“To Live or Not to Live” — Protecting Against EMP Attack
By Dr. William Fortschen
Monday, October 14th, 2013 @ 1:27AM
Below is Dr. William Fortschen’s presentation of preparations to survive an electromagnetic pulse. Forstchen, author of the bestseller One Second After, spoke at the American Center for Democracy’s symposium on “Energy, Space and Cyber Security-Current and Future Threats,” on September 30, 2013.
“My background was in the history of technology. And I want to spend just one minute on how I wound up in the field of EMP threat. By a coincidence, on the day that the Congressional report on the threat of Electro MP came out, which was chaired by Congressman Roscoe Bartlett, and it is an honor to share this forum with Dr. Pry was a very key moving force in that report, I happened to be in DC on the same day the report on the threat of EMP was released in 2004. And in a discussion that evening with Newt Gingrich, the comment came up that there was zero response to this report.
Newt asked me to go over to talk to Congressman Bartlett, who inspired me with a very simple observation: that the problem truly is that there’s no constituency. Mention EMP to any group of citizens, and you’re nowhere. Mention any number of other issues: The one I like to point out is (we might recall) that horrific incident about four years back of a woman who was attacked by a chimpanzee and her face was destroyed. Congress passed a law outlawing the ownership of chimpanzees. So you’re safe when you come to my house now. But the point is, what’s the probability threat there of any of us being attacked in such a manner versus the threat of EMP? When writing my novel about EMP, “One Second After,” I was inspired by the classics of my youth, particularlyAlas, Babylon and On the Beach.
Thus, I wrote the book with the intent of trying to get a popular novel out there that took a complex issue and put it into a small community, and what happens to each one of us individually. What happens to us, our parents, our children, our town? And the book was 12 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.
I want to shift into some of the things that, as my background in military history and the history of technology now applies to warfare, and that is the issue of EMP.
EMP is a first-strike weapon. And it’s a technological game changer. Throughout the history of warfare, we have always seen that the losing side in a war often trumps the victor in the next conflict by rethinking the paradigm. A very simple example is Crecyand Agincourt, battles fought during the 100 Years War of the 14th & 15th century where the M-1 tanks of their time, the French armored nobility, suddenly encountered English longbow men.
Thus we see all the way to the present a technology that’s been dismissed (or recently realized) that trumps what’s considered to be the existing, dominant force on the battlefield. What is the primary issue that Sun Tzu talks about – and almost every military writer after him – regarding the opening moves of warfare? The destruction of command and control. If you can shut down the command and control of your opponent, you have pretty well won the day before battle is even joined. What is the best way, currently, to take out command and control? It would be cyber attack or EMP.
I was thinking last night about something of the issue of morale. I recently read that what really broke the morale of the average German soldier – starting around 1943 – was not necessarily their being pushed back in North Africa or the debacle on the Eastern front. It was men going home on furlough or wounded or getting letters and seeing that city after city after city was getting leveled. While they fought on the front lines, their wives, their children, their families, their homeland was being flattened. That was a crucial factor in breaking the morale of the German troops. I remember talking with a German soldier, a veteran of the Russian front, who said the most terrifying experience of his life was that he happened to be in Hamburg when it was hit. He said it shook him for the rest of the war.
He realized they were going to lose, as he put it. We see regarding command and control, a first strike via EMP or cyber attack as a decapitation of information. But it also strikes morale. And then you have societal breakdown. We need not go through an exercise here of what happens if the electricity turns off in the next minute and what happens to this city within the hour.
But, as an old hero of mine, Rod Serling, once said: “Presented for your consideration.” I present for your consideration what if on 9/11, we all saw the first minute of the impact on the second World Trade Center tower and the Pentagon. And then the entire news grid went down. Think of the panic that would have struck across the country within the hour. We have been used to ever since the age of technology – excuse me, actually since the advent of telegraphy – to having instant access to information. Particularly within the last 15 years. I’m a college teacher. If my kids walk out of the classroom (or even in the classroom) and they can’t immediately text their boyfriend or their parents, they’re throwing a panic attack. Think of the shutdown of command and control but also the communication grid of a civilian society. What happens next? It’s a grim proposition.
One of the things that I found difficult in communicating the threat of EMP and cyber attack is that the mere discussion of it often brings on a certain level of shock and resulting non-responses. A good analogy to that is what the film On the Beach created. How many of you have actually seen the filmOn the Beach? I read an article a while back pointing out thatOn the Beach was a contributing factor in the shutting down of the American Civil Defense system that had been developed in the ’40s and the ’50s. The reason being that when On the Beach came out, it presented such an overwhelming, catastrophic view of thermonuclear war as a planet-destroying event, that the attitude then became: “Why in hell are we even bothering to try and prepare our infrastructure, build command and control centers, dig bunkers in back yards? It’s all meaningless.”
The infamous line: “The living will envy the dead.” That is the problem that we here face today. How do we convince the general populus, voters, the people up on the Hill, that the cyber threats that you’re talking about – which sound sci-fi to some, how do we convince them that these are real and that in preparing for such an event we might actually prevent an enemy from attempting it? It seems so overwhelming that most people react with: “Oh, hell, somebody else will figure it out.” Or: “I’ll go back to my Xbox.”
I do see glimmers of hope. There are constituencies that are starting to react. How many of you are familiar with the fact that the state of Maine has actually passed a bill to start infrastructure hardening. The state representative who wrote the bill read my book and decided to respond protectively rather than give into passive inaction. The same is about to happen in my home state of North Carolina. I’d like to introduce my friend Sid Morris, from Charlotte, North Carolina, who is with us today. Sid’s NOAH Foundation is working aggressively with the State of North Carolina, and also with Duke Energy. I think we’re going to be on the edge of agreements both with Duke and with the governor of North Carolina and in turn our state legislators. North Carolina will thus start to prepare as well. So even if we’re not seeing success at the federal level, we are starting to see success at the state level.
[Moderator Rachel Ehrenfeld asks what NOAH is doing. Fortschen responds.]
They are working on developing survivable infrastructure. Developing command and control nodes that are survivable, addressing issues of cyber security, and hardening infrastructure against EMP. That’s the goal that the NOAH Foundation – they’re just down the road from me and they operate politically and within the community.
We’re having a remarkable experience here, today. But we’re all preaching to the choir. How do we build a broader constituency to react to make sure devastation via EMP doesn’t happen? Or better yet, to create such a sound infrastructure that an opponent dare not risk such an attack as a first strike, knowing the impact will be minimal and the response overwhelming. Thank you for the honor of being here.”