It now has been four years since Dr. William Graham, Science Advisor to President Ronald W. Reagan and Chairman of the General Advisory Committee on Arms Control and Disarmament, and a distinguished panel completed a study of High Altitude Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) and its potential effects upon this country. The conclusions of this study are the most frightening I have seen concerning modern-day threats. Few have heard of it because the report has yet to be made public. The reason it has not been made public is simple: if EMP were understood by the American people, the next logical question would be what steps the government has taken to reduce the possibility of an EMP attack in this country. To date little has been done. When the American people realize as much, the outrage will be palpable.
EMP is electromagnetic radiation from an explosion (especially a nuclear explosion). The worst of the pulse lasts for only a second but any unprotected electrical equipment - and anything connected to electrical cables, which act as giant lightning rods or antennas - are affected by it. If a nation with a nuclear bomb and the ability to explode it high above an American city were to do so, it would have a massive effect in all directions. Almost immediately all communications systems in the country would be disrupted completely. No radio. No television. No internet. Indeed no electricity at all. Most of the country literally would be in the dark with no possibility of recovering any electrical facilities. We would not be able to run our cars because the gasoline pumps would not work. Water distribution systems would not work. While there would be few immediate deaths connected with such an explosion, the long-term consequences would be profound. The national power grid would be rendered completely impotent. It would take many months or even years to have it up and running but with no power tools available, accomplishing this likely would be impossible.
There would be no telecommunications. Railroads would be unable to run. Even if the few steam locomotives left were employed, there would be no signal systems and no ability to switch tracks. Our entire financial system would be disrupted because computers would shut down. I could go on but you get the picture. Recovery would depend upon the restoration of electric power, the possibility of which would depend upon whether a part of the country was unaffected and that would depend upon where the bomb explodes.
Graham has made many recommendations which should be implemented to avoid such an attack. (Would that the public now understand the urgency to ensure that Iran does not acquire a nuclear device. Iran already has successfully tested a missile capable of carrying one into the high atmosphere).
Graham asserts that it is essential to pursue intelligence, interdiction, deterrence and defense to discourage an EMP attack. The highest priority is to prevent an attack. Our policies should shape the global environment to reduce incentives to create EMP weapons. We need to make it difficult and dangerous to acquire them.
Graham argues that we need to begin immediately a program to protect critical components of key infrastructures. We must maintain the ability to monitor and evaluate the condition of critical infrastructures. Graham reminds us that the absence of information can make things worse through inaction or incorrect action. Graham points to the blackout of August 13, 2003 as an example of the absence of information leading to inaction. We need to recognize an EMP attack and understand how its effects differ from natural disruptions.
America needs a plan to carry out the systematic recovery of key infrastructures. We must demonstrate the will and ability to recover from any attack. Toward that end we need a special team which frequently reports to Congress. We need to define the responsibilities of the Federal, state and local governments. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) needs to develop a plan for the country in conjunction with local governments and the Pentagon needs a clear plan to keep the Armed Forces functioning in the event of an attack. DHS must establish a senior leadership position with the accountability, authority and appropriate resources to defend against the most serious threats. Graham says that an EMP attack is a credible, potentially catastrophic threat to the United States. He says that the U.S. strategy should balance prevention, preparation, protection and recovery.
The Administration of President George W. Bush has known this for years, yet almost nothing has been done about it. Had he released this report and enforced the panel's recommendations he would be remembered as the President who saved America. Some scientists think the report may be released next month. If so it would behoove Bush to spend his remaining six months in office implementing Graham's recommendations. He cannot begin a moment too soon.