By David Stuckenberg, Founder & Chairman, the American Leadership & Policy Foundation
Over the weekend, in a dim corner of Washington D.C. and in a quiet recess of the Pentagon, a national security tragedy occurred with little notice or fanfare. On Sept. 30, the Congressional Commission to Assess the Threat of Electromagnetic Pulse to the United States of America (or EMP Commission) was shut down indefinitely.
Since 2000, the EMP Commission, an unpaid team of leading scientists, engineers, and security experts has worked tirelessly to test, understand, and uncover risks posed to our nation’s civil and military infrastructure by Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP). EMP is a well known physical electromagnetic phenomena generated by a nuclear or special weapon or coronial mass ejection (CME).
In 2012, Earth passed by a CME that missed the planet by days. Had Earth passed through the phenomena, damages would’ve set the United States back 200 years, according to NASA. Based on historic data, Lloyds Bank and Oxford University fixed the likelihood of a major CME impact to North America at 12 percent per decade.
Over the course of 17 years, the commission’s research effectively uncovered key risks to the nation’s power grid and civil infrastructure including dangers to nuclear power stations and even federal government. However, while EMP sources and risks remain, the official work to educate our public and leaders has ended.
Ironically, on Sept. 20, just days before the commission’s termination, the commander of United States Strategic Command warned that America is unprepared to deal with EMP.
Describing the effects, General John E. Hyten warned, “It’s a dangerous threat and a very realistic threat. If you set off an EMP, a high altitude EMP, basically every light in this hotel is going to go off; every computer is going to go off; every cell phone is going to go off; and every car in the parking lot will no longer work. That’s what an EMP does … We have to be able to respond. But our nation has not looked at EMP.” Such damage would affect the continent and take months to years to correct.
The security-centric efforts of the EMP Commission have not been unopposed. In fact, the energy industry along with the North American Energy Reliability Commission (NERC) and Federal Energy Reliability Commission (FERC), have sought to maintain a status quo which according to the EMP Commission’s in depth analysis leaves 90 percent of American’s at risk.
By acting as a buffer to industry rather than serving wider public interests, the NERC and FERC have well protected the electric industry while leaving America’s citizens in danger. It’s that simple.
On Sept. 3, the Peoples Republic of North Korea, as reported by WSJ, sent the United States a clear message that they are willing to use a high-altitude EMP to devastate America.
Was this a hollow threat? Perhaps, but few defense experts are also dismissive of Chinese and Russian doctrine which also calls for use of an EMP as a first strike on the United States.
Had congressionally mandated funding been provided as promised under the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, the EMP Commission would’ve continued its distinguished service. While some may celebrate the disappearance of a government program, the commission is warranted by today’s geopolitical and technological challenges. The EMP Commission’s work is anything but finished.
The prospect of life in modern society without electricity is daunting. Such difficulties have been well highlighted during an hurricane season that has left areas of Texas, Florida, and the U.S. islands in prolonged blackout.
Such begs the question, given the dangers, why was funding stripped from Congresses’ best technical advisers? Has the threat diminished? Have we acted on the commission’s recommendations? Have we acted on the Government Accountability Office’s recommendations calling for whole of government to prepare for EMP contingencies? The answer to each is to the contrary.
The primary duty of a nation’s government is to ensure the survival of the state and citizens. Without an EMP advisory group supporting our increasingly distracted leaders, our vulnerabilities will grow, and in time, be exploited.
While we should hope for the best, our survival and security should not be left to the whims of madmen and chance. Thus, good strategy requires we plan for the worst or, as Lloyds warns, an “almost inevitable” eventuality.
Congress should take all necessary actions to reduce this threat and reinstate the original commission. It’s right for the economy, its’ right for our security, and it’s right for our citizens.
No such national vulnerability has ever offered an enemy so much for so little. We must move to protect America’s power grid from EMP now.
Life in every corner of America depends on electricity. What would you do without it?
David Stuckenberg serves as the chairman of the American Leadership & Policy Foundation and is veteran combat pilot.