The United States is highly vulnerable to attack from electronic pulses caused by a nuclear blast in space, according to a new book on threats to U.S. security.
A single nuclear weapon carried by a ballistic missile and detonated a few hundred miles over the United States would cause “catastrophe for the nation” by damaging electricity-based networks and infrastructure, including computers and telecommunications, according to “War Footing: 10 Steps America Must Take to Prevail in the War for the Free World.”
“This is the single most serious national-security challenge and certainly the least known,” said Frank J. Gaffney Jr. of the Center for Security Policy, a former Pentagon official and lead author of the book, which includes contributions by 34 security and intelligence specialists.
An electromagnetic-pulse (EMP) attack uses X-rays and gamma rays produced in a nuclear blast in three separate waves of pulses, each with more damaging effects, and would take months or years to repair, the book states. The damage to unshielded electronics would be irreversible.
The EMP danger was highlighted recently by a special congressional commission that has received little public attention and is considered a unique way for rogue states such as North Korea and Iran, or other enemies such as al Qaeda, to use nuclear weapons in the future.
Al Qaeda is known to be seeking nuclear weapons, according to documents uncovered at the terrorist group’s facilities in Afghanistan.
The group could use a freighter equipped with a short-range ballistic missile to fire a nuclear missile over the United States, the book said, noting that North Korea sells its own version of the Scud for around $100,000.
North Korea, in recent nuclear talks in Beijing, threatened to export its nuclear weapons, and Iran already has tested a Scud-missile launch from a ship.
An EMP attack would damage the national power grid, unprotected computers and all devices containing microchips, from medical instruments to military communications, and knock out electronic systems in cars, airplanes and those used in banking and finance and emergency services.
“An EMP attack potentially represents a high-tech means for terrorists to kill millions of Americans the old-fashioned way, through starvation and disease,” the book said.
“Although the direct physical effects of EMP are harmless to people, a well-designed and well-executed EMP attack could kill indirectly far more Americans than a nuclear weapon detonated in our most populous city.”
North Korea has been learning about EMP weapons from Russia, which is believed to have worked on EMPs for decades. China is also working on EMP arms, according to a recent Pentagon report.
The book calls for taking 10 actions to protect the free world from an array of 21st-century threats, including hardening U.S. infrastructures against an EMP attack and countering Islamist fascism through ideological counterproposals.