Congress, virtually at the last minute and unnoted by the press, finally passed the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act (CIPA) — arguably the single most important piece of legislation approved by Congress in 2016 — by inserting it into the National Defense Authorization Act.
The bill, long-championed by Rep. Trent Franks, Arizona Republican, and sponsored by Sen. Ron Johnson, Wisconsin Republican, in the Senate, has traveled a long road.
Eight years ago, the Congressional EMP Commission urged Capitol Hill to direct the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to protect the electric grid and other critical infrastructures from a man-made or natural electromagnetic pulse (EMP).
EMP could cause a protracted nationwide blackout. The EMP Commission warned a nationwide blackout lasting one year could kill up to 90 percent of the American people through societal collapse and starvation.
CIPA implements one of the most important recommendations of the EMP Commission to prevent societal mass destruction. It directs the DHS to establish new national planning scenarios focused on protecting and recovering the nation from an EMP catastrophe. All federal, state and local emergency planning, training and resource allocation are based on the DHS national planning scenarios.
Passage of CIPA means that millions of emergency planners and first responders across the nation, including police, firefighters and National Guardsmen, will become part of the solution to the existential threat that is EMP.
CIPA also requires the DHS to start pilot programs demonstrating that the national electric grid can be protected from the catastrophic consequences of an EMP event cost-effectively. CIPA directs the exploration and development of new technologies to make EMP hardening of all the critical infrastructures easier and even more affordable.
CIPA will further help protect the electric grid and other critical infrastructures from cyberwarfare, physical sabotage and severe terrestrial weather. The Congressional EMP Commission recommended that by protecting against the worst threat — nuclear EMP attack — all these lesser threats would also be mitigated.
CIPA may have passed just in time. The threats from nuclear and solar EMP are not merely theoretical, but are clear and present dangers, right now.
NASA warns that on July 23, 2012, a solar flare narrowly missed the Earth. It could have caused a natural EMP, collapsing electric grids and life-sustaining critical infrastructures worldwide, putting at risk the lives of billions. NASA estimates the likelihood of such a solar superstorm is 12 percent per decade.
Thus, it is likely that the American people, and all mankind, will face an existential threat from a solar superstorm within our lifetimes or that of our children. God willing, CIPA will get us prepared.
The nuclear EMP threat is equally worrisome.
Two North Korean satellites, the KMS-3 and KMS-4, already regularly orbit over the United States on the optimum trajectory to make a surprise EMP attack, if nuclear armed.
Russia, China and Iran all subscribe to a new way of warfare that combines EMP and cyberattack against electric grids and other critical infrastructures to swiftly and decisively defeat any adversary. The Congressional EMP Commission warned that Russia and China have developed Super-EMP weapons to implement this strategy — and have apparently transferred the design for a Super-EMP weapon to North Korea.
CIPA is a first necessary step to protect our nation from an EMP catastrophe and other threats. But CIPA will fail if its provisions are ignored — or if corrupt actors in the federal bureaucracy and industry continue to pretend that the EMP threat is not real.
For example, the Obama administration’s Department of Energy (DOE) conspired with industry’s private Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) to produce a “junk science” study that argued that a nuclear EMP attack would not destroy electric grid transformers or cause a protracted nationwide blackout.
EPRI in 2012 joined with the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) to produce another “junk science” study that falsely claimed natural EMP from a solar superstorm would not damage transformers or cause a protracted nationwide blackout. This was debunked by independent experts at a technical conference before the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
Although U.S. FERC compelled NERC to adopt a standard to protect the grid from natural EMP, the standard is grossly inadequate.
Interestingly, the Energy Department and EPRI excluded the EMP Commission from their dubious study on nuclear EMP effects. Indeed, the Obama administration’s Department of Defense did everything in its power to “slow roll” and impede the work of the EMP Commission by withholding funding and security clearances, to which the Commission is legally entitled.
Beyond CIPA, the next necessary step is to “drain the swamp” at FERC, DOE, NERC and EPRI — to reform or replace these with new institutional arrangements to protect our critical infrastructures and the lives of the American people.
• Ambassador R. James Woolsey is former director of Central Intelligence and negotiated the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty with the USSR. Peter Vincent Pry, Ph.D., 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. He is the author of “Blackout Wars,” which is available through CreateSpace.com and Amazon.com.