andre.kesteloot at verizon.net
Sat Apr 16 15:47:26 CDT 2005
A good reason to keep our old tube radios Tx and Rx.
April 16, 2005
Unready For This Attack
By Jon Kyl
Recently a Senate Judiciary subcommittee of which I am chairman held a
hearing on a major threat to the American people, one that could come
not only from terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda but from rogue
nations such as Iran and North Korea.
An electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack on the American homeland, said one
of the distinguished scientists who testified at the hearing, is one of
only a few ways that the United States could be defeated by its enemies
-- terrorist or otherwise. And it is probably the easiest. A single Scud
missile, carrying a single nuclear weapon, detonated at the appropriate
altitude, would interact with the Earth's atmosphere, producing an
electromagnetic pulse radiating down to the surface at the speed of
light. Depending on the location and size of the blast, the effect would
be to knock out already stressed power grids and other electrical
systems across much or even all of the continental United States, for
months if not years.
Few if any people would die right away. But the loss of power would have
a cascading effect on all aspects of U.S. society. Communication would
be largely impossible. Lack of refrigeration would leave food rotting in
warehouses, exacerbated by a lack of transportation as those vehicles
still working simply ran out of gas (which is pumped with electricity).
The inability to sanitize and distribute water would quickly threaten
public health, not to mention the safety of anyone in the path of the
inevitable fires, which would rage unchecked. And as we have seen in
areas of natural and other disasters, such circumstances often result in
a fairly rapid breakdown of social order.
American society has grown so dependent on computer and other electrical
systems that we have created our own Achilles' heel of vulnerability,
ironically much greater than those of other, less developed nations.
When deprived of power, we are in many ways helpless, as the New York
City blackout made clear. In that case, power was restored quickly
because adjacent areas could provide help. But a large-scale burnout
caused by a broad EMP attack would create a much more difficult
situation. Not only would there be nobody nearby to help, it could take
years to replace destroyed equipment.
Transformers for regional substations, for example, are massive pieces
of equipment that are no longer manufactured in the United States and
typically take more than a year to build. In the words of another
witness at the hearing, "The longer the basic outage, the more
problematic and uncertain the recovery of any [infrastructure system]
will be. It is possible -- indeed, seemingly likely -- for sufficiently
severe functional outages to become mutually reinforcing, until a point
at which the degradation . . . could have irreversible effects on the
country's ability to support any large fraction of its present human
population." Those who survived, he said, would find themselves
transported back to the United States of the 1880s.
This threat may sound straight out of Hollywood, but it is very real.
CIA Director Porter Goss recently testified before Congress about
nuclear material missing from storage sites in Russia that may have
found its way into terrorist hands, and FBI Director Robert Mueller has
confirmed new intelligence that suggests al Qaeda is trying to acquire
and use weapons of mass destruction. Iran has surprised intelligence
analysts by describing the mid-flight detonations of missiles fired from
ships on the Caspian Sea as "successful" tests. North Korea exports
missile technology around the world; Scuds can easily be purchased on
the open market for about $100,000 apiece.
A terrorist organization might have trouble putting a nuclear warhead
"on target" with a Scud, but it would be much easier to simply launch
and detonate in the atmosphere. No need for the risk and difficulty of
trying to smuggle a nuclear weapon over the border or hit a particular
city. Just launch a cheap missile from a freighter in international
waters -- al Qaeda is believed to own about 80 such vessels -- and make
sure to get it a few miles in the air.
Fortunately, hardening key infrastructure systems and procuring vital
backup equipment such as transformers is both feasible and -- compared
with the threat -- relatively inexpensive, according to a comprehensive
report on the EMP threat by a commission of prominent experts. But it
will take leadership by the Department of Homeland Security, the Defense
Department, and other federal agencies, along with support from
Congress, all of which have yet to materialize.
The Sept. 11 commission report stated that our biggest failure was one
of "imagination." No one imagined that terrorists would do what they did
on Sept. 11. Today few Americans can conceive of the possibility that
terrorists could bring our society to its knees by destroying everything
we rely on that runs on electricity. But this time we've been warned,
and we'd better be prepared to respond.
The writer is a Republican senator from Arizona and chairman of the
Senate Judiciary subcommittee on terrorism, technology and homeland
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