Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Clifford May warns that Iran could launch EMP attack by sea

Today, The Washington Times, however strident or hysterical its editorial tone, published, on p A19, a commentary by Clifford May and Jay Carafano, “Iran’s ‘world’ without America”, along with a strident cartoon. I found the original article at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, with the title “Wake Up to Iran’s Dark Dream to Disable U.S.”, link here.

I see that William Graham had already written a similar piece which I discussed on this blog Sept. 3, 2008 (see archives) and I see also that I had written about it on my main blog in Oct. 2007, link here.

The threat is an electromagnetic pulse attack, or EMP. The most likely way this could happen would be a high altitude explosion of a small or "suitcase" nuclear weapon. The higher the altitude, the wider the effects, which can cover hundreds of miles, limited by the curvature of the Earth. According to Popular Science in a September 4, 2001 issue (one week before 9/11), the same effect can be achieved over substantial areas with some kinds of conventional devices, the details of which we need not cover here. Objects inside Faraday cages are supposed to be protected, and it is likely that the military has a substantial part of its domestic resources protected. But the civilian economy in a large region could be put out of commission for many months, to say the least. This grim possibility was sometimes mentioned by other media sources (especially ABC and AOL) in the weeks following 9/11 but it never got a lot of attention.

According to May and Carafano, Iran may be vocalizing such an implicit threat, and might be able to carry it out. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said that the goal of a world without America is “attainable.” An EMP event could be what he is hinting at. The James Clancy-like scenario is that a ship, possibly registered with Liberia and with rogue terrorist crews (possibly from the Palestinian conflict rather than Al Qaeda) could launch a nuclear-tipped (or possibly effective conventional) device similar to a cruise missile and exploded it some miles in altitude over the United States. The writers say that Iran has already tested sea-based platforms.

As to the Liberian ship idea, I worked for an insurance company in the early 1990s that owned a Liberian ship registry as a subsidiary. The business then was considered innocuous.

This could be very difficult to prevent, other than by a missile defense (like that proposed by Reagan in 1983), or a very aggressive Navy and Coast Guard within a few hundred miles of US shores. The nuclear retaliation deterrent should be US policy. Of course, there is a whole other controversy: just how far Iran is with its "peaceful" nuclear program, which the U.S. has every reason now to fear.

George Tenet had testified in 2003 that it was possible for North Korea to reach the Pacific Coast with “lobbed” missiles, either for a nuclear explosion or possibly an EMP effect over some of the West Coast or Alaska (or British Columbia).

May and Carafano talk about “connecting the dots” – something which our nation did not do before 9/11, and was left with a “failure of imagination.” One dot is societal: radical Islam (whether Sunni ir Shiite) expresses the sentiment that those individuals who do not function properly in a tribal religious culture but who (depending on global technology) speak for themselves will be of absolutely no use in a more primitive, barter-like and moneyless world driven back to religious and social hierarchy for all meaning. Ahmadinejad seems to be promoting an ideology of selective extermination, and may be closer to Adolf Hitler than even Saddam Hussein (who was more like Stalin). He could be the world’s single most dangerous man, even than Osama bin Laden.

If an EMP event occurred, the symptoms would be locally diagnosed quickly. The power would go out. But even if you have a UPS for your computer (or your laptop is running on a battery) it would fail too. Your car will not start. You’ll know in a minute. The neighbors will start to congregate outside. I have a screenplay short about this scenario (among other horros) on my doaskdotell.com domain. You will be able to bike (by manual pedal).

Home users and businesses (even as big as banks) alike can think about protecting their data on optical CD’s, which are not affected. It’s possible the fiber-optic cable (even Internet) would be easier to restore than conventional phone or cable. It may be possible to design laptops that could run on optical discs as if they were hard drives (since we have the disk drives in common use already for DVDs). There may be more that the information-centered world can do to harden itself to this than May and Carafano acknowledge.

As our country reels from a self-inflicted financial crisis (which could have been triggered as a political act by destructive short selling – even if that’s a speculative theory) it’s guard is down from possible sudden strikes for enemies. History teaches us that wars or major incidents often follow severe economic strife. Heaven help us if history repeats itself. I hope I don’t have to say, “I told you so.”

Update: Oct. 28, 2008

An organization with more information on EMP is "Shield America".

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