Expert Speak Atlantic Files
Published on Jun 01, 2017

It's a Hollywood nightmare come true.

Why the 'failed' North Korean missile launch can still be a threat

Source Image: Flickr user (stephen)

An electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapon detonated mid-orbit over North America's atmosphere takes out that region's electric grid, leaving the Western hemisphere vulnerable to cyber and physical attacks and threatening the very lives of large swaths of the population.

If an EMP were to hit the Earth's surface, it would strike everything within its line of vision and the currents would overheat transformers causing them to fail. As a result, appliances, electronics, water and food distribution systems, telecom centers and transportation mechanisms that are critical to society's existence would be incapacitated. The results of such an attack would be devastating.

Respected experts advise prudent protective measures to prevent such a scenario, the subject of which was only recently declassified for public consumption.

If an EMP is detonated at or around an altitude of 40 kilometers (24 miles) above Earth's surface, it could over most of continental North America.

According to some calculations, in less than one year, nine out of 10 Americans (hundreds of millions) would be left dead due to starvation, disease, civil unrest and eventual societal collapse. Further, key electrical infrastructure would be fried. This includes large power transformers that would potentially take years to replace. This is in part because authorities responsible for maintaining North America's electrical grid would themselves be incapacitated from an attack, and in part because the parts for these transformers are mostly created abroad in Germany and South Korea.

While much of the media reported North Korea's nuclear and missile tests as "failures", upon examining the mode of delivery for an EMP attack, it's possible these tests were actually successes.

North Korea has threatened to wipe out the United States on several occasions.

Dr. Peter Vincent Pry, executive director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security and chief of staff of the Congressional EMP Commission, recently suggested that North Korea's so-called "missile launch looks suspiciously like practice for an EMP attack. The missile was fired on a lofted trajectory, to maximise, not range, but climbing to high-altitude as quickly as possible, where it was successfully fused and detonated — testing everything but an actual nuclear warhead."

Pry further noted:

On 30 April, South Korean officials told The Korea Times and YTN TV that North Korea's test of a medium-range missile on 29 April was not a failure, as widely reported in the world press, because it was deliberately detonated at 72 kilometers altitude. 72 kilometers is the optimum burst height for a 10-Kt warhead making an EMP attack.

According to South Korean officials, "It's believed the explosion was a test to develop a nuclear weapon different from existing ones." Japan's Tetsuro Kosaka writes in Nikkei, "Pyongyang could be saying, 'We could launch an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack if things get really ugly.'"

Pry has also suggested that North Korea could have derived its idea for an EMP attack on the US from a Soviet plan during the Cold War to do the same. In the 1960s, the Soviet Union performed multiple documented EMP tests over Kazakhstan, in a series known as "Soviet Project K nuclear tests" or the "K Project."

Three years ago, the Panamanian government seized a North Korean ship carrying undeclared, Soviet-era Cuban weapons and fighter jets that it hid under sacks of sugar. The ship departed from Russia. At the time, the North Korean government reportedly insisted the weapons were simply being transferred to North Korea to be repaired, before returning them to Cuba.

Two North Korean satellites currently orbit the globe at trajectories optimal for a surprise EMP attack on the United States.

Iran, the world's largest sponsor of terrorism, has openly written about militarily defeating the United States with an EMP attack and has even conducted live missile launches simulating EMP attacks.

electromagnetic pulse, EMP, electric grid, cyber attacks, North Korea, Pyongyang Image: Flickr user (stephan)

In 2015, it was reported that American defence experts discovered and translated a secret Iranian military handbook that indicated Iran has considered carrying out or endorsing an EMPT attack on the United States in approximately 20 different places.

This week, the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency will make its first attempt to shoot down an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in a a test. In 2004, The federal Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse concluded that a "high-altitude nuclear weapon-generated electromagnetic pulse (EMP) is one of a small number of threats that has the potential to hold our society seriously at risk and might result in defeat of our military forces."

Former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director James Woolsey has warned that the US is not prepared to guard against an EMP attack.

Protecting North America’s electricity grid against the threat of an EMP is a necessity even if the North Korean regime is pacified. Aside from the threat of a man-made EMP attack, the Sun also has the capacity to inflict EMP damage on the Earth's surface. In fact, the Sun's powerful solar activities could have the same impact as a nuclear bomb.

Several documented solar events attest to the threat from nature. In September 1859, a solar coronal mass ejection (also known as a  solar flare) hit the Earth's surface and resulted  in severe storms and disruptions in the Earth's atmosphere. The geomagnetic superstorm became known as the Carrington Event, after an English scientist, Richard C. Carrington, who made the discovery through his observations of flashes of light and active Sun spots.

While the Carrington Event occurred during pre-electricity days — the telephone was invented 17 years later in 1876 — it had a major impact on the day's primary communication network: telegraphs. The solar flare caused telegraph poles to burst into flames around the world and the Atlantic Cable, which had just been laid on the ocean floor, was destroyed by the solar flare.

At that time, the event was hardly catastrophic. The majority of the world's  population, after all, lived in rural areas and telegraphs were not necessary for society's survival. Today, however, society has been shaped around the use of electronic devices; all of which would be incapacitated in an EMP attack.

Even with the Sun's solar cycle at possibly the lowest frequency in the past 100 years, the potential exists for a damaging storm. And this lull is only temporary. North America, and leader's around the world, must be prepared for such a threat — whether natural or man-made.

Unfortunately, the time it would take to replace the transformers used for the electric grid North America, could irreparably derail civilisation.

And without a security system or mechanism in place to guard North America's electric grid, the damage could last for weeks, months or even years. Although it would be difficult, if not impossible, for North America to shield itself from such an attack, it could shield its electrical grid without much effort.

Protecting the North American electrical grid  against the most devastating consequences of an EMP disruption would  require  resources. But the costs incurred would obviously  be much less than human and financial loss in the wake of an EMP disaster. In fact, as little as 8 cents per month (less than $1 dollar per year ) charged to each residential electricity consumer over the course of four to five years could provide the basic national safeguards for our electric grid. Unfortunately,  powerful special interest groups have lobbied against this funding solution.

Texas has so far taken some steps to protect its grid against a potential EMP attack and could be the test grounds for protecting North America from such an event. Texas is optimal because it's both America's largest energy producer and operates on its own grid, which is state-run.

ICBM, Central Intelligence Agency, CIA, Sun, solar activities, nuclear bomb, coronal mass ejection, solar flare Photo: Mary Turner/CC BY-SA 2.0

Shielding the planet from the Sun's solar flares is impossible, but it’s certainly possible  to improve the integrity of the electrical grid — considered the "center of gravity” by the United States military — and protect it from repercussions of an EMP.

For instance, the SHIELD Act (Secure High-voltage Infrastructure for Electricity from Lethal Damage Act), also known as House Resolution 2147, could provide much-need protection. Former CIA Director James Woolsey and Dr. Peter Pry explained in an op-ed that the bill would enable the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to require the electric power industry to protect the national grid from EMP through "selective 'hardening' of vital components by using surge arresters, blocking devices, faraday cages, and other proven technologies that the Department of Defense has known for fifty years can reliably protect military systems from EMP."

One year later, the Grid Reliability and Infrastructure Defense (GRID) Act was introduced in both the House and Senate. The bill would provide the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) with new authority to address emergencies and vulnerabilities in America's electric grid, including the issuance of emergency order to protect the grid from potential threats.

The looming threat of an EMP attack, either by North Korea, Iran or another rogue actor, is cause for lawmakers to take action. In his soon-to-be-released book, Pulse Attack: The Real Story Behind The Secret Weapon That Can Destroy North America, Canadian author and columnist Anthony Furey outlines the threat an EMP attack poses against the United States and Canada, and shines a light on the measures both countries can take to protect their interconnected electrical grids.

If the entire grid goes down, it can not be replaced. It must be built anew. That would result in what is known as a "black start." Unfortunately, it could take years to  rebuild. By the time they're completed, 90% of North America's population could be gone.

The only question is, will we protect ourselves before it's too late?

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Adelle Nazarian

Adelle Nazarian

Adelle Nazarian is an international journalist and foreign policy analyst currently working with Breitbart News. She is covering the US presidential elections and has been ...

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