The US seems to be openly preparing for a possible large-scale military conflict with its global competitors.
On March 26th, US President Donald Trump signed an executive order directing federal agencies to identify the threats posed by potential electromagnetic pulses (EMP) and to discover ways to guard against them.
The pulses are believed to be dangerous to critical infrastructure.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement that the order will create an environment “that promotes private-sector innovation to strengthen our critical infrastructure.”
“Today’s executive order – the first ever to establish a comprehensive policy to improve resilience to EMPs – is one more example of how the administration is keeping its promise to always be vigilant against present dangers and future threats,” she said.
Under the directive, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has 90 days to create a list of national critical systems that, if disrupted, would cause harm to public safety or national security, and then a year to identify critical infrastructure that could be impacted by EMPs.
The Departments of Homeland Security, Defense, Energy, Commerce and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence are among the agencies involved in the executive order.
The 2017 National Defense Strategy was the first to identify that EMP posed a threat. In addition, the Commission to Assess the Threat from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack, also known as the Congressional EMP Commission has been warning for approximately 20 years that a nuclear EMP attack, or natural EMP from a solar flare could destroy critical infrastructure and kill millions.
“During the Cold War, the U.S. was primarily concerned about an EMP attack generated by a high-altitude nuclear weapon as a tactic by which the Soviet Union could suppress the U.S. national command authority and the ability to respond to a nuclear attack — and thus negate the deterrence value of assured nuclear retaliation,” the commission wrote in July 2017 in its report, “Assessing the Threat from EMP Attack.”
It continued: “Within the last decade, newly-armed adversaries, including North Korea, have been developing the ability and threatening to carry out an EMP attack against the United States. Such an attack would give countries that have only a small number of nuclear weapons the ability to cause widespread, long-lasting damage to critical national infrastructures, to the United States itself as a viable country, and to the survival of a majority of its population.”
The EMP executive order also puts the White House in charge of EMP preparedness, taking it away from the hands of the Department of Energy (DOE) or the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), according to EMP Commission Chief of Staff Peter Pry, the author of the opinion piece posted on the Hill.
“Among its many strong features, President Trump’s executive order combines EMP and cybersecurity. It directs DHS’s secretary to coordinate with the Energy and Defense secretaries, other agencies and the private sector to “develop a plan to mitigate the effects of EMPs on the vulnerable priority-critical infrastructures.”
Pry also claimed that there is no substitute to EMP testing of equipment and that the Department of Energy, as well as its partners in the electric power industry are wrong in their assessment that the national electric grid is protected from a natural or nuclear EMP.
Ars Technica, however, pointed to an interesting discrepancy in Pry’s and the EMP commission’s claims, in an older opinion piece that repeated the same claims of the March 28th one.
“The drumbeat picked up again after North Korea’s successful nuclear tests. In March of 2017, former CIA Director R. James Woolsey and EMP Commission Chief of Staff Dr. Peter Vincent Pry penned an opinion piece for The Hill warning that North Korea “could kill 90 percent of Americans” with an EMP attack. “A single warhead delivered by North Korean satellite could blackout the national electric grid and other life-sustaining critical infrastructures for over a year—killing 9 of 10 Americans by starvation and societal collapse,” Woolsey and Pry wrote.”
It turned out that Pry’s claims came from figures cited in One Second After, a movie.
“An actual EMP attack would be far less destructive, based on testing conducted by the EMP Commission—in some cases, it would be more annoying than truly disruptive. Tests found that a “significant fraction” of electrical, industrial, and communications systems would fail—but not enough to kill 90 percent of the population.
In simulated EMP attacks against 37 vehicles conducted by the EMP Commission, vehicles that were turned off suffered no effects. Of those running, three vehicles’ engines stopped, and a handful had dashboard electronics damaged—but 25 experienced only minor malfunctions. Trucks showed similar results. Existing redundancies in aviation, marine, and rail systems would limit the disruption caused by an EMP, the commission found. The worst threat was to the electrical grid—portions of which might be damaged in ways that would require weeks or months to repair because of parts availability,” Ars Technica reported.
Trump’s executive order itself doesn’t claim that the US is preparing to carry out an electromagnetic attack itself, it is completely focused on defense and self-assessment of existing and future infrastructure. It also orders that all defense scenarios also include a possible nuclear or conventional EMP attack.
The statement states that Presidential Advisor on National Security Affairs (APNSA) John Bolton, in conjunction with the National Security Council and Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy Kelvin Drogemeyer, “shall coordinate the development and implementation of executive branch actions to assess, prioritize, and manage the risks of EMPs. The APNSA shall, on an annual basis, submit a report to the President summarizing progress on the implementation of this order, identifying gaps in capability, and recommending how to address those gaps.”
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