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  • The Very Real Threat of Terrorist EMP Attack

    The USA Today has a much needed article out today on the vulnerability of our nation to Electromagnetic pulses (EMP). Unfortunately the author doesn’t seem to understand the limitations of deterrence against a terrorist EMP attack. The USA Today reports:

    In the nuclear scenario, the detonation of an atomic bomb anywhere from 25 to 500 miles high electrifies, or ionizes, the atmosphere about 25 miles up, triggering a series of electromagnetic pulses. The pulse’s reach varies with the size of the bomb, the height of its blast and design.

    One complication for rogue nations or terrorists contemplating a high-altitude nuclear blast is that such an attack requires a missile to take the weapon at least 25 miles high to trigger the electromagnetic pulse. For nations, such a launch would invite massive nuclear retaliation from the USA’s current stockpile of 5,000 warheads, many of them riding in submarines far from any pulse effects.

    But who would the U.S. retaliate against? And the technological barriers to producing an effective EMP attack are shrinking everyday. The Heritage Foundation’s Jena Baker McNeil explains:

    For countries less dependent on modern technol­ogies and electronics, including both rogue states like Iran and North Korea as well as stateless terrorist groups, EMP provides a potential way to attack the United States through asymmetric means. EMPs could be used to circumvent America’s superior con­ventional military power while reducing vulnerabil­ity to retaliation in kind. It would certainly not be impossible for a terrorist organization, especially if state-sponsored, to acquire or construct an unso­phisticated ballistic missile (non-working Scuds are reportedly available on the open market for $100,000) and use it in an EMP attack against Amer­ica. Such a missile could be launched from a freighter in international waters and detonated in the atmosphere over the United States without warning.

    Heritage’s James Carafano sketches out how a coordinated “Scud in a bucket” attack might unfold:

    Iran’s Shahab-3, an advanced Scud variant, seems capable of traveling 1,000 kilometers and carrying as much as a 10-kiloton warhead. It couldn’t reach Washington from Tehran, but then, it wouldn’t have to. Iran could easily extend the missile’s reach simply by moving it to a commercial freighter and firing it from nearby using an improvised vertical launch tube disguised as cargo.

    In many ways, Scud in a bucket is the ultimate weapon. It could sail close to U.S. waters without being subject to inspection by the Coast Guard or Customs. The enemy could fire the missile and scuttle the ship, leaving no record of who launched the attack.

    If Iran has one missile and nuclear weapon, it might have two. It could detonate one over New York in a low-altitude air burst that would kill up to a half-million and cripple Manhattan forever.

    Iran could fire a second at high altitude over the mid-Atlantic states, creating an electro-magnetic pulse that would take down a large portion of the national grid and plunge Washington, D.C., into permanent darkness.

    Why on earth should America’s leaders leave our country open to this kind of threat? A better solution would be to require the Navy to develop a test program for sea-based interceptors with the capability to intercept and destroy ballistic missiles carrying EMP weapons prior to detonation.

    Our nation’s infrastructure is also in need of hardening to minimize the damage from natural EMPs from the sun, but there is no reason we should leave ourselves vulnerable to man made disaster’s as well. Watch 33 Minutes to learn how we can better protect American in the missile age.

    Posted in Security [slideshow_deploy]

    22 Responses to The Very Real Threat of Terrorist EMP Attack

    1. Common Sense, Arvada says:

      I recently read a book by Zachary Hamric called Crescent Rising that has as the main plot this exact kind of attack.

      Fiction writers are often way ahead of politicians imaging current and future threats. In fact, Tom Clancy in his book Debt of Honor flew a 747 into the Capitol years before 9/11.

    2. Pingback: 33 Minutes

    3. Mmorano says:

      I fear EMP more than AGW and paypal going down.

    4. Andy in East Texas says:

      I have wondered about this for quite some time, we are all in danger from this, keep up the good work of informing us of what is REALLY going on.

    5. Andy Stevens, Tenaha says:

      Keep up the good work of keeping us informed!

    6. Steve S. California says:

      What simply amazes me is that we already have a proven system to deal with this type of threat, and you have chosen to simply ignore it by all appearances. It's called ABL (Airborn Laser) and it is now being De-funded by the Obama compliant administration. This system has demonstrated the ability to handle multiple targets simultaneously, regardless of the president's statements to the contrary. Why is it better than your suggestion? Time. Test programs can last for years, and shifting to production normally does as well. ABL can give us good protection in very short order, especially in comparison to a Test program. The money has been spent on development. Your suggestion seems to assume that we have plenty of time to meet this threat. Nothing could be further from the truth. Coherent strategy is important, as is coherent analysis, especially when confronted by such a threat.This should be absolute priority one, and we will rue the day because it's not.

    7. Karen Southern Calif says:

      Very well stated Steve! This current administration seems to be "trying" their best to leave us open & unarmed…but why!? This threat is posiible every minute of every day & yet it seems like some are just choosing to look the other way & pretend that "nothings wrong"!?

    8. Betty says:

      Nov 3d retaliation for "enemies" who need to be punished? A way to declare Martial Law?

    9. James Colorado says:

      I think this administration isn't trying to leave us unprotected Karen. If you look at the arms reduction plan that Obama agreed to, it shows that Russia gives up very little while we reduce our stockpile significantly.

      Beyond that, look at Obama's reactions to the possibility of having to deal with a nuclear Iran in the very near future; he seems unconcerned to the point of appearing bored!

      Obama thinks that America is the last, great COLONIALIST nation in the world. As such, he feels that it is his job to reduce our position in the world from one of "super power" to one of a far lesser role.

      I think that Obama's behavior following the elections will determine whether or not I am right.

    10. josh, ny says:

      this is not a threat. iran would not be the attacker. they would only use their nukes in self-defense to a us invasion a la iraq 2003. yes they are crazy radicals but they're not stupid crazy radicals; they don't want to be glassed by a us counterstrike. they enjoy being in power too much to risk pissing us off. this is a non-serious threat that you're only writing about because the election is next week and you need a scare tactic to bring republicans to the polls.

    11. Tom Cox, Charlotte, says:

      Seems like some ABLs over both coasts all the time, while expensive, would be much cheaper than months or years of chaos in a sudden return to the 18th century (without the collective knowledge or will to deal with it) … of course, some people probably believe we nasty old Americans deserve such a fate. Unfortunately, some of those people are in positions of power and influence in the Obama administration.

    12. Kent Maury, Bangkok, says:

      If you want to really understand the ramifications of an EMP for vthe United States, read "One Second After" by William R. Forstchen. And you think you have issues and problems now … if something happened and a rogue nation or group gets their hands on a nuclear bomb and explodes it in the atmosphere above the United States, you have no idea what problems are. Be concerned, be very concerned about how our government is safe guarding us and our country.

    13. Jeff Harper, Texas says:

      This author seems to believe that one must have a nuclear device to create an EMP attack. From my personal research, all one jerk or group of jerks needs is an electronical device capable of producing EMP and they exist. Also, it is not necessary to explode a nuclear device 25 miles high to get devestating effects. A Russian style “suit-case” nuke or dirty bomb would produce an EMP wave at ground level and wipe out all the electronics in a city the size of Houston.

    14. Jill says:

      Obama wants to hurt us to heal us. He wants to step out in the lime-light while we are broken and bleeding in the streets. He will blame Al Queda and act mad, then have all the answers to our problems. He will have us all move to the cities and live in high rise apartments but without the glitter. Probably no t.v's, no clothes dryers, cook stoves, just as camping like as you can imagine. No heater. No air conditioning. This is what you all have voted for when you vote for a demoncrat. This is what socialism is. It's to control us. When they need something from you, you may get a washing machine. Because they manipulate with the "green" factors to keep us under control. We were perfectly fine using our dishwashers and dryers and t.v's but to control us they take away at the name of "saving the planet", when I have lived here for 40 years using all that stuff and not hurting the environment one little iota. Manipulation. See it and vote tea party and republican. Tell Obama you do not agree with his rape of America.

    15. Pingback: Homeland Security Watch » EMP and solar storms—a fine line between resilience and overreaction

    16. Shane Branning says:

      In the last several years Iran has tested some missles. A US scientist from a Regan era blue ribbon panel went to washington after those tests to inform them

      that Iran had lanched a scud missle from a cargo ship in the gulf or med, I don't

      remember all the details. He warned them that this was a precurser to an emp


      They have already practiced this exact type of attack.

      Practice Makes Perfect!

    17. Fayettebill says:

      @ Jeff – A non-nuclear EMP weapon would have to be hooked up to a fairly massive power supply to generate the EMP pulse. This would most likely make it impractical for terrorist use.

      The low level detonation you reference is called SREMP. Source Region Electro-magnetic Pulse [SREMP]. It is produced by low-altitude nuclear bursts, or possibly a ground burst although with a ground burst detonation the EMP would be very localized. Bad, say for Manhattan, but little effect in the other Boroughs.

      With SREMP, in the source region, peak electric fields greater than 10 5 V/m and peak magnetic fields greater than 4,000 A/m can exist. These are much larger than those from HEMP and pose a considerable threat to military or civilian systems in the affected region. The ground is also a conductor of electricity and provides a return path for electrons at the outer part of the deposition region toward the burst point. Positive ions, which travel shorter distances than electrons and at lower velocities, remain behind and recombine with the electrons returning through the ground. Thus, strong magnetic fields are produced in the region of ground zero. The region where the greatest damage can be produced is from about 3 to 8 km from ground zero. It is a very localized weapon.

      The EMP that can causes regional or national issues is the HEMP or High Altitude Electromagnetic Pulse. A high-altitude nuclear detonation produces an immediate flux of gamma rays from the nuclear reactions within the device. These photons in turn produce high energy free electrons by Compton scattering at altitudes between (roughly) 20 and 40 km. These electrons are then trapped in the Earth’s magnetic field, giving rise to an oscillating electric current. This current is asymmetric in general and gives rise to a rapidly rising radiated electromagnetic field called an electromagnetic pulse (EMP). Because the electrons are trapped essentially simultaneously, a very large electromagnetic source radiates coherently. The pulse can easily span continent-sized areas, and this radiation can affect systems on land, sea, and air.

    18. Bernard, California says:

      Ask yourself, why would a terror organization not try to kill as many people as possible by attacking a city directly? EMP is far too unpredictable to be a good terror weapon, except in the imaginations of our own uninformed scare-mongers.

    19. Jon, Florida says:

      Indeed Arvada, More than one of Tom Clancy's books' plots appears to be playing out right now.

    20. Paul, Wisconsin says:

      "Ask yourself, why would a terror organization not try to kill as many people as possible by attacking a city directly?" really?

      You don't think there's someone out there "possibly" motivated by their religion who may want to send "the great satan" back 100 years?

    21. jack- texas says:

      … for the real ending to all of this, get a Bible and read the truth…

    22. AmandaK says:

      As far as national security goes to prevent an EMP from happening, I've been researching a bit. This is because when I heard about EMP and noticed that not a lot of people are aware of it, not even some people in Congress… I wanted to find more out about it for myself. I came across a guy named James Woolsey; he is "a hero in the world of national security." He's going to be on a Radio Blog show in a couple weeks on Wednesday August 3rd. I think it'd be great to check out. I've listened to some other shows on their site and they have all been excellent. I don't see this one being anything short of that. If you want to check it out, here's the link: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/empact-radio/2011/08

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