Dr. Peter Vincent Pry
Paris known as the “City of Lights” literally, as the largest city in France, and figuratively, as the cultural capital of Western Civilization, now wonders, along with the rest of the civilized world, what to do about the Dark Ages threat embodied by ISIS and Islamic terrorism?
For the U.S. Congress, the next immediate step to protect America should be obvious. Rep. Trent Franks has introduced a bill, the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act (HR 1073), that would protect the national electric grid from manmade and natural threats that could cause a protracted blackout of the life sustaining critical infrastructures–communications, transportation, business and finance, food and water.
A terrorist attack on the electric grid that causes a nationwide blackout lasting one year could kill up to 90 percent of the American people by starvation and societal collapse, according to the Congressional EMP Commission.
Senator Ron Johnson, Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, has introduced a similar bill (S 1846).
Congress has known for over a decade, since 2004 when the EMP Commission delivered its first report, about the existential threat to the United States from electric grid vulnerability. Yet nothing has been done to protect the grid.
Congress has just a few more weeks before it breaks for the holidays to act.
Lessons From Paris
Several important lessons should be learned by the United States and the West from the Paris terror attacks:
More attacks are coming against the United States and Europe. Websites affiliated with ISIS threaten that Washington, London, and Rome will be attacked next. Their preference is “to taste American blood.”
Asymmetric warfare is the ISIS strategy–maximize the effectiveness of their limited resources by high-profile acts of terror that are psychologically demoralizing to the West. The victims of Paris are not only the 129 killed and 352 injured, fewer than 500 casualties, but millions worldwide who were witnesses through mass media.
There will be another intelligence failure. The Paris terror attacks prove that the intelligence agencies of Europe and the U.S. combined could not anticipate and provide strategic warning. Nor can police and security forces, even when on heightened alert as they were in Paris, be relied upon to stop the next big terrorist attack.
What Is To Be Done?
U.S. counter-terrorism strategy must anticipate and protect our nation’s greatest vulnerabilities in order to defeat terrorism’s strategy of asymmetric warfare. The strategic philosophy of ISIS and other terrorists is an inversion of Jeremy Bentham’s axiom “The greatest good for the greatest number” and instead inflict “The greatest injury on the greatest number.”
The U.S. must protect its greatest vulnerabilities and deny to ISIS and others the means to inflict “The greatest injury on the greatest number.”
For example, the United States rightly gives high priority to preventing proliferation of nuclear materials. Why? Because a small number of terrorists armed with a single nuclear weapon could blast a major city and kill several hundred thousand people–a spectacular asymmetric threat.
However, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has failed to protect the United States from an even greater threat–national electric grid vulnerability.
The Greatest Threat
Ours is an electronic civilization. Electricity runs everything, including the economy. Electricity sustains the lives of 320 million Americans.
Terrorists could inflict “The greatest injury on the greatest number” by attacking the national electric grid and blacking-out all the life sustaining critical infrastructures.
A nationwide blackout would, in effect, turn the “off switch” for the United States. A terror blackout that lasts one year could kill so many people and cause such chaos that the lights might never come back on.
No less than two congressional commissions, the EMP Commission (2008) and the Strategic Posture Commission (2009) and numerous independent studies, including the recent books Lights Out and Blackout Wars, warn that an attack on the grid is an existential threat. A terror blackout could have such catastrophic consequences as to challenge the continued existence of our civilization.
A terror blackout of the United States would be the ultimate asymmetric threat.
Terror Blackouts–Happening Now
Unfortunately, so little has been done to protect the U.S. grid that terrorists would find the grid an easy target to attack.
For example, terrorists armed with explosives, or just with rifles, could cause a protracted blackout of the North American electric grid. According to a study by the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, a terror attack on merely 9 key transformer substations (out of 2,000 substations) could blackout the nation for 18 months. Even a random attack on small numbers of EHV transformers could cause cascading failures resulting in protracted regional blackouts.
Terrorist blackouts have already happened in attacks on other nations:
–On October 27, 2013, the Knights Templars drug cartel temporarily blacked-out Mexico’s Michoacan state. The blackout effected 420,000 people, isolating them from law enforcement, so the Knights could execute local leaders opposed to the drug trade.
–On June 9, 2014, AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) used mortars and rocket propelled grenades to temporarily blackout the entire nation of Yemen. 16 cities and 27 million people were without power. The blackout contributed to the destabilization of the Yemen government–an important ally of the United States–which fell to terrorists affiliated with Iran.
–On January 25, 2015, terrorists blacked-out 80 percent of Pakistan–a nuclear weapons state.
–On March 31, 2015, Turkey, a member of NATO and important U.S. ally in the Middle East, experienced a highly disruptive temporary blackout, reportedly from an Iranian cyber attack.
The worst threat to the grid would be from an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack, caused by the high-altitude (30-400 kilometers) detonation of a nuclear weapon. Nuclear EMP attack would cause the most widespread and deepest damage to the critical infrastructures. The EMP Commission warned that terrorists armed with a single primitive nuclear weapon and short-range missile, or even a high-lift balloon, could inflict an EMP catastrophe.
North Korea apparently practiced a nuclear EMP attack in April 2013. In the aftermath of North Korea’s third illegal nuclear test in February 2013, dictator Kim Jong-Un threatened to make nuclear missile strikes against the U.S. and its allies. Amidst this worst ever nuclear crisis between the U.S. and North Korea, the North orbited its KSM-3 satellite on the optimum trajectory and altitude to evade U.S. national missile defenses and place an EMP field (if the satellite were a nuclear warhead) over the United States.
North Korea’s KSM-3 still passes over the United States every few days.
The Critical Infrastructure Protection Act
The good news is that the grid can be protected against even the worst threat, nuclear EMP attack, for about $2 billion–and this would mitigate all the lesser threats, including from sabotage, cyber, and severe weather. EMP protection of transformers, generators, and control systems would also protect against the worst over-voltages and overloads that might result from physical and cyber attacks or natural disasters that could start cascading grid failures and cause a protracted blackout.
Both the House and Senate versions of the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act (CIPA), now before Congress, would require the Department of Homeland Security to introduce a new National Planning Scenario focused on EMP. All federal, state, and local emergency planning, training, and resource allocation are based on the National Planning Scenarios. CIPA would require DHS to develop plans to protect the national grid; to educate all levels of government and the utilities on the EMP threat and offer help; and to launch pilot projects to protect the grid.
CIPA embodies a core recommendation of the EMP Commission. Its passage would be a giant step toward prevention of an EMP catastrophe and achievement of “all hazards” grid security.
In the aftermath of the terror attack on the City of Lights, we are running out of time to protect the grid that sustains the modern world–and our lives.
Originally published on Family Security Matters, November 16th, 2015