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.