Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) weapons pose a serious and growing threat to our national security. Rogue nations and terrorists are working to develop EMP devices to attack the United States and other developed nations. These include North Korea, Iran and China. Once North Korea and Iran have missiles capable of reaching the U.S., they can use an EMP burst over our nation to destroy us.
Threats to the electric grid from EMP attacks come in three forms:
1. Solar flares from the sun. The magnetic pulses from solar flares can fry microchips and disrupt any electronic devices. A solar flare disrupted primitive electronics such as telegraphs in 1859 and another one occurred in 1989 as well. One of the most serious solar flares took place in 1921 and disrupted communications in the U.S. An EMP from the sun in the 21st century could be devastating and wipe out any system using electricity or microchips.
2. Nuclear blast 200+ miles above middle America.A blast this high above the U.S. could wipe out every electric grid in the U.S. – plunging our nation into darkness. It would literally send our nation back to the 18th century. (A solar flare would have the same impact.) An EMP blast from a nuclear bomb would shut down devices or vehicles using microchips. Planes would stop flying; banks and hospitals would cease operation; trains would stop running; tractors, trucks and cars would cease working. Elevators would malfunction; subways would stop. All commerce would cease. A blast like this could not only wipe out the electric grid in the U.S. but in Canada and Mexico. The more technologically advanced a nation is, the more vulnerable it is to an EMP attack.
3. Radio Frequency Weapons (RFW). These are smaller tactical EMP weapons that can be carried in brief cases, backpacks, SUV or medium-size trucks. These weapons can be used to attack specific targets such as the Social Security Administration, IRS, Pentagon, Banks, etc., to wipe out sensitive data on millions of Americans – including financial information. These RFWs are inexpensive and instructions on making them are available on the Internet. The rogue nations of North Korea and China, for example, are developing these kinds of weapons as well as nuclear EMP weapons.
The entire cyber world is at serious risk.
The Threat Is Real
The Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack issued a 228-page report in 2008 on the serious dangers facing our nation from EMPs. This Commission has ended its work, but efforts are underway to renew it for further study of this threat.
The report deals with several critical infrastructures that could be impacted by an EMP attack: Electric power; telecommunications; banking and finance; petroleum and natural gas; transportation; food; water; emergency services; space; and government.
Many of these infrastructures are interdependent. When one system goes down, it can impact other systems as well. As the report states:
The electromagnetic pulse generated by a high altitude nuclear explosion is one of a small number of threats that can hold our society at risk of catastrophic consequences. The increasingly pervasive use of electronics of all forms represents the greatest source of vulnerability to attack by EMP. Electronics are used to control, communicate, compute, store, manage, and implement nearly every aspect of United States (U.S.) civilian systems. When a nuclear explosion occurs at high altitude, the EMP signal it produces will cover the wide geographic region within the line of sight of the detonation. This broad band, high amplitude EMP, when coupled into sensitive electronics, has the capability to produce widespread and long lasting disruption and damage to the critical infrastructures that underpin the fabric of U.S. society.
Because of the ubiquitous dependence of U.S. society on the electrical power system, its vulnerability to an EMP attack, coupled with the EMP’s particular damage mechanisms, creates the possibility of long-term, catastrophic consequences. The implicit invitation to take advantage of this vulnerability, when coupled with increasing proliferation of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems, is a serious concern. A single EMP attack may seriously degrade or shut down a large part of the electric power grid in the geographic area of EMP exposure effectively instantaneously. There is also a possibility of functional collapse of grids beyond the exposed area, as electrical effects propagate from one region to another.
America’s electricity is generated by energy companies throughout the country through hundreds of power companies and a series of electric grids that transmit electricity over hundreds of miles of power lines.
The North American Electric Reliability Corporation and the Department of Energy released a report on the dangers of EMPs in early June 2010.
The report deals with the threat of High-Impact, Low-Frequency (HILF) electromagnetic threats to our electric grid and our national security.
These HILF risks include both natural occurrences such as solar flares and deliberate EMP or RFW attacks on our nation by hostile nations or terrorist organizations.
The target is the North American bulk power system, which includes more than 200,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines, thousands of generation plants and millions of digital controls. More than 1,800 electric power plants are part of this nationwide network.
If an EMP device is detonated 300 miles above the U.S. in the middle of the country, it could effectively wipe out the entire electric grid system and plunge our nation into the Dark Ages.
It’s Happened Before
Electromagnetic Pulse incidents in the past have disrupted electronic infrastructures. In 1962, an EMP from a high altitude airburst of a nuclear weapon near Hawaii, disrupted the electric system in that state.
Our own military has used EMP non-nuclear weapons against Iraq during the first Gulf War. The weapon was used to disrupt and destroy Iraqi electronics systems. (Robert J. Bunker, “Radio Frequency Weapons: Issues and Potentials,” Journal of California Law Enforcement, January 1, 2002).
Radio Frequency Wave (RFW) weapons – systems that can be carried in a backpack or briefcase – have been used by criminals in the past and unintentionally to destroy electronic systems.
RFWs have been used to commit crimes, and to disrupt police and military operations. The Navy’s report, “The Threat Of Radio Frequency Weapons To Critical Infrastructure Facilities,” lists several examples:
– In the Netherlands, an individual disrupted a local bank’s computer network because he was turned down for a loan. He constructed a briefcase-size RFW, which he learned how to build from the Internet. Bank officials did not even realize that they had been attacked or what had happened until long after the event.
– In Japan, two yakuza criminals were caught stealing from a Pachinko machine using a hidden high energy RF gun to interfere with the machine’s computer and falsely trigger a win.
– In St. Petersburg, Russia, a criminal robbed a jewelry store by defeating the alarm system with a repetitive RF generator. “Its manufacture was no more complicated than assembling home microwave ovens.”
– RFWs were used in separate incidents against the U.S. Embassy in
Moscow to falsely set off alarms and to induce a fire in a sensitive area.
The loss of an electric grid can be devastating as Americans and Canadians have seen in the past. In 1977, New York experienced a blackout that was described as a “night of terror.” Chaos reigned in the city as stores were looted and set on fire, cars were overturned and 3,776 were arrested. Multiply this night of terror by the thousands in every city in America if an EMP shuts down our electric grids.
In 1989, more than 6 million people lost power due to an EMP from solar activity. It caused a massive power failure in Canada. Fortunately, it only lasted hours.
In 1998, Auckland, New Zealand experienced a blackout lasting five weeks! Fortunately, water and sewage systems were functioning. Electricity was available in other areas, so it wasn’t a nationwide catastrophe.
Hundreds of thousands could die in looting, rioting and fires in our major cities if an EMP wipes out our electric grid.
What Can Be Done?
The United States must take seriously the threat posed by EMP attacks. The military has already taken measures to shield its systems from EMP attacks, but little has been done yet to shield our electric grid system from such an attack. This includes banks, water treatment plants, planes, hospitals, schools and any other facility that relies on computers. All of these must be shielded from the potential of an EMP attack or a solar flare.