EMP & Nuclear Proliferation Threats
By Dr. Peter Pry
Wednesday, October 16th, 2013 @ 1:52AM
The following is Dr. Peter Pry’s discussion during ACD’s September 30 symposium on “Energy, Space, and Cyber Security – Current and Future Threats.” Dr. Peter Pry is the Executive Director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security.
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I am the Executive Director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security, which is a congressional advisory board. And before that, I worked on the House Armed Services Committee, and before that the CIA. I’ve spent all of my professional life working on weapons of mass destruction, including EMP. EMP is the threat that’s always concerned me the most because it was the least understood and it can do the most damage with the smallest investment. But I think all of us here seem to be experts on EMP now.
On EMP, China and Russia are light years ahead of us . On the Congressional EMP Commission, we found that Russia has developed what they call a Super-EMP weapon, a new generation of nuclear weapon specifically designed to create EMP. The Super is basically a gamma ray producer. Very low yield; on the order of a couple kilotons, or even less. And it generates a tremendous EMP pulse, an E-1 pulse of 200 kilovolts per meter, according to Russian military writings. That is for every meter of dimension in the object being attacked, you get 200,000 volts. So if it’s 2 meters long, that’s 400,000. Multiply by 200,000 volts the dimension in meters of the target – that’s the amount of energy. Imagine the energy transferred to power lines or communications lines that can run for kilometers.
The EMP phenomenon begins above an altitude of 30 kilometers. But the ideal attack would be to place one about 400 kilometers within the center of the country. That puts the EMP field down over all 48 contiguous United States. And it would be 100 kilovolts per meter at the horizon with the 200 kilovolt peak field. Russia and China are the only countries in the world that have hardened their infrastructures against EMP. They did it back in the Cold War because they believed you could fight and win a nuclear war. At least the Soviets did. And we now know – fairly recently because it’s only a recent discovery – about the so-called Underground Great Wall in China. The Chinese have built thousands of kilometers of underground facilities very similar to what the Russians and the Soviets before them did. And they have hardened their critical infrastructure.
The Russians told us – we were actually visited by a delegation from Moscow, two Russian generals, their top experts on EMP – to warn the Commission that there had been a technology leak from Russia to North Korea on the secret of the Super-EMP weapon. They predicted – this was in 2004 – that, within a few years, North Korea would be capable of developing a Super-EMP weapon. And a couple of years later in 2006, they did their first [nuclear] test. And all of the tests have been the same. These low-yield weapons, one to three kilotons, the Western press has tended to declare to be failures because the yields were so low. I mean, a nominal atomic bomb should have a yield of about 10 kilotons.
These are on the order of one to two kilotons. And no leakage of radionuclides from the tests, which almost always happens. This indicates something like a pure fusion weapon, which is consistent with the Super-EMP weapon. South Korean military intelligence independently came to the conclusion that Russians were in North Korea helping them develop Super-EMP weapons. Then in 2012, a military commentator for People’s Republic of China said the North Koreans have Super-EMP weapons.
To make matters worse, you don’t actually need a Super-EMP weapon. Any nuclear weapon would do: our electrical grid is not hardened, at all.
Any nuclear weapon detonated anywhere above 30 kilometers over the Eastern U.S. would cause a national catastrophe. You could use a meteorological balloon to get up that high. Last year an acrobat had himself lofted up into the stratosphere by balloon above 30 kilometers with a heavy sky-diving suit demonstrating that you can get heavy objects up to that altitude by balloon. We knew it before he did that. One of our concerns was that you could use a meteorological balloon to lift any kind of warhead up to that altitude, 30 kilometers or higher, and detonate the warhead anywhere over the United States – preferably someplace over the Eastern seaboard, because the Eastern Grid generates 70 percent of our electricity. And the country can’t survive without the Eastern Grid. If you take down the Eastern Grid, all the critical infrastructures are going to collapse.
One of the things that makes this so tragic is there’s really no excuse for the country to be vulnerable to EMP. We have known for decades how to protect military systems against EMP. And it’s far easier to protect the civilian grid. There are things like Faraday cages and surge arresters they could use. At the heart of the grid are EHV transformers, Extremely High Voltage transformers. They are to our civilization what the aqueducts were to the Romans. You can’t have a grid – you can’t have a modern society – without these EHV transformers.
They aren’t built in this country anymore. They were invented here by Nikolai Tesla. They were originally built here. We exported the electric grid to the world. But unfortunately, like so many things, we don’t make EHV transformers here anymore. There’s only two countries in the world that make EHV transformers for export: South Korea and Germany. And the worldwide production of EHV transformers is 180 per year – because the windings have to be done by hand, the old fashioned way, just the way Nikolai Tesla did it. And we have about 3,000 EHV transformers in this country. So it doesn’t take a genius to do the arithmetic that if you lose 1,000 EHV transformers, how many years will it take to replace them? And it doesn’t take a year for people to starve to death massively. This is why the Commission estimated that within a year, given our current state of unpreparedness, millions would starve.
There is also natural EMP – because the sun can do this, too, by means of a Carrington class coronal mass ejection. [Holds up a photograph.] That is an actual photograph of a Carrington class coronal mass ejection taken from a satellite. In December 2012 we entered the solar maximum, which means greater risk of the occurrence of a Carrington class coronal mass ejection. You may not be able to see it, but this little blue dot – that’s the relative size of the Earth compared to one of these coronal mass ejections. So you don’t need to be an astrophysicist to understand that if this hits, it’s going to ruin your whole day. A Carrington event would be even worse than a Super-EMP weapon because it would cause an EMP worldwide and collapse electric grids everywhere.
But yet again, the technology is understood, and it’s relatively inexpensive. We think – the Congressional EMP Commission estimated – that for about $2 billion we could protect the whole country, the entire national electric grid. And as we’ve looked at different plans, we’ve been able to bring the price down so that it’s down now around $500 million. There are many ways of doing it. There are three plans described in my book Apocalypse Unknown about how to protect the country, but we haven’t been able to get Congress to do it.
I’m extremely alarmed at what is not being reported in our newsrooms. And while it’s fascinating to talk about the future, I frankly am increasingly concerned that we may not have any future, given how blind we are about what’s going on and what isn’t being talked about. It’s appalling to me to hear the whole focus on the media reporting and what we’re focused on in this town today is over sequestration, over the budget, whether the government is going to shut down.
Going back I guess four weeks ago, over the past four weeks, things that have happened that I find extremely disturbing but that weren’t reported, or were barely reported in the press. I think it was the 2nd of September, on a Monday, when Israel did an unannounced anti-missile test. It was all over the Russian press, but to my knowledge, not mentioned at all except in an article I wrote for LIGNET. The Russian general staff command post went on alert in response to that Israeli anti-missile test and notified Vladimir Putin that unknown missiles were coming out of the Med, headed towards Syria where they have a fleet.
Now, they likened this – their deputy defense minister – likened this to the January 1995 incident (they did, not me), which was the closest we ever came to a nuclear war. And they reminded the international press that on the 25th of January, 1995, when they had detected an unannounced Norwegian meteorological missile, they had nearly pushed the button because they had not been notified. And they likened this thing that happened back in September to the January, 1995 incident. It was the closest we ever came – it was the only time that all three “Chegets,” which is their equivalent to the U.S. nuclear football, the presidential football, were activated.
The Chief of the General Staff, the Defense Minister, and the President – all three of those Chegets were activated, and basically [Mikhail] Kolesnikov, then the Chief of the General Staff, was yelling at Yeltsin, who was President at the time, ‘Push the button!” And it was only Boris Yeltsin, an alcoholic, who couldn’t believe the United States was going to launch a surprise nuclear attack. He waited and paused for ten minutes. And that’s what spared us. That’s how close we came. And they claim, on the 2nd of September because of what the Israelis did, that this was another incident, a nuclear war scare. Totally unreported.
The Israelis had launched two target missiles. They were testing their anti-missile system. So it was scheduled in advance and the bureaucracy, I guess, just decided – despite the fact that there was a crisis going on in Syria – to launch these two target missiles from the central Mediterranean toward the eastern Med to be intercepted. And the Israelis – only after the Russians came out and made a warning about: hey, who’s launching missiles in the Mediterranean – did they say, well, we did it. And then they declared it was a success.
There’s another event that I’m just sort of amazed at: That is the Russian fleet that nobody seems to think much of. The Russians are closely aligned with Syria, made it clear that their national interests are tied up there. There are probably tactical nuclear weapons on that Russian fleet. Where do our people think these 8,000 tactical nuclear weapons the Russians have are? In storage? We know from their exercises, the military writings, that these things play a very important role in their defense plans. The Moskva, which is now the flagship of the Russian fleet off Syria, during the Cold War, we understood that that thing carried tactical nuclear weapons that had yields of 300 kilotons on anti-ship missiles. So that Russian fleet’s probably got tactical nuclear weapons on it. The whole thing strikes me as being like 1914 all over again.
In Syria the President passed the buck to Congress. And Congress and the President, now that we’re engaged in negotiations, our fleet is still there, we passed the buck to the U.S. Navy and to the Russian fleet as well, who are going to be watching each other because they have no alternative. Both sides, the U.S. and Russian fleets and their military establishments, are watching each other like hawks with their national tactical means, just in case something should happen. What if there’s some kind of a glitch with a satellite? What if Hezbollah or Iran or somebody who would love to see the United States and Russia get into a nuclear war with each other decides to use cyber warfare to try to provoke something? The Iranians have got Silkworm anti-ship missiles from China. They’ve got Sunburn [anti-ship] missiles from the Russians to attack our guys and start a war, like 1914. We’ve got all these actors, many of whom have an interest in seeing us go to war with each other, and nobody’s talking about that.
Let me just step through a couple of other headlines that should have been – things that happened over the past few weeks that have really bothered me that our own Western media has largely ignored. Syria had crossed the chemical redline, but now they’re going to go into negotiation.
North Korea restarted the Yongbyon reactor, and that has gone virtually unreported, which is crossing another redline. That was supposed to be a redline with North Korea: They were not going to restart that reactor, but they did. And not even Fox News has mentioned it. You know, that reactor produces enough plutonium for two atomic bombs a year.
On Friday, Maariv, an Israeli newspaper, reported that interviews with Israeli government experts – Israeli experts who have elected to remain anonymous – show they believe that the redline in Iran has already been crossed and that it’s too late to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.
They concluded that Iran has probably already developed at least one nuclear weapon. And you know, I think that that is so. Congressman Bartlett and I two years ago wrote an article in the Washington Times warning that Iran may already have the bomb. It just astonishes me that we have this – you know, that we truly are a culture of strategic optimists. I mean here’s a country [Iran] that’s had a nuclear weapons program for 30 years – 30 years! And, supposedly, in 30 years they haven’t been able to build an atomic bomb when the United States in World War II, in the Manhattan Project, working with 1930s-1940s era technology, built two atomic bombs of completely different design in just three years.
And the Iranians had help from North Korea, the Russians and Chinese, and, yet, we say that it’s still a year before they’re going to get the bomb! Why do we think that? Because the Iranians told the UN International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors, supposedly, exactly how many centrifuges they really have. The Administration’s calculations are all based on information provided by Iran to the IAEA.
You know, the last thing – building on what Jim Woolsey said – if you pull all of this together, you know, the EMP, the cyber warfare, with the doctrine – the adversary doctrine of the Russians, the Chinese, North Koreans. To them cyber warfare, information warfare, is not just computer viruses. They may use kinetic attacks like those AK-47s that were used in San Jose – all the way up to nuclear EMP attack. And it’s almost like, over the past several years, we’ve seen a dry run happening.
They’ve been attacking us, maybe not doing everything that they could. I think that these things are more like exploratory scouting expeditions to see how vulnerable our critical infrastructures really are to their viruses and those kinds of attacks. Now, we’ve had a couple of instances where we had kinetic attacks on transformers. The San Jose one was clearly professional. They haven’t found those so-called vandals. We don’t know who they were, and they were using AK-47s when they did it.
That North Korean freighter that was stopped for smuggling drugs to Panama had SA-2 missiles on it. Now, that is a nuclear-capable surface-to-air missile. The Russians designed it so that it could carry a nuclear warhead. Now, they didn’t have nuclear warheads on them. But it’s just fascinating that it just happened to be discovered by accident – because they were investigating the freighter for smuggling drugs – that we found that here’s a North Korean vessel that brought a nuclear-capable missile into the Caribbean, which was the EMP Commission’s nightmare scenario.
Our worst-case scenario was that Iran or North Korea or somebody would put a short-range missile, or some kind of missile, on a freighter and do an EMP attack from a freighter, launch it up over the East Coast of the United States. And here we’ve actually found a freighter that had a nuclear-capable missile in it, discovered just by accident when it was trying to go through the Panama Canal. How many other things have been going on like that? So you’ve got all the building blocks here, and I wonder how much time we have. I wonder how much time.
The last thing I will mention is the complexity of our world now and all the different pathways in which things could lead to apocalypse. I mean 99 years ago, this August just past, World War I started because the political and military leadership of the time were overwhelmed by the technology of the time. The technology involved in the act of mobilizing armies was something they didn’t anticipate, the complexity of it, the risk of trying to de-escalate once mobilization had started.
So all it took was one bullet from a Serbian terrorist to send us down a path that our great minds of the time, the political and military leaders and the crowned heads of Europe, could not control. They could not control it. How much more complex is the technology and the difference between war and peace today? Then, the decision between war and peace was based on days and weeks. Now it’s minutes and seconds, and extremely potentially fallible and cyber-vulnerable satellite systems – and all kinds of bad guys out there who would love to see an apocalypse that would take out the United States and Russia both.
There’s just one last thing I want to mention. Thursday, the Russians finished Zapad 13, which is a big military exercise that they held. Again, another thing that hasn’t been mentioned in the press, while they’re negotiating with us on behalf of the Syrians. And this exercise, by the way, was witnessed by President Putin and Aleksandr Lukashenka, President of Belarus. It was a joint exercise between Russia and Belarus that in a matter of a couple of days delivered 22,000 troops from central Russia to the gates of Poland and the Baltic states – 22,000 troops. That is almost exactly the same number of the active duty personnel in the combined armed forces of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia – 22,000.
And there were enormous protests. Poles, I think accurately, objected that the exercise featured a simulated nuclear strike on Warsaw. So here’s just another thing that the Western press seems to have no interest in whatsoever that might perhaps raise some questions about the sincerity of our Russian negotiating partners in Syria and the like. Anyway, thank you for letting me get all those events off my chest. What their collective significance is yet, I hope, will come to no significance.