James Woolsey: Threat From EMP Increases

Image: James Woolsey: Threat From EMP Increases James Woolsey (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Wednesday, 13 Aug 2014 03:03 PM

By Elliot Jager

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The United States has done virtually nothing to prepare for the detonation of a nuclear device high above the country that would set off an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, which would wipe out the electric grid and lead to the deaths of millions of Americans, according to James Woolsey and Peter Vincent Pry writing in The Wall Street Journal.

An attack could be carried out with relatively uncomplicated weaponry such as a Scud missile carrying a low-yield nuclear bomb launched from a freighter. North Korea is thought to be pursuing such knowhow, Woolsey and Pry said. Iran is also a possible threat, they wrote.

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Citing a warning by hedge-fund investor Paul Singer describing an EMP attack as "the most significant threat" to the nation and its allies, Woolsey, a former CIA director, and Pry, who served on a congressional EMP commission, said such an explosion could bring "our civilization to a cold, dark halt."

Congressional commissions, most recently in 2008, warned that terrorists or rogue states could threaten an EMP attack and that "designs for variants of such weapons may have been illicitly trafficked for a quarter-century," Woolsey and Pry wrote.

The commission anticipated that within about a year of a nationwide EMP attack, the breakdown of communications and transportation would result in starvation, anarchy, and the collapse of society, according to Woolsey and Pry.

The commission recommended a series of comparatively inexpensive steps — a $2 billion investment — for the purchase and installation of devices to protect electronics as well as other measures to make the United States less vulnerable.

President Barack Obama issued an executive order addressing the threat of cyberattacks, but the administration does not appear to appreciate the menace posed EMP, the authors of the Journal commentary said.

Congress has crafted legislation — the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act and the Shield Act — with bipartisan backing to address various aspects of the EMP threat. So far, these efforts have stalled in congressional paralysis.

Congress should pass and the president should sign legislation designed to protect the country's electric grid and to defend against an EMP attack, the authors of the commentary said. "Literally millions of American lives could depend on it," Woolsey and Pry wrote.

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