Threat from the Gulf of Mexico

By Amb. Henry F. Cooper
Tuesday, December 31st, 2013 @ 5:55AM

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If you live near the Gulf of Mexico, you are the front line to an emerging existential threat to all Americans. The electromagnetic pulse (EMP) from a nuclear weapon exploded a hundred miles above the U.S. could kill 60-90 percent of all Americans. Though efforts in 2013 made progress in gaining awareness of this key problem, much remains to be done to get the powers that be to address this well-known threat that could be launched by Iran or terrorists from a ship in the Gulf.

It is a fact that the EMP created by a single nuclear weapon exploded a hundred miles above the United States could lead to the death of several hundred million Americans.

And this kind of attack could be delivered by Iran or terrorist groups.

The congressionally-mandated nonpartisan EMP Commission reported these findings almost a decade ago. Yet neither Republican nor Democrat administrations, nor congress, have seriously addressed this all too real threat, which could and now should be countered, especially in view of the events of the past year. So, we have decided to focus our efforts on informing grass roots America and local and state authorities about this urgent threat and what can be done about it.

* First, we know EMP effects are real-and potentially catastrophic.

The U.S. first observed them on atmospheric nuclear tests in the early 1960s. For example, a U.S. high altitude nuclear test (Starfish Prime) in the South Pacific turned out lights in Hawaii, almost a thousand miles away.

Today, the effects would be much more damaging because modern electronics are much more vulnerable to EMP than were the electronics of the early 1960s. Indeed, a burst over the continental U.S. could bring our entire “just in time” economy to an indefinite standstill-we could lose for many months the electric power grid and our communications, transportation, banking and other critical infrastructure systems upon which we depend for survival.

The effects of even a single high altitude nuclear burst today would impose an indefinitely long return to the 19th century, but without the agrarian society that supported everyone during those days. Now, without those essentials, most Americans would perish for lack of food and other necessities. For example, diabetics without Insulin would die, as would others without critically needed prescriptions filled.  How long would it be before civil order would break down if those in our cities were without the benefits of our globally dependent, just-in-time economy? And then what?

Dr. William R. Graham, President Reagan’s science advisor, an expert on EMP effects and as Chairman of the nonpartisan EMP Commission, testified to congress that up to two thirds of all Americans could die within the next 12 months. Others think the percentage could be higher.

* Second, these EMP effects are well known, including to rogue states and terrorists who wish to kill us.

Of course, the Russians understand EMP effects, perhaps better than we, from the Soviet’s more extensive high-altitude testing in the 1960s. We hardened our strategic forces to counter their attack plans during the Cold War so that we could retaliate if the Soviets attacked us or our allies. We depended on that threat to deter them from attacking in the first place. And so we relied upon deterrence rather than hardening our critical civil infrastructure against EMP.

Others, who may not be deterred by threats of retaliation, also understand the EMP threat-and at least some appear to have learned from the Russians how to build advanced nuclear weapons of lower yield to maximize the EMP effects. And technology for ballistic missile delivery systems has proliferated widely. For example, the EMP Commission concluded that Iran well understood EMP and over a decade ago actually tested some of its ballistic missiles in ways that are consistent with carrying out such a high-altitude EMP attack with ballistic missiles launched from vessels off our coasts.  This past year, Iranian officials explicitly stated in conjunction with impressive operational exercises that they could attack us from off our coasts, including from the Gulf of Mexico.

To reinforce that this point has been well understood for a long time, click here to watch a very informative roundtable discussion of the EMP threat, which was conducted at the Heritage Foundation on August 15. Also watch the American Center for Democracy’s  September 30, 2013, roundtable discussion on “Cyber/Space, EMP Insecurity – Current and Future Threats”.

Additional information can be found on our webpage:, including more recent examples of the growing instability in the Middle East, in particular as Iran continues its steady pace toward gaining nuclear weapons-now perhaps only months away as ill-advised diplomatic efforts seem destined to fail.

* Third, our current missile defenses, if appropriately deployed, could defend against such attack-but our deployment strategy needs improvement.

Most notably the Navy’s Standard Missile now at sea on about 30 (growing to about 35 by 2015) of our Aegis ships have demonstrated this inherent capability. Some of these ships are usually operating near our east and west coasts, and could shoot down such attacking missiles from vessels off our coasts if launched within their striking radius. On a random day during 2012, there were 4-6 Aegis ships along our eastern seaboard or in east coast ports-from which they could defend against off-coast attacks if they were prepared to do so. Thus, improved readiness of our missile defense capable Aegis ships operating near our coasts could improve the defense against ballistic missiles launched from nearby vessels. Actually, if inter-netted with a TYP-2 radar deployed in Maine, they could also defend against Iranian intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) launched over the North Pole to attack the U.S.

But of greater importance for those of you near the Gulf of Mexico is the fact that our Aegis ships don’t operate in the Gulf. So we are completely vulnerable to attacks from the south-from ships off our southern coasts, or from Venezuela which Iran is helping to develop ballistic missiles. Last year, Panama stopped a North Korean ship in the canal carrying from Cuba two hidden (happily unarmed) nuclear capable SA-2 ballistic missiles. This is a major concern.   Some good news is that the recently signed Defense Authorization Act for 2014 directs the Secretary of Defense to recommend how our Homeland Defenses can be improved. Specifically, it directs that ballistic missile threats from vessels off our coasts, including from the Gulf of Mexico, be included-as well as other threats from the South.

* Fourth, we can easily afford an effective defense against this threat-indeed, in my opinion and for reasons summarized below, we cannot afford not to defend against it.

We can adapt an on-going program that is now developing defenses to protect our European allies against exactly the same kind of threat from Iran. This program, called “Aegis Ashore,” is composed of the Standard Missile carried on our Aegis ships, and its associated radar and command and control systems, deployed as a modular unit on land-initially in Romania (by 2015) and then in Poland (by 2018). Work has begun on the site in Romania and preliminary steps have been agreed in Poland.

The first U.S. Aegis Ashore site became operational for testing purposes in Hawaii in December, reportedly built for $400 million. We could easily afford build effective Aegis Ashore sites at several military bases in states around the Gulf of Mexico, on the same time frame as is formally planned for the sites in Romania and Poland.

All development costs are funded by the existing program-with the exception of Environmental Impact Statements required before such U.S. sites are formally selected. Deployment and operations costs may be more than in Hawaii but should be less than in Europe.

* Fifth, time is running out for us to provide these needed defenses against Iran and its agents.

In 2012, Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said that Israel has no roots in the Middle East and would be “eliminated” . . . echoing his previous claims that Israel is a “tumor” to be “wiped off the map.” In his speech to the U.N. General Assembly on one of Judaism’s holiest days- Yom Kippur, he referred to Israelis as “uncivilized Zionists” and railed against the U.S. and European Union as having “entrusted themselves to the devil.”

Iran’s threats to “Little Satan” Israel cannot be separated from its threat to “Great Satan” America, as Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards missile section, clarified just before those same U.N. sessions. On Iran’s Arab-language network, he said, that if Israel and Iran engage militarily, “nothing is predictable… and it will turn into World War III.” And further, “In circumstances in which they [the Israelis] have prepared everything for an attack, it is possible that we will make a pre-emptive attack. Any Israeli strike would be presumed to be authorized by the U.S. Therefore, we will definitely attack U.S. bases in Bahrain, Qatar and Afghanistan.”

Iran has expanded its defensive and offensive capabilities with help from China, Russia, North Korea and other nations amid demands-to little or no avail- by the U.N. and Western nations that it cease its program for making a bomb in violation of its international agreements. Iranian leaders have flouted the fact that sanctions had not worked-though they apparently did well enough to bring Iran to the negotiating table-after Hassan Rouhani replaced Ahmadinejad as Iran’s President last August, and the world applauded his U.N. charm offensive in September.

Ali Khamenei is still Iran’s Supreme Leader dedicated to the same goals as when Ahmadinejad was President-so nothing really changed. However, Rouhani’s softer diplomatic approach apparently gained relief from sanctions that had squeezed Iran’s economy. U.S. diplomats, led by Secretary of State John Kerry, last November foolishly agreed to relieve the sanctions, while in effect only hoping that Iran would slow down (but not stop) their obvious efforts to process uranium and plutonium for nuclear weapons.

At best, Iran’s development program to reach a “breakout capability” was delayed a few months-if it doesn’t already exist. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the agreement was a “historic mistake,” and even at least 13 U.S. Democratic Senators apparently agreed, parted company with the President and are joining a like number of Republicans to sponsor legislation to restore even more sanctions if there is no progress in the next several months. Stay tuned.

If (many would say “when”) Iran gets nuclear weapons and mates them to their extensive supply of ballistic missiles of all ranges, they will have a major capability to launch these missiles against Israel and the United States. As we have previously discussed, Iran can use ballistic missiles to strike the U.S. with nuclear weapons, using: 1) short or medium range ballistic missiles launched from vessels off our coasts, 2) ICBMs launched over the North Pole, and/or 3) nuclear armed satellites that approach the U.S. from over the South Pole. If we take measures immediately, we can quickly counter the first two threats, but will have only limited near-term capability to respond to the third. All three could deliver an EMP attack on the U.S.

If any or all of these options were used to attack us, Iran would no doubt precede any such attack with operations intended to distract and confuse us. For example, Iran could employ the impressive ballistic missile capability they demonstrated in 2012 comprehensive exercises. Iran’s high-flying ballistic missiles could overwhelm U.S. missile defenses in the Persian Gulf, where much of the world’s oil passes. Its fast-attack boats could swarm a battleship and possibly sink it-remember the USS Cole destroyer that was almost sunk in the Yemen port of Aden by al-Qaeda using a single high speed boat on October 12, 2000 (killing 17 American sailors and wounding 39 others)? And Iran’s submarine fleet carries torpedoes that can threaten our ships.

The Iranian navy could hit us at least one time at sea or on shore, after which we would probably destroy their navy and most of their land-based missile capability. But they may not act alone-and not only in the Persian Gulf. And meanwhile they could be preparing for the main attraction, perhaps phased, to attack Israel and then the U.S. in one or more of the above scenarios.

In the midst of this confusion, sympathetic Islamic riots also could and probably would go global. Why should we believe that, if Iran goes to war in the Middle East, such on-demand demonstrations and riots will not also happen in the U.S.-as well as direct attacks on the international commerce upon which our “just in time” markets depend? In my view we must prepare for that eventuality. And time may be running out,

* Sixth, Washington’s counters to this growing threat seem too little, too late.

President Obama and his administration seem to be trying to separate the U.S. plight from that of Israel. In spite of his claims to support Israel, his policies seem more consistent with preparing to live with an Iran armed with nuclear weapons rather than supporting Israel’s insistence on stopping Iran from getting them. This may well turn out to be a “fool’s errand” that leads to Iranian nuclear attacks on both the “Little Satan” Israel and the “Great Satan” America.

While Israel is doing all it can to deal with this threat, U.S. lethargic policies continue to leave us vulnerable to any number of threat scenarios that could involve an existential EMP attack on the U.S. before we can build operational defenses against such an attack. Among the most worrisome scenarios are attacks from vessels off our coasts, particularly from the Gulf of Mexico, and attacks from nuclear-armed satellites that approach the U.S. from over the South Pole. Even terrorist surrogates can perform the former in ways Iran practiced over a decade ago and Iran last year tested satellites launched over the South Polar region in ways that could execute the latter.

We can counter the EMP threat by shooting down Iranian ballistic missiles, if we prepare to do so-our problem is persuading the powers that be to make the needed preparations-both to provide effective defenses and to harden U.S. critical infrastructure to EMP effects. For the third congress in a row, proposed legislation to empower the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission with authority and resources to harden key elements of our electric power grid remains bottled up in congressional inaction. Yet it is obviously important to assure the survival/rapid revival of the power that underpins our critical infrastructure without which many millions of Americans would perish, as discussed above. The currently proposed Shield Act has overwhelming bipartisan support in the House and Senate, but currently is being blocked in the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

*Seventh, I believe that our best hope for ending the above discussed apathy is to educate the grass roots about the threat and help them with a bottoms-up effort to demand that Washington powers that be live up to their oath to provide for the common defense.

My bottom line conclusions in last year’s message have been reinforced and expanded by our studies over the past year (See

* The U.S. cannot avoid involvement in a war between Iran and Israel, regardless of who starts it.

* If such a war begins, it will likely spread globally like wildfire, fanned by Islamist terrorists . . . including within the United States.

* Today, we cannot assure that Iran cannot launch ballistic missiles from vessels off our coasts and, if mated with a nuclear weapon, detonate it high above the U.S. creating an EMP-causing no physical damage, but ultimately leading to the death of several hundred million Americans.

* We are currently unprepared to defend against such an attack or to provide for the survival of millions of Americans if it were to occur-especially from the Gulf of Mexico.

* We are also vulnerable to nuclear armed satellites launched over the South Polar region to attack the U.S. from the South.

* An affordable near-term defense against the former is clearly possible, with enlightened leadership. Countering the latter threat is more difficult but there are ways to start and long-term solutions.

As noted above, Congress recently passed and the President signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014 that includes clear guidance to the Department of Defense to report on how our homeland missile defenses can be improved-with clear instructions to consider threats from vessels off our coasts, including from the Gulf of Mexico, and other threats from the South that should include nuclear-armed satellites such as those previously tested by Iran.

*This is an excerpt from Ambassador Cooper’s “open letter”, December 30, 2013

Categories: ACD/EWI Blog, EMP, Latest News, U.S. Policy

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