Dr. Peter Vincent Pry sheds light on the threat our nation faces from a nuclear or natural electromagnetic pulse (EMP) event.
Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Dr. Peter Vincent Pry, Executive Director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security who advises Congress on the full spectrum of security issues. He is now focused on preventing a nuclear or natural electromagnetic pulse (EMP) catastrophe--the greatest threat now facing civilization.
Dr. Pry has spent his entire career protecting America from Weapons of Mass Destruction and EMP, first at the Central Intelligence Agency, then at the House Armed Services Committee, on the Congressional EMP Commission and Strategic Posture Commission. He is the author of the new book, Civil-Military Preparedness For An Electromagnetic Pulse Catastrophe, a Kindle e-book available on Amazon.com
FP: Dr. Pry, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Pry: Jamie, thanks for this opportunity to inform your readers about the threat our nation and families face from a nuclear or natural electromagnetic pulse (EMP) event.
The gravity of the EMP threat is still insufficiently understood by most political leaders and the general public, despite the efforts of two Congressional Commissions and several major U.S. Government studies over the past decade to educate and warn that EMP is the most immediate and gravest danger to our nation.
FP: Let’s begin with the “electromagnetic pulse.” What exactly is it?
Pry: An EMP can be generated by a nuclear weapon, any nuclear weapon, detonated above the atmosphere. Or an EMP can be generated naturally, by the Sun sending a solar flare or coronal mass ejection that causes a geomagnetic storm on Earth. In either case, whether the EMP is generated by a nuclear weapon or the Sun, the effects are very similar. An EMP is like a super-energetic radio wave, harmless to people in its direct effects, but lethal to electronics and electronic systems--and everything, including human life, is directly or indirectly dependent upon electronics. The EMP by destroying electronics can collapse everywhere, nationwide, all the critical infrastructures--electric power, communications, transportation, banking and finance, food and water--that sustain modern civilization and the lives of 300 million Americans.
That EMP can pose such a threat to the nation is not controversial, but the official consensus of the Congressional EMP Commission, that examined the EMP threat and possible solutions for nearly a decade. Several subsequent major Congressional and U.S. Government studies re-examined the facts. All independently arrived at the same conclusion as the EMP Commission, including the National Academy of Sciences, the Congressional Strategic Posture Commission, the Department of Energy, and the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Not one official study by the Congress or the USG dissents from the original conclusions of the EMP Commission.
FP: Why is EMP the greatest threat now facing the civilized world?
Pry: EMP is in the category of a very small number of threats that can literally end civilization as we know it. The Congressional EMP Commission estimated that, given our nation's current state of unpreparedness, within one year of a nuclear or natural EMP catastrophe, about two-thirds of the population, 200 million Americans, could perish from starvation, disease, and societal collapse. Other credible estimates indicate the loss of life could be even higher, on the order of 90 percent, because it may be optimistic to assume, as the EMP Commission did, that America's largely urbanized population could learn the survival skills necessary to live without modern technology and the critical infrastructures. If the EMP is from a great geomagnetic storm, like the 1859 Carrington Event, the effects would not be limited to the United States but would be global. If another Carrinton Event happened today, it could collapse electric grids and critical infrastructures worldwide, putting at risk the lives of billions.
Unfortunately, these threats are not remote theoretical possibilities, but clear and present dangers. Iran is on the verge of developing, or may already have nuclear weapons. Iranian military writings openly describe making a nuclear EMP attack on the United States, to eliminate the U.S. as an actor on the world stage. Iran has practiced missile launches and high-altitude fusing to perform an EMP attack. Iran does not need a sophisticated ICBM to make an EMP attack, but could launch a short-range missile off a freighter near the U.S. coast--and has practiced doing a ship-launched EMP attack too. Iran has already twice successfully orbited satellites, and so already has an ICBM capability for delivering to the United States a small warhead, like a nuclear artillery shell.
Former CIA operative Reza Kahlili, who still has sources in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, reports that Iran already has several Russian tactical nuclear warheads, neutron artillery shells, that would be ideal for making an EMP attack, because warheads designed to emit neutrons also emit a lot of gamma rays, which is what causes the EMP effect. If Iran or terrorist proxies can make a ship-launched EMP attack against the United States, without launching from their own territory, they could deliver an EMP catastrophe upon us anonymously. The high-altitude EMP detonation leaves no bomb debris for forensic analysis, as would detonating a bomb in a city. EMP attack leaves no fingerprints. We might never know who attacked us.
Even more troubling are the prospects of a great geomagnetic storm. The Congressional EMP Commission estimated that a Carrington Event class geomagnetic storm, that would effect the entire world, occurs about once a century. It does not take a genius to do the arithmetic that 1859 was more than a century ago, that we are overdue for another Carrington Event. Most scientists are concerned that another great geomagnetic storm might occur during the next solar maximum. Every eleven years, the Sun enters a phase, lasting about a year, where it emits many more solar flares and coronal mass ejections, very significantly increasing the prospects for a great geomagnetic storm. The next solar maximum is only months away now, will begin in December 2012 and last through 2013. Sooner or later, another Carrington Event is inevitable.
EMP is the greatest threat to the civilized world because of the magnitude and likelihood of an EMP catastrophe.
FP: What is being done about this threat?
Pry: The good news is that there is no excuse for the United States to be vulnerable to EMP. The Department of Defense has been hardening military systems against EMP for 50 years, and the technology for EMP protection is transferrable to civilian critical infrastructures. EMP protection is also affordable, very low cost compared to the cost of vulnerability. At bare minimum, the U.S. should protect the 300 EHV transformers servicing the major cities, which would cost only $100-200 million, and give us some chance of saving the 200 million lives that would be lost in an EMP catastrophe, at a cost of about one dollar per life. Robust protection of the national electric grid would cost about $1-2 billion.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission estimates that robust grid protection could be paid for easily, by merely increasing the electric bill to the average rate payer by 20 cents annually. The Congressional EMP Commission estimated that robust protection of ALL critical infrastructures could be achieved for $10-20 billion over 3-5 years. The EMP Commission plan to protect the critical infrastructures from EMP would also mitigate all other hazards--cyber threats, sabotage, natural disasters like hurricanes. When the EMP Commission made its estimate in 2004 that EMP preparedness could be achieved in 3-5 years, the solar maximum was then eight years in the future, a future which then looked bright for EMP preparedness, since there was plenty of time to implement the EMP Commission's recommendations.
The bad news is that none of the EMP Commission's recommendations to protect the electric grid and other critical infrastructures have been implemented. And now we are running out of time to protect ourselves from the nuclear EMP threat from Iran and the natural EMP threat from the Sun.
Some Members of Congress have heroically fought to implement the EMP Commission's recommendations, forming a Congressional EMP Caucus, and aggressively trying to pass legislation like the SHIELD Act (HR 668) that would protect the national electric grid from EMP. But lobbyists for the electric power industry, like the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, have deep pockets and an army of lawyers to stop bills like the SHIELD Act. They oppose the SHIELD Act because it is the job of industry lobbyists to oppose any increase in government regulatory power over their industry, no matter how important and necessary.
Bureaucrats in the Department of Homeland Security are also a big part of the problem. Except for one high ranking official in DHS who was a personal friend, no one in DHS would even agree to receive a briefing from the Congressional EMP Commission. DHS refused to add nuclear EMP attack to its National Emergency Planning Scenarios, that are the basis for training and resourcing emergency responders at the federal, state, and local levels. So thanks to DHS, there is no planning and preparedness for a nuclear EMP catastrophe at any level of government, except in DOD. Dr. William Graham, Chairman of the EMP Commission, when asked in a congressional hearing to account for this behavior by DHS, replied: "It is at times like these I wish, instead of having a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering, that my degree was in Abnormal Psychology."
FP: What role does your Task Force play in protecting the nation and people from EMP?
Pry: The Task Force on National and Homeland Security was established to help Congress achieve national EMP preparedness on an accelerated basis by doing whatever is necessary, because we are running out of time. The Task Force is aggressively trying to educate policymakers and the public on the EMP threat and solutions, on the very urgent necessity of achieving national EMP preparedness. We hope that if the American people can be mobilized to demand EMP protection from federal, state, and local governments, that this will break the logjam.
The Task Force is the successor to the EMP Commission, which Congress tried but could not re-establish because of bureaucratic politics on the Hill and with DHS. We are also an experiment, to see if a major national and homeland security issue can be advanced by the people themselves, spearheaded by a Task Force that is funded by donations. Congress has no money to fund the Task Force.
All of our operations depend on donations. Our Task Force is an experiment in returning to an earlier era, when the private sector played a much bigger role in U.S. security, as in the War of 1812, which was not won at the Battle of New Orleans, but on the high seas by American privateers who crippled Britain's merchant shipping. I like to think of our Task Force as a group of expert intellectual privateers, operating on a shoe string, but achieving decisive results by raiding and sinking the myths, propaganda, and bad ideas of lobbyists and bureaucrats who would leave our nation vulnerable to an EMP catastrophe.
FP: Is there anything the average American can do, or is this Washington's problem?
Pry: Call and write your Congressman and Senator and tell them to support the SHIELD Act (HR 668), sponsored by Rep. Trent Franks, and the legislative initiatives of Congressman Roscoe Bartlett to protect our national electric grid from EMP.
--Contribute to Congressman Roscoe Bartlett's re-election campaign. Bartlett, who has been the national leader on EMP preparedness, is fighting to keep his seat because his district was gerrymandered.
--Demand that your Congressman and Senator join the Congressional EMP Caucus and start becoming part of the solution.
-- Call and write Rep. Fred Upton, Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and demand that he support the SHIELD Act and pass the bill out of his committee. Upton's office number is 202-225-3761.
--Call and write your state and local representatives and demand that they take steps to protect state and local critical infrastructures, and to ensure that police, fire, and other emergency services are prepared to operate after an EMP catastrophe.
--BE PREPARED YOURSELF. EMP preparedness is largely just common sense and prudence that will better enable you and your family to survive all hazards, any catastrophic scenario. For example, start stockpiling food and water, or means to purify water, plant a garden, so you and your family can survive without the local grocery store for a protracted period. Have an emergency medical kit and know how to use it. Read the Task Force book Civil-Military Preparedness For An Electromagnetic Pulse Catastrophe which has been circulated to the White House, Congress, DOD and DHS--but which should be read by every American, not just the Washington elite. The book is basically a blueprint for how to protect our nation, your community and yourself from EMP or any catastrophe.
FP: Dr. Pry, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.
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