American policies on EMP defense cannot be guided by the ignorant

U.S. Missile Defense Agency

It was once said “the age of the expert is dead” — meaning these days anyone with an opinion, no matter how uninformed, can consider themselves an expert.  Nowhere does this seem to be more true than in the threat from electromagnetic pulse (EMP).

The Congressional EMP Commission has warned that an EMP from man or nature, from a nuclear attack or a solar super-storm, could black out the nation’s electric grid for over a year and kill 90 percent of Americans. The threat non-trivial, and public policy should not be guided by the ignorant.

Critics of the EMP Commission invariably are not EMP experts. They never worked professionally on EMP for the Department of Defense, the Intelligence Community, for any defense contractor, for the U.S. Air Force or the Senate Armed Services Committee as an EMP expert.

{mosads}Critics usually do not even know who the genuine EMP experts are.


For example, one critic of the EMP Commission who recently wrote for The Hill quoted at length from Cheryl LaFleur’s testimony before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on May 2017. LaFleur, then the acting chairwoman of the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, would be the first to admit she is no EMP expert, her background being service as a lawyer and executive for electric utilities. 

The critic cherry-picked LaFleur’s testimony and misrepresented her meaning, writing, “In other words, the EMP threat is real, but in today’s world of competing challenges, not a top threat or priority in an age of limited resources.” But LaFleur never said EMP is “not a top threat or priority,” only that FERC does not yet know if the electric grid can be protected from EMP in a cost-effective manner.

The EMP naysayer also cherry-picked witnesses from the May 2017 Senate hearing on EMP, ignoring testimony from former Speaker Newt Gingrich and Ambassador Henry Cooper, former director of the Strategic Defense Initiative.  Speaker Gingrich is a policy expert on EMP, and Ambassador Cooper is an EMP technical expert, having worked on protecting missiles and other military systems for the U.S. Air Force.

Speaker Gingrich and Ambassador Cooper testified EMP is a “top threat” — an existential threat — and that the national electric grid can be protected cost-effectively, and should be protected now. The EMP naysayer’s article omitted the real expert testimony that contradicted his position.

Strangely enough for anyone who is supposed to be a defense expert, the EMP naysayer would entrust our national security to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is not part of the defense community but deals chiefly with regulation of electric rates. “Let’s hope our policymakers listen to the head of FERC, and not alarmists with little grounding in real world probability and practicality.”

Hopefully, the Senate Armed Services Committee would want policymakers to listen not to FERC but to the Department of Defense. During the Obama administration, the department spent nearly $1 billion hardening NORAD HQ inside Cheyenne Mountain and other assets against a North Korean EMP attack.

Or we could listen to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Congress. Last year, Congress passed the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act, which requires DHS to develop plans to protect and recover the electric grid and other life-sustaining critical infrastructures from EMP, and to work on pilot projects demonstrating the grid can be protected. 

Others who have spoken out on the threat posed by EMP include Ambassador R. James Woolsey (a former director of the CIA), Dr. John Foster (former Director of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory), General Richard Lawson (former Deputy Commander-In Chief of NATO), and William R. Graham (Chairman of the Congressional EMP Commission, Science Advisor to President Reagan, former Administrator of NASA).

EMP ignoramuses do not seem to know that the whole purpose of congressional commissions—like the Congressional EMP Commission—is to assemble a team of the nation’s best experts, people grounded “in real world probability and practicality.”

The aforementioned naysayer dismissed the nuclear threat from North Korea, saying, “North Korea appears to be — like always — retreating from its most bellicose positions.”

Days after those words were published, North Korea escalated the nuclear crisis by launching a missile over Japan and testing a thermonuclear H-Bomb warhead that, according to North Korea, is designed for a “super powerful EMP attack.”

With such a gift for always being wrong, let us hope that the naysayers do not thwart the EMP Commission’s efforts to protect our nation.

Dr. Peter Vincent Pry is chief of staff of the Congressional EMP Commission. He served on the staff of the House Armed Services Committee and at the CIA.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags Electromagnetic pulse Electromagnetic radiation Electronic warfare EMP Energy weapons North Korea Peter Pry
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