Who's Afraid of EMP?

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To: Website Fans, Browsers, Clients
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: More Neo-Con Baloney

An electromagnetic pulse? I never heard of it until this week when
Jack Spencer, a top defense and national security analyst for the
Heritage Foundation, reported on the congressional Commission to
Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse
Attack, which calls EMP “one of a small number of threats that has
the potential to hold our society seriously at risk and might result
in defeat of our military forces.”

Wow!! We spend a jillion dollars on national defense and we are
still at risk of defeat by an EMP!! What is this about? Here is
Spencer’s report, which I will cut off when I find out what this
is all about, at which point we will cut to a report from Gordon
Prather, who tells us what this is really about.

By Jack Spencer
August 19, 2004

Do you know one missile, properly targeted, could degrade the electronic
grid of the entire continental United States? Do you also know even
North Korea has weapons capable of doing this?

Here’s how it would work. Rather than target the warhead at land,
enemies deliver their payloads from 25 to 300 miles above the Earth’s
surface. There, radiation from a nuclear explosion would interact
with air molecules to produce high-energy electrons that speed across
the Earth’s magnetic field as an instantaneous, invisible electromagnetic

Such an explosion would release a pulse strong enough to disrupt
power grids, electronic systems and communications over the Lower
48 states. The United States never has prepared for this threat
because experts long assumed it wouldn’t matter. An EMP attack,
the theory was, would be a precursor to a full-scale nuclear exchange
with our Cold War nemesis, the Soviet Union. The state of the power
grid would be the least of our problems.

But today, we must consider a giant electromagnetic pulse (EMP)
a significant threat on its own. The congressional Commission to
Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse
Attack, calls EMP “one of a small number of threats that has the
potential to hold our society seriously at risk and might result
in defeat of our military forces.”

A scientist who has studied the issue says an effective EMP attack
could set back countries dependent on 21st century technology by
100 years or more.

The commission’s report stressed the United States needs to figure
out who, among both states and nonstate actors, is capable of launching
such an attack. Also, we need to know where we are most vulnerable,
how we would recover from such an attack and what it would take
to protect our military and civilian systems.

Our military needs to retrofit some equipment to resist such attacks
and insist that more new purchases come EMP attack-proof. Of
course, the best defense against an EMP attack would be an effective
missile-defense system that intercepts the missile before it reaches
the United States.

Aha!! Now I get it. Unless we spend a zillion dollars on the missile-defense
system that the neo-cons at the Pentagon have been pushing, North
Korea, a charter member of the axis of evil, will soon be able to
fire a single nuclear-tipped missile at us. They would explode it
way up so it won’t cause any damage on the ground or kill anyone,
but would still put the nation’s entire electronic grid on the fritz!!
Now I know the Heritage Foundation is a charter member of the Military-Industrial
Complex and can always be counted on to back the neo-cons in any
of their global adventures, but this truly seemed serious.

So I asked Gordon Prather, my nuclear scientist friend, about EMP
and found that while I was away on vacation this month he had written
all about it, for antiwar.com. If what he says is true, and I think
is, maybe we can save the zillion dollars the neo-cons want to spend
on a system to shoot down the North Korean nuke before it causes
any trouble.

by Gordon Prather

A couple of weeks ago, the Commission to Assess the Threat to the
United States from Electromagnetic Pulse Attack delivered its final
report to Congress.

The Commission was asked to assess — among other things — “the nature
and magnitude of potential high-altitude EMP threats to the United
States from all potentially hostile states or non-state actors that
have or could acquire nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles enabling
them to perform a high-altitude EMP attack against the United States
within the next 15 years.”

What the hell is “EMP”?

Well, in Operation Dominic, a series of nuke tests we conducted
over the Pacific in 1962, we learned — much to our surprise — then
when a large megaton-yield anti-ballistic-missile nuke warhead is
detonated at the very high altitudes where incoming Soviet nuke
warheads would be intercepted, in addition to destroying the incoming
Soviet warhead, our ABM nuke’s enhanced radiation also produces
extreme charge separation in the underlying atmosphere. That is,
the atoms in the air are not merely ionized — separated into positively-charged
ions and negatively-charged electrons. Zillions of electrons are
driven far away from the ions, creating humongous high-frequency
‘dipole’ radio transmitters.

The resulting multi-frequency electromagnetic pulse — EMP — can
interfere catastrophically with the operation of electrical and
electronic systems at considerable distances. That first high-altitude
megaton-yield nuke test over Johnson Island resulted in power system
failures in Hawaii, more than 700 miles away.

Once the EMP effect was discovered, we did two things. One was to
spend a zillion dollars EMP-hardening all military electrical and
electronic components and weapons systems.

The second was to see if specially designed nukes of much lower
yield could produce EMP as the primary ‘kill mechanism’. Were we

Well, according to the Commission:

and Russia have considered limited nuclear attack options that,
unlike their Cold War plans, employ EMP as the primary or sole
means of attack. Indeed, as recently as May 1999, during the NATO
bombing of the former Yugoslavia, high-ranking members of the
Russian Duma, meeting with a US congressional delegation to discuss
the Balkans conflict, raised the specter of a Russian EMP attack
that would paralyze the United States.

The Commission concluded that such an attack — non-lethal, in and
of, itself — “has the potential to hold our society at risk and
might result in defeat of our military forces.”

Of course, it is one thing for Russia or China to have that capability.
It is quite another for a “potentially hostile state or non-state
actor” to acquire a ballistic missile capable of delivering a thousand-pound
megaton-yield nuke warhead to the continental United States and
detonating it exo-atmospherically.

In fact, if al-Qaeda ever acquires a megaton-yield nuke, what reason
do we have for supposing they would choose some non-lethal use for
it? Wouldn’t they just smuggle it into Washington and attempt to
detonate it. [Hollywood to the contrary, detonating on the ground
a nuke that was designed to be carried to 500,000 feet by a missile
and then detonated, is not a ‘slam-dunk’.]

Nevertheless, the Commission devoted considerable effort to assessing
the EMP threat posed by terrorists.

But what about North Korea?

According to Jane’s, North Korea has developed and is deploying,
two new missile systems, both based on the Soviet R-27 liquid-fueled
submarine-launched ballistic missile.

The R-27 — as deployed by the Soviets during the 1970s and 1980s
— had an operational range of about 1600 miles carrying a 1.2-megaton
nuke warhead. Jane’s says the Korean ground-launched model could
have a range of about 2500 miles, bringing Hawaii into range.

However, if the Koreans have substantially increased the range of
the liquid-fueled R-27, they have probably done it the way they
increased the range of their chief “cash crop”, Soviet liquid-fueled
Scuds; by increasing the lengths of the fuel tanks. The cost of
that extra fuel is decreased payload. The Korean R-27 could hardly
deliver a thousand-pound 1.2 megaton nuke warhead to Hawaii — much
less detonate it at 250,000 feet over Hawaii — even if the Russians
were to give them one.

In fact, the Korean R-27 could hardly deliver to Waikiki Beach one
of the first-generation plutonium-implosion nukes they are suspected
of having. The Korean nukes — if they exist — must weigh at least
a thousand pounds. Our first generation plutonium-implosion nuke
— the one we dropped on Nagasaki 59 years ago — weighed ten thousand

Nevertheless, as silly as it sounds, both the EMP-Commission report
and the Jane’s report on new Korean missiles are being used as justification
for the Clinton ABM system now being installed by Bush in Alaska.

21, 2004

Wanniski [send him mail]
runs the financial/political advisory service Wanniski.com.
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