What America Needs to Know About EMPs

The threat of an electromagnetic attack is real, but preparing for one shouldn’t be too difficult.

By: Dr. Peter Vincent Pry

Weinberger alleges that the EMP Commission and concern about the EMP threat is strictly partisan. But the EMP Commission’s bipartisan credentials are impeccable. It was established by a Republican-dominated Congress in 2001 and re-established by a Democrat-dominated Congress in 2006. Commissioners were appointed on a bipartisan basis. The EMP threat, and the necessity to do something about it, is one of the few issues on which Democrats and Republicans in Congress are working together.

Weinberger asks why nuclear terrorists or rogue states would prefer to use a nuclear weapon for an EMP attack, instead of blasting a city. The short answer is that an EMP attack could inflict more and longer-lasting damage and kill many more Americans in the long run. Blasting a city cannot paralyze the United States and will leave forensic and other evidence that will virtually guarantee the destruction of the perpetrator. An EMP attack is the only option for a single nuclear weapon that offers terrorists or rogue states any realistic chance of defeating the United States, perhaps eliminating the United States as an actor from the world stage, permanently.

As to Weinberger’s complaints that Newt Gingrich and others concerned about the EMP threat sometimes recommend to popular audiences the novel One Second After, which describes a hypothetical EMP attack on the United States: Since Uncle Tom’s Cabin there has been a venerable tradition in U.S. democracy of educating and building popular support for causes through novels. Her disgust would be more credible if she criticized with equal vigor the many novels and movies designed to raise popular concern about climate change.

Weinberger cites New Republic senior editor Michael Crowley as an example of a critic of the EMP Commission. Crowley is indeed a typical critic of the EMP Commission — he knows nothing about EMP and obviously never bothered to read the EMP Commission’s reports. Crowley alleges in his article The Newt Bomb that the EMP Commission is really a conspiracy to promote national missile defense and preventive war against Iran. Both claims are untrue, as is evident from the EMP Commission’s recommendations, which focus on passive defense of critical infrastructures.

Far from “hyping” the EMP threat, in its reports and public testimony, the commission went to great lengths to emphasize that there is no excuse for the United States to be vulnerable to nuclear or natural EMP and that the country can protect itself with a little effort and very modest investment. Most of our recommendations are common-sense solutions — good planning, training, selective hardening — that have universal applicability against other threats, including cyberwarfare, sabotage, and natural disasters. According to one estimate, the worst consequences of an EMP event could be avoided for as little as $100 million, by selectively protecting key transformers in the electric grid. Unlike other weapon-of-mass-destruction threats, which apparently will always be with us, the EMP Commission offered a way to put the EMP threat out of business.

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