of it do fail from time to time. But normally, when they fail, it starts at a single-point failure, and the failure is contained, and the system is left in a configuration where the infrastructure can be re-established, such as it was in that August 2003 Northeast blackout or other blackouts we have had.
“We think we could properly protect and contain and design the infrastructure protection in such a way that, while the infrastructure might go down for a limited period of time, it wouldn’t be so damaged that it couldn’t be brought back into functionality within the period of time that people can get along without it. And that is our view of graceful degradation: failing in such a way that it is not suffering large, permanent damage that can’t be replaced within a short period of time, but rather, basically, make it so this can be reset and re-established and brought up in a systematic way. [Emphasis added] ”
Mr. McHugh acknowledged that there was no one prescriptive response to deal with the threat, and noted that the concept of “graceful degradation” seemed to be both technologically achievable and, in a relative sense, affordable. He asked “Am I being overly optimistic, or would that be a fair judgment?” Dr. Graham responded:
“Well, affordability is like beauty; it tends to be in the eye of the beholder. But it seems to us that, compared to the cost of the infrastructure or the cost of the failure of the infrastructure from EMP, if it were to occur, the cost of the analysis, then the planning, then the protection of key elements and the testing and exercise and maintaining situational awareness, all of those are very modest costs.” [Emphasis added]
Rep. Spratt (D-SC) asked about the attention being paid to addressing the EMP threat by our national leaders and military commanders, to which Dr. Graham replied:
“I would say there are shining points in our national leadership’s interest, but only a few. The Secretary of Defense has directed the Defense Department to carry out an orderly program. General Chilton, in particular, the commander of the Strategic Command, has taken a great deal of interest in this and is working hard on the systems under his command and operation to assure that our strategic forces will be survivable and effective under EMP. I think it is at the bottom of the list, in many areas, certainly in the Defense Department, but it is also in the Department of Homeland Security, where this has not yet received much attention or much thought.” [Emphasis added]
Mr. Spratt then acknowledged the Commission had given a bad news message, a wake-up call, and good news that remedial steps are, for the most part, affordable. Then he noted the scope and potential of an EMP attack could affect even the telecommunications network and the electric power grid, which seemed to potentially involve an “enormous” cost to protect everything. He acknowledged that hardening satellites, which we could replace, is within our capability to afford, but noted that protecting the entire electric grid, the entire telecommunications system, all of these things nationwide, seemed to be a substantial financial commitment. Then he asked how congress could encourage the needed programmatic commitment to address the issue.
“Dr. GRAHAM. Well, it would be a large order. There is no doubt of that. The work would have the effect of increasing the reliability of that infrastructure in the first instance, which is a reasonable activity for the providers of the infrastructure and something they could ask to put in their rate basis. To the extent that we are dealing just with the national security aspects, that is a government function. But we found the cooperation and interest in the cooperation between the private sector and with the government to be very good. For example, we have worked with the North American Energy Reliability Corporation, which tries to increase the reliability of the power grid under a number of different scenarios, and they are certainly willing to cooperate on this with the government. So, if we can arrange for the government to contribute to the national security part and the private sector infrastructure to contribute to the overall reliability part, we think there is a union of effort that can make this happen in a less than extremely costly fashion and do it in such a way that we actually ramp up the effort based on knowledge, rather than try to swamp the problem with funds. [Emphasis added]
“Dr. GRAHAM. I think requesting from the Defense Department and the military forces their appraisal of potentially vulnerable systems and a description of efforts they are undertaking to deal with that, along with their programmatic requests for the resources necessary to address and manage that, would be a very effective first step. I think a continued interest on your part, that you have shown in establishing this commission, has had a large effect, already, on the activities in the Defense Department. And a continued interest either through this commission or some other function will continue to keep the pressure on the Administration to work this problem.” [Emphasis added]
Rep. Franks (R-AZ) asked about protecting our space systems — against EMP effects to which Dr. Graham noted
“[W]e need to assess the status of the ground links of the space systems we have. That is, on the one hand, satellites that are at very high orbits — geosynchronous orbits or even semisynchronous orbits — are high enough that the pumping of the Van Allen Belts by the exoatmospheric nuclear explosions won’t cause much degradation for those satellites. Low-altitude satellites that fly into intense parts of Van Allen Belts would probably fail after an exoatmospheric explosion within a few days to a week or two, and, in fact, that happened after the STARFISH test that we conducted in the Pacific in the early 1960’s. But all of these satellite systems — geosync, semisync, low-altitude — use ground links to get their information to the users on the surface, and all of those ground facilities would be exposed if they are underneath, within line of sight of a high-altitude nuclear event. [Emphasis added] And, of course, then we have to trace back from the ground site itself to where it gets its power, where it provides its telecommunications, what personnel it needs to be operated, and so on. So, an assessment can be made of that, and that can lead to some useful steps taken to provide for those after high-altitude nuclear bursts — an EMP event, for example.”
Mr. Franks then returned to Mr. Bartlett’s discussion of the threat and aised his concerns about Iran’s potential threat — e.g., what yield and size warhead Iran needs to threaten us. To which, Dr. Graham responded that there could be
“catastrophic EMP from even a first-generation nuclear weapon. It doesn’t have to be optimized for this purpose. So, any nuclear weapon that can be obtained and put on a missile, which means that the weight in the one-ton or less range for most of the missiles we have talked about, would produce the EMP effects we described. There are nuclear weapon designs that we know about and that the Russians clearly know about, and possibly others know about, which produce stronger and stronger EMP fields. And in all these cases, the weapon yield itself doesn’t have to be more than 10 kilotons or so. [Emphasis added] It doesn’t take a very large nuclear weapon or a very large yield to produce these effects. They are produced by the gamma rays that come out. They come out very quickly, and it is the first part of the nuclear detonation process. So, any nuclear weapon in the hands of potential adversaries would be bad news for us, in this regard.”
I’d recommend you read the entire transcript, which includes the prepared testimony and additional questions and answers still pertinent today. For example, in the discussion with Mr. Taylor (R-Miss.), Dr. Graham observed that small EMP devices can be made that don’t require huge power supplies to operate to produce intense electromagnetic fields over very small regions of the order of tens to maybe hundreds of feet, but not miles and hundreds and thousands of miles, like nuclear EMP. He also observed that protecting nuclear-powered ships is no more difficult than protecting conventionally powered ships, and that the Aegis BMD ships have proven to be reliable and effective, including in shooting down a satellite. Finally he argued that “using our missile defense assets to deter, dissuade, and, if necessary, intercept missiles going over the U.S. and over our forces overseas — Taiwan Strait, for example, Persian Gulf, other places — could be an extremely useful approach.”
Rep. Johnson (R-GA) raised the important question of the role of the state and local responder community, particularly the National Guard, and Commissioner USAF (Ret.) General Lawson observed that the Commission had discussed EMP issues with Adjutant Generals and other state emergency action officers, including the kinds of activities that should be included in the emergency actions training programs for state police, for state firemen, for other emergency participants. Several presentations had been made to the Homeland Security Department and he expressed his hope that such efforts would get as much publicity as possible. However, he noted a lack of response, even at the national level. He also urged a continued dialogue with the utilities and with the Federal Emergency Regulatory Commission on developing a set of procedures to bring in new hardened equipment at scheduled phase-outs progress. He emphasized that the Armed Services Committee should understand that all our bases and military forces depend on electricity that comes through the national grid. [Emphasis added] All have emergency backups, but those backups are very short-lived. Thus, the viability of national grid vitally influences all of our Armed Forces. He emphasized that the overlap between Homeland Security and the Defense Department needs to be examined very carefully, and that the Armed Forces Committee could put a pressure on both sides of that coin, to improve that emergency capability for the Armed Forces.
Rep. Wilson (R-SC) asked about the potential role of EMP in battles in Iraq or Afghanistan, and Dr. Graham observed that the first thing we need to do is review the status of our military forces — not just the strategic forces, but also our general purpose forces, which are a much more diverse set of systems. [Emphasis added] He again emphasized that rather than try to harden everything it would be preferable to harden a few key elements to maintain command, control, communications and have a plan to replace items that fail due to EMP and bring in additional forces and additional systems rapidly. He argued that these matters should be addressed by the Defense Department. But protecting the general purpose forces and theater forces should not be ignored.
Mr. Wilson then asked what families can do to prepare, to which Dr. Graham noted that local terminal protection is possible for electronics devices, but if there is no electric power, most of those devices aren’t going to work anyway. He noted that electric generators should be kept disconnected from everything, so it doesn’t look like it is attached to antennas — any conductor would be an antenna. Enough food and water around to go for several weeks for each family is wise. But he noted the Commission had not focused on the individual response as much as to the government and industry response.
Finally Mr. Wilson asked whether vehicles, cars, and trucks would operate, or be permanently inoperable [Emphasis added], to which Dr. Graham responded that the Commission had tested about 50 vehicles, but only to 25 kilovolts per meter, which is the kind of threat from more ordinary designs of nuclear weapons. About 10 percent of them stopped running, and all but one or two of them could be restarted by just switching off the power and then switching on the key again. A couple had computer chip failures in the vehicle and had to be towed back to the dealership to have the chips replaced. This result may not sound too bad, but if you think about what happens to the traffic, say, in the D.C. area on a given morning when there are 3 or 4 accidents, you can imagine 10 percent of the vehicles on the road suddenly not running anymore. That could lead to a large number of further accidents and incidents. So it would be a while before those vehicles would have good transportation access again. About the best you can do with cars you already have is to leave them turned off — and encourage Detroit to make cars that are not vulnerable to transients. (See additional discussion in the wrap-up with Mr. Bartlett, below.)
Rep. Kline (D-Minn.) continued the discussion about vehicles, with the bottom line question that given all the vagaries following a major EMP attack, ”Isn’t it possible that you would have not just stuck elevators, but you would [lose] your ability to respond at all, not just because you couldn’t talk, but because you couldn’t drive?”
Dr. Graham replied, “Yes. I think that is the bottom line.” He noted that the chips in the part bins, if they are not connected to anything else, would probably survive. But wires, circuits, pipes — anything conducting connected to an electrical or electronic device looks like an antenna to an EMP. It conducts the power into the device. That is why portable generators should be kept disconnected from everything else.
To emphasize this point about inadvertent antennas, he emphasized that there are many things that are connected to wires, etc. He noted that tests of traffic control device — traffic signals — had shown that those little buttons you push to get the signal to walk across the street are wonderful antennas for EMP and take a destructive level of signal right into the traffic control unit to burn it out.
To emphasize the gridlock issue, he noted that during the 2003 blackout, traffic in Manhattan became a gridlock because traffic signals basically failed from lack of power. A big telecommunications telephone switching station had four hours of battery power on hand and a plan to take a portable generator and connect it to that telephone switching center to keep it going. It had to get that generator halfway across Manhattan and was not able to do so in four hours — so the telephone switching system went down.
Mr. Kline continued Mr. Wilson’s questions about the general purpose forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, involving vehicles with chips. So, presumably, in addition to losing their command and control, their vehicles could stop. So, what should the Armed Services Committee be pressing? Is there a way to harden chips in the vehicle? Or should the Pentagon be making sure there are plenty of chips unconnected so they can be replaced quickly? He noted he could see entire battalions, brigades literally coming to a halt.
Dr. Graham agreed that having adequate spares in the area would be very valuable and not hugely expensive. He also noted “the vehicles are often designed to be able to withstand a fairly high level of EMP — the military vehicles, the Humvees, the Bradleys, M–1 tanks, and so on.” But even though they are designed to be protected when they are all closed up or ‘‘buttoned up,’’ as the Army says, the Commission noticed they are generally not operated “buttoned up.” Thus the Commission encouraged the service to test and when these vehicles are retrofitted, put enough protection in the vehicles, shielding on the wire harnesses, for example — so they can operate even when they are not buttoned up.
Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) asked about communications and Dr. Graham noted that the Commission had looked at the commercial telecommunications system, and thought that many calls in progress or being made at the time of the event would stop. Some telecommunications equipment would continue, as long as its power is available, but they could not predict where the nodes would be still functional and where they wouldn’t. He then noted that several decades ago the idea of diverse routing of packet switch networks was invented as a Cold War concept, to deal with communications nodes being destroyed by direct attack. So, he judged that the packet switching network that provides the carrier for the Internet would be the most likely way to sustain some kind of connectivity. But the individual nodes themselves, in large part, are not designed to be hardened to EMP. So, it would only be a chance that there would be a route through the system that would go from you to point B to carry a message. There are, also, some hardened military communications systems, e.g., the Milstar satellite system, which Commissioner Gordon Soper discussed.
Finally, Rep. Bartlett closed out this important hearing with several important exchanges with Dr. Graham:
“Mr. BARTLETT. I just would like a few quick questions, so that we can get some things on the record. When you were talking about the selective survivability of automobiles, that was at 25 kilovolts per meter. At 100 kilovolts per meter, they are probably all gone.
“Dr. GRAHAM. We don’t know that for a fact. But the people from whom we got the automobiles wanted them back and in working order, so we didn’t go higher than that, because we didn’t have the budget to buy that many automobiles, in case they all failed. I think, in the future, it would be worth Department of Homeland Security carrying out a more thorough set of tests and, perhaps, using some of their own fleet to see what would happen at higher levels. If I had to guess, I would say by the time you got to — certainly to 100 and possibly to 50 kilovolts per meter, you would have quite a few more failures. [Emphasis added]
“Mr. BARTLETT. Thank you. Our commercial aircraft are not hardened. So the presumption would be all of those that are line of sight would fall out of the sky?
“Dr. GRAHAM. They are not specifically hardened to EMP. They are tested against lightning strikes, and, in fact, they experience lightning strikes, as I recall, an average of something like once a year. So, they do have a reasonably good level of EMP protection, as far as flight safety is concerned, and that means, basically, land at the nearest airport after you are hit. Now, EMP contains some electromagnetic frequencies that are not in lightning strikes, so it is no guarantee that the airplanes will keep working, and as you know, the airplanes are largely software-controlled today—both the engines and the flight controls themselves—so we would probably lose some aircraft. But we would have some that would continue to fly as well. [Emphasis added]
“Mr. BARTLETT. It is my understanding that the usual surge protector does not protect against EMP, because the rise time is in nanoseconds, and it is through the surge protector before it sees it and responds.
“Dr. GRAHAM. It depends on the specific surge protector. For example, those designed for lightning only don’t have to respond fast enough to protect against EMP. Some others are fast enough to do that.
“Mr. BARTLETT. The usual surge protector that protects against lightning probably won’t protect you against EMP.
“Dr. GRAHAM. Used by whom?
“Mr. BARTLETT. The usual surge protector to protect you against lightning probably will not protect you against EMP?
“Dr. GRAHAM. It will not necessarily protect you against EMP. When I buy these little surge protection strips for my computers and things of that sort, they claim to work to down to a nanosecond, but I have not seen them tested to that range yet against an EMP-like threat. [Emphasis added]
“Mr. BARTLETT. Satellite vulnerability, because it is so expensive to put weight in orbit — my understanding is that our satellites are usually lower — but satellites are the softest part of this chain — that we probably would lose all of those that were line of sight, close in, from prompt effects, and the others, as you noted, would decay quickly because of pumped-up Van Allen Belts?
“Dr. GRAHAM. Yes. Unless the satellite had been specifically designed to be hardened against radiation, including the trapped radiation that would be pumped into the Van Allen Belts, they would all fail within a week or so. However, many of the ground stations would fail essentially instantaneously, and so we would be out of communication with the satellite even more quickly than the failure of the satellite suggests. [Emphasis added]
“Mr. BARTLETT. Some 90-odd percent of all of our military communications moves over commercial links, satellite links, is my understanding.
“Dr. GRAHAM. Let me consult my colleagues here. Soper, does that sound about right?
“Dr. SOPER. Certainly, the military communications that are not critical — I mean, laundry lists and things like that — I don’t mean to make light of it — but many noncritical circuits do go over commercial assets.
“Dr. GRAHAM. The most critical piece, which we view as strategic command and control, tend to have their own circuits and tend to, in the final analysis, use Milstar as a protected system. But that is — you are getting down to a very small-sized communication channel by the time you get down to that. [Emphasis added]
“Mr. BARTLETT. You mentioned the asymmetric nature of this threat and how we were more vulnerable because we are more sophisticated. If North Korea were to launch a nuclear weapon straight up and detonate it, and that would have an EMP effect on them and on us, without that, our 30-odd thousand people there are probably a match for their million on the other side; is that not correct? We think so. [Emphasis added]
“Dr. GRAHAM. Let us see. I think—several things come to mind. One is that the worst EMP in the northern hemisphere tends to the south of the explosion point, and that is where South Korea is, with respect to North Korea. So, you have picked a particularly damaging scenario for the assets in South Korea. [Emphasis added] Of course, to meet the North Koreans, we have assets in Korea. The Koreans, South Koreans, have a larger military than we do there. And then, we have assets in Japan, Guam, and other places that we might bring to bear. Of course, the North Koreans know about all those assets. [Emphasis added] But it would certainly cause a serious disruption if they launched the attack you described, and they could extend that further if they wished.
“Mr. BARTLETT. They are not very sophisticated. They would be much less affected by this attack than our soldiers. They would be relatively all the same size after this attack, or relatively close to it.
“Dr. GRAHAM. I don’t have detailed information on their communication systems, but certainly, their military systems tend to be much more primitive than ours and, therefore, would be less affected by this. [Emphasis added]
“Mr. BARTLETT. Your generator that is not plugged in would probably not survive a 50 to 100 kilowatt——
“Dr. GRAHAM. Fifty to 100 kilovolts per meter. Probably, it would be okay, as long as I didn’t attach any wire to it. It is the need for something that looks, to EMP, like an antenna to get in. That would be the most formidable effect. But somewhere around 100 kilovolts per meter, it has enough wires inside it that it would start being affected. [Emphasis added]
“Mr. BARTLETT. Yeah. In closing, I would just like to reemphasize the discussion that you previously had, relative to individual and family response. I had been concerned that we are paying a little or no attention to the old civil defense. I am a child of the Depression, and I remember the Cold War very well, and I remember everywhere there was a fallout shelter. You couldn’t go to any public building without having little brochures there to tell you what to do, and every family knew what they ought to be stockpiling and how they ought to behave in an event like this. I am very concerned that if we as individuals and families do not know what to do and are not prepared, that every one of us then becomes a ward of the state. And are we not enormously stronger if we are individually and family-wise self-sufficient during an emergency like that?
“Dr. GRAHAM. Yes, Mr. Bartlett. I think there are several reasons — several possible threats, both man-made and natural, that could affect us. And having an ability to function in a self-reliant manner for some period of time would benefit us all. [Emphasis added]
“Mr. BARTLETT. Do you think that you could be effective in encouraging our Homeland Security people to become more aggressive in this civil defense role?
“Dr. GRAHAM. I met with Senator Lieberman yesterday, as the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee in the other House of Congress, and he was very interested in this subject and agreed to consider it as part of his purview for Homeland Security. So, we will try to continue to work with the Homeland Security functions both in the Congress and the Administration and encourage them to take useful steps.
“Mr. BARTLETT. I would just like to note, Mr. Chairman, that if you are preparing for something like this in advance, say, years ahead, you are now a patriot, you are stimulating the economy, but if you do it hours before it happens, now you are a hoarder, and you are doing exactly the same thing; and timing is very critical there now, isn’t it?”
While this hearing was over eight years ago, it illustrates many key factors and vulnerabilities that are as pertinent today as they were then. The most important one is that we are still unprepared — and that “the powers that be” in both the legislature and executive branches are failing to deal with the existential EMP threat to all Americans. Hopefully, the “powers that be” will do better in the next eight years — beginning now by supporting the reinstated EMP Commission and paying attention to its recommendations, this time.
Stay tuned . . .
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