In what would be a major about-face for the federal government, President Trump is reportedly preparing to sign an executive order to study the risks of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack on the US.
Despite the fact that a growing number of scientists and national security experts see an EMP attack on the US electricity grid as one of the greatest terror threats facing the country, the DoD decided in late 2017 to defund a Congressional committee that had been studying the EMP threat since 2001. The DoD terminated funding for the Commission to Assess the Threat to the US from Electromagnetic Pulse Attack in September 2017, just as the threat from North Korea - considered a rogue state that could pull off an EMP attack with one of its nukes - was reaching a fever pitch.
The frustrating thing about this subject is that it has been studied, for over 30 years, and Congress refuses to pay attention. “The Report of the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from ElectroMagnetic Pulse (EMP)” was released September 11, 2001. Unfortunately another event committed “by some people” on that same day meant that the report, and its horrifying conclusions of the cataclysm that will follow an EMP was never noticed. That’s understandable, but there’s no excuse for not revisiting the issue during the ensuing 18 years, especially because our dependence on electronic circuitry has probably doubled since then.
Three low-grade nuclear bombs, exploded hundreds of miles above us, will destroy every electrical component in the United States. That includes not just our power plants, but computers, all means of transportation, all communications: land line and cell phones, radio, television (okay, an EMP wouldn’t be an unmitigated disaster) refrigerators, and so on: everything in our modern society.
The WSJ reported on this topic at least a decade ago, and some five years ago I happened to be at an otherwise boring party and by sheer good luck ended up seated next to a former Secretary of the Navy, just back from a War College conference on the risks and the consequences of an EMP attack. He told me that the consensus of experts there was that 90% of our population would be dead with six months.
Just as an example: NYC holds something like 10 million people; deprive them of food, water and heat for just three days, let alone six months, and the city will erupt. They’ll have mostly starved to death or killed one another in one month; the War College’s conclusion must have included in its calculation of death a higher survival rate in our mid-west farm country — but even those people may well succumb quickly to rioting mobs from the cities.
None of this is new, nor is it unthinkable. In fact, it may almost be inevitable. We could avoid the very worst of this by hardening our power grid, at the cost of just a few billion dollars, but spending money on something as unsexy as our power grid holds no attraction for politicians (see, e.g., building new bridges vs maintaining those we already have — no politician’s ever made the front page chipping paint off a bridge support girder).
The only consolation in all this is if we do all die, our feckless politicians will go along for the ride with the rest of us.