02 August 2011

Self-reliant news: Is an EMP attack really a possibility? (part 1 of 2)

I notice this Washington Times article yesterday, discussing how Iran is full steam ahead on their nuclear program. While it's ostensibly for the peaceful generation of nuclear power, many experts believe that Iran is on the verge of joining the nuclear weapons club... which could possibly lead to an EMP attack on our homeland. Of course, others are rather skeptical of this. Who's right?

The Washington Times article by the Reza Kahlili (a pseudonym) is Iranian missiles could soon reach U.S. shores. In it, Kahlili discusses the acceleration of Iran's nuclear program. He also cites two Rear Admirals for the Iranian navy, who make the following points:
  • The Iranian navy plans on deploying warships in the Atlantic Ocean as part of a program to ply international waters
  • The Iranian navy has equipped not only its missile frigates and destroyers with long-range surface-to-surface missiles, but also its logistic vessels (e.g., cargo ships, etc.).
  • The surface-to-surface missiles of the logistic vessels were successfully tested and assessed during recent naval war games
Kahlili goes on to point out why this should worry the United States:
An Iranian navy ship or any commercial vessel operated by the Iranians could easily launch a missile from outside the Gulf of Mexico and essentially cover most of the United States. Much more alarming is the fact that once in possession of a nuclear bomb, Iran could successfully carry out its promise to bring America to its knees by a successful electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack on America.

That said, there are some who feel that the threat of EMP is overblown, and that it's essentially fear-mongering. A good example of this school of thought is Patrick Disney's recent article for The Atlantic titled The Campaign to Terrify You About EMP.

In it, Disney points out that, should a terrorist gain possession of a nuclear weapon, it's unlikely they'd use it to attempt an EMP attack. Part of this would be because of the difficulty of executing such an attack, since it requires missiles, and there is no guarantee that the EMP effect would be as widespread or as devastating as predicted.

For this part, I agree with Disney. I suspect that many terrorists would simply use a nuclear weapon to attack a city, delivering the weapon by either truck or ship. It would be a horrific, terrible event, but the attack would generally be limited to a specific region.

Disney goes on to say that it's slightly more plausible that a "state actor" might use an EMP attack against "a vastly superior U.S. military massed on its border." However, he largely dismisses this attack, pointing out that it would probably disable that country's own electronics along with those of the U.S. Regardless of this argument's validity, Disney has entirely missed the possibility of such a "state actor" attacking the U.S. mainland itself.

As pointed out in the Washington Times article above, such an EMP attack is entirely feasible, and could possibly be done by North Korea, and perhaps soon by Iran (not to mention other nations like Russia or China). So, the question then becomes, would some country really pursue this line of attack?

In "peacetime," it seems unlikely that another country would blatantly attack the U.S. at all, let alone in this manner, since the international aftermath would probably be catastrophic. A country openly executing an EMP attack would very likely find itself declared a rogue state and under military attack by an international coalition. Many states would feel compelled to act from a sense of self-preservation, since they could be the next target. Thus, an open EMP attack would essentially amount to "mutually assured destruction" for the initiating country.

That said, some analysts believe that EMP attacks launched from a container ship not far off the American coastline would give very little notice and be virtually impossible to defend against. And, as noted in the Times article above, the resulting nuclear explosion(s) would leave little or no forensic evidence, meaning that the origin of the EMP attack probably couldn't be traced that way. If the container ship(s) were scuttled immediately after the launch, it might be unlikely to find out who was responsible.

Given a reasonable certainty that they could be "anonymous," might a country like North Korea or Iran launch such an attack? I'd like to think not, but I'm certainly not betting my life on it. After all, as General Eugene Habiger, USAF (Ret.) said on nuclear terrorism in May 2002: "It is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when."

Part 2 of this post discusses the approaches for both of these authors, and demonstrate why The Atlantic article fails to refute the threat of an EMP attack.

In the meantime, what do you think? Do you feel an EMP attack is possible, or even likely? How are you preparing for that event, if at all?


  1. Yes, I feel it is likely. Who knows when it will occur, but I feel it will. Whether I will be around for it doesn't matter. Someone will be, so I prep for it for myself or those "left behind." I have made several preps with EMP in mind and store electronics in ammo cans. Even my power tools. They are gonna needed for sure.

  2. Thanks for the comment!

    Like GEN Habiger said in the quote above, nuclear terrorism is eventually going to happen. EMP is just one "flavor" of nuclear attack, of course.

    Good idea on protecting your electrical equipment. Be sure to also have hand tools and some other manual backups too. If an EMP (or CME) does happen, recovery may take longer than you'd be able to generate power for your equipment.