- - Wednesday, April 15, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The recent temporary blackout in Washington that afflicted the White House, the Congress and interrupted a State Department press conference rightly provoked a spate of media commentary about the vulnerability of the electric grid to terrorist attack. The blackout reportedly was caused by a small explosion resulting from a malfunction in a transformer substation.

Nonetheless, the White House and Congress should regard the blackout as a wake-up call, a reminder that a protracted blackout can indeed be inflicted on the national electric grid by terrorists or rogue states — with catastrophic consequences for society. A nationwide blackout lasting months or years could be inflicted by physical sabotage, cyberattack, or worst of all, by electromagnetic pulse (EMP) from the high-altitude detonation of a nuclear weapon or from a geomagnetic super storm caused by the sun.

The likelihood of a nuclear EMP attack is unknown but increasing with the proliferation of technology for missiles and nuclear weapons. NASA in a July 2014 report warned that earth narrowly missed a geomagnetic super storm in 2012.

NASA estimates that the probability of a super geo-storm is 12 percent per decade, which virtually guarantees that the world will encounter a catastrophic natural EMP event within our lifetimes or that of our children.

Yet the White House and the Congress have done nothing to protect the electric grid from a long-term blackout that, according to the EMP Commission, could kill up to nine in 10 Americans by starvation and societal collapse.

President Obama is willing to defy Congress and stir national controversy by issuing executive orders of dubious constitutional and public policy merit. But the White House has ignored since 2008 the draft executive order recommended by the EMP Commission to protect the nation’s life-sustaining electric grid and other critical infrastructures. This executive order is vitally necessary and clearly within the constitutional mandate “to provide for the common defense.”

The Congress, too, since 2008 has failed to implement any of the recommendations of its own Congressional EMP Commission. Despite the House unanimously passing bills such as the Grid Act and the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act — the bills always die in the Senate, without even being brought to a vote.

The Shield Act, a bill designed to protect the national grid from EMP, championed by Republican Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona, has been trapped in the House Energy and Commerce Committee for years.

Some states — notably Maine, Virginia, Arizona, Florida and Texas — are trying to protect their grids and people from EMP, much to their credit. That the states must act because Washington won’t should put the White House and Congress to shame.

While the White House and Congress play politics, the bad guys are getting ready to wage against us what can be described as a blackout war.

The EMP Commission found the military doctrines of Russia, China, North Korea and Iran describe a revolutionary new kind of warfare that would use cyberattacks and physical sabotage, combined and coordinated with EMP attack, to black out the national electric grid and crash the other critical infrastructures — communications, transportation, banking and finance, food and water.

Thus, high-tech armies and navies would be rendered obsolete.

For the first time in history, failed states such as Iran or North Korea, or terrorists could use a blackout war to destroy the most successful societies on earth. Mr. Franks noted in the congressional record in December 2014 that a recently translated Iranian military textbook calls for exactly such an attack on the United States.

The week prior to the Washington blackout, Turkey experienced a temporary nationwide blackout, all except one small Turkish province that imports its electricity from Iran, by causes still unknown. On Jan. 25, terrorists blacked out 80 percent of Pakistan — a nuclear weapons state. Last year on June 9, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula blacked out the entire nation of Yemen, putting 18 cities and 24 million people into the dark. On Oct. 27, 2013, across our unprotected southern border in Mexico, the Knights Templars criminal drug cartel blacked out 420,000 people so they could execute leaders opposed to the drug trade.

The writing is on the wall that, sooner or later, a blackout is coming our way.

April 16 marks the second anniversary of the attack on the Metcalf transformer substation in San Jose, California, that highlighted the vulnerability of the national grid. It also marks the second anniversary of North Korea apparently practicing a nuclear EMP attack by orbiting a satellite over the United States on an optimum trajectory to avoid our national missile defenses and put a peak EMP field over Washington and New York — our political and economic capitals.

Mr. Obama should observe the occasion by signing the EMP Commission’s draft executive order to protect the nation, and Congress should pass the Shield and Critical Infrastructure Protection Acts — now.

Peter Vincent Pry is executive director of the EMP Task Force on National and Homeland Security and served in the Congressional EMP Commission, the House Armed Services Committee and the CIA.

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