EMP Threat From Nuclear Terrorists

By: Dr. Peter Vincent Pry

Iran—the world’s leading sponsor of international terrorism—indicates in military doctrinal writings that the capability to make an EMP attack would enable Iran to defeat U.S. military forces and destroy the United States.

  • “Nuclear weapons and atomic power can be used to determine the outcome of a war…strategic information warfare …without inflicting serious human damage, neutralizes strategic and information networks and leaves them idle…The Americans…are faced with serious ambiguities concerning this type of warfare…It must be said that the most important goal in destroying financial systems or any military, political, intelligence, or economic complex or organization is to damage that system in the shortest possible time.” (Iranian Journal 2001)


  • “Terrorist information warfare [includes] …using the technology of directed energy weapons (DEW) or electromagnetic pulse (EMP).” (Iranian Journal 2001)
  • From article Electronics to Determine Fate of Future Wars—“Once you confuse the enemy communications network you can also disrupt the work of the enemy command and decisionmaking center.  Even worse, today when you disable a country’s military high command through disruption of communications you will, in effect, disrupt all the affairs of that country….If the world’s industrial countries fail to devise effective ways to defend themselves against dangerous electronic assaults, then they will disintegrate within a few years.”  (Iranian Journal 1998)


Iran—the world’s leading sponsor of international terrorism—successfully test launched a Scud missile from a vessel in the Caspian Sea

  • A ship-launched missile is necessary only if Iran wants to make a missile attack on some nation outside the Middle East.
  • The launch mode is so inaccurate as to be suitable only for EMP attack.
  • Terrorists could launch a missile from a freighter off the coast of the United States to make an EMP attack, and so conceal Iranian sponsorship.
  • Al Qaeda reportedly has access to a fleet of freighters, perhaps 80, and other terrorist groups could acquire a freighter through many “legitimate” front organizations.

Iran—the world’s leading sponsor of international terrorism—has performed several flight-tests of their Shahab-3 medium-range missile, detonating it at apogee.

  • This fuzing mode is consistent with developing capability and training for EMP attack.
  • Shahab-3 is mobile and could be fired from a freighter to make an EMP attack on the United States.
  • Shahab-3’s range (1,200 kms) would permit an EMP attack launched from international waters, far outside U.S. territorial waters, while covering much of the United States.


Iran continues to develop the capability to make nuclear weapons, with widely varying estimates as to when they could build a nuclear weapon, ranging from imminently to within the next decade.

North Korea broke the NPT to build and test a nuclear weapon, defied the MTCR to proliferate ballistic missiles, was recently helping terrorist-sponsor Syria build a nuclear weapons capability, has cooperated with Iran on nuclear technology, and in April 2003 threatened to sell nuclear weapons.

Pakistan is unstable—its nuclear missiles could fall into the hands of a government sympathetic to terrorists.

China and Russia are unpredictable, have sold sensitive nuclear and missile technologies to Iran, Libya, Pakistan, Iraq (under Saddam) and, according to credible Russian sources, North Korea. 


Smuggling a nuclear weapon into a U.S. city is risky:

  • Could be intercepted by U.S. security forces;
  • Could be betrayed from within by disloyal or greedy operatives;
  • Depends on high competence of terrorists;
  • Depends on survival and competence of probably a single nuclear technician to “babysit” and trigger bomb;
  • Blast in city will leave forensic evidence from bomb debris that may identify bomb’s owner, and terrorist sponsor.

Terrorists and rogue state special forces have made spectacular blunders and not demonstrated the consistent competence necessary for high-confidence success in smuggling a nuclear weapon into the United States:

  • 9/11 Commission concludes terrorists made many mistakes and probably could have been stopped if U.S. was more vigilant.
  • Summer 2006 failure of terrorist attempt to attack U.S. with numerous hijacked airliners.
  • No successful attack on U.S. since 2001.
  • Saddam’s elite special forces fail to assassinate President Bush Sr., thwarted by Kuwait in April 1993.
  • North Korean elite special forces submariners stranded in South Korea and commit suicide September 1996.


EMP attack using ship-launched missile eliminates most of the operational disadvantages of smuggling a nuclear weapon into a U.S. city:

  • Launching outside U.S. territory minimizes chances for interception by security forces.
  • Ship can carry much larger terrorist team, enough to ensure internal security to prevent betrayal by team members.
  • Ship can carry redundant technicians and parts to reduce possibility technical failure.
  • Shipboard communications and internal security ensure central command and control, so terrorist and rogue state high command can direct operation.
  • EMP attack eliminates forensic evidence from bomb debris that might finger sponsor.


  • EMP offers the “biggest bang for the buck” and could cause far more damage—and kill many more Americans in the long run—than an A-bomb exploded in a city.
  • 9/11 Commission concludes terror attacks on New York and Washington were calculated not only to maximize casualties, but to damage the economy and for symbolism—all good reasons for EMP.
  • Osama Bin Ladin and other terror leaders have called for “spectacular” attacks with WMD including nuclear weapons—EMP attack would be most spectacular.

EMP attack is the only nuclear option where a single weapon could destroy the entire nation, and so give terrorism victory over civilization.

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