Travis J. Tritten, writing in the Washington Examiner on Nov. 26, 2017, is the latest reporter misinforming the American people about electromagnetic pulse and the EMP Commission. Tritten deserves a place in the Center for Security Policy’s "EMP Hall of Shame" for bad reporting.
Tritten repeats the oft repeated lie the EMP Commission estimate up to 90 percent of Americans could die from long-term consequences of EMP "dates back to an exchange in . . . 2008 testimony before the House Armed Services Committee" related to Bill Forstchen’s novel "One Second After." Tritten and others, by repeating this myth, are trying to undermine the credibility of the EMP Commission by associating the Commission’s analysis with a work of fiction.
I have rebutted this false claim, which Tritten could easily have discovered with a little research, including by interviewing Bill Forstchen, who has also tried to correct the lie that the EMP Commission estimate of possible fatalities derives from his novel.
In fact, on March 8, 2005 (four years before the publication of Forstchen’s 2009 book) EMP Commissioner Lowell Wood testified before Sen. Jon Kyle’s subcommittee on terrorism, technology and homeland security that an EMP attack "is something which would literally destroy the American nation and might cause the deaths of 90 percent of its people and would set us back a century or more in time as far as our ability to function as a society."
Indeed, even before the establishment of the EMP Commission in 2001, during the five years of congressional hearings that preceded the EMP Commission, there was growing awareness and concern that a natural or nuclear EMP event could kill millions of Americans, perhaps 90 percent of the population.
We estimate that two-thirds to 90 percent of Americans could perish in an EMP-induced blackout that lasts one year because the electric grid and other life-sustaining critical infrastructures are necessary to support the U.S. population of 325 million.
In the aftermath of an EMP that causes a nationwide blackout, potable water would no longer be available almost immediately, and there is only enough food to feed the national population for 30 days, but the food would begin to spoil in 72 hours. Prior to the advent of the electric grid and other modern critical infrastructures, in 1900 the U.S. could sustain a population of 76 million, relying on 19th century critical infrastructures (coal-fired locomotives, 75 percent of the population farmers, a horse-drawn local market economy to feed the cities, well water at most homes) which no longer exist.
So the sustainable population would very likely be much less than 76 million.
In the final analysis, the EMP Commission is delivering a "good news" story because there is no excuse for the U.S. to be vulnerable to EMP. We know how to protect electronics from EMP. Our 2008 Report estimated the cost of protecting the national electric grid would be about $2 billion, which is what the U.S. gives away every year in foreign aid to Pakistan.
So why aren’t we protected?
One reason is uninformed reporters like Travis J. Tritten who dominate the media and give credence to non-experts who claim EMP is not a real threat.
For example, Tritten gives a lot of ink to Jeffrey Lewis laughing at the EMP threat on National Public Radio (NPR), describing Lewis as "a nuclear arms expert." In fact, Lewis is a political scientist, not a technical expert on nuclear weapons design or effects. Lewis works in academia, has never worked professionally on EMP effects for the defense or intelligence communities, has never had access to classified data on EMP.
In short Lewis, like Tritten, knows nothing about EMP.
Tritten misrepresents as true other falsehoods promoted by non-experts that EMP is "untested" the altitude for EMP detonation "unclear" and blasting a city "makes more sense."
All of the above is wrong.
As Dr. William Graham, Chairman of the EMP Commission, and I testified to Congress on Oct. 12, 2017, high-altitude EMP tests by the U.S. and USSR, over 50 years of tests using EMP simulators, and the known fragility of electric grids makes the scientific empirical basis for the EMP threat far better established than the much-feared threat from cyber-attack.
A protracted blackout would be inevitable. The altitude for making an EMP attack is known, easily calculated, and is a very wide window, anywhere from 30-400 kilometers height-of-burst. Why does it "make more sense to bomb a city rather than attempting the less-damaging goal of knocking out the grid" when a protracted blackout could kill 90 percent of America?
Moreover, unlike blasting a city with an ICBM, an EMP attack by satellite, from ship or submarine, could be executed anonymously, thereby escaping U.S. retaliation. Would the U.S. be able to retaliate if EMP disables U.S. strategic forces and C3I? Would the U.S. retaliate, and risk another EMP attack, when the clock is already ticking toward starvation and societal collapse? Would not, should not, the highest priority be, not revenge, but survival?
If North Korea makes an EMP attack against the U.S. or its allies, irresponsible reporters like Travis J. Tritten will deserve some of the credit.
Dr. Peter Vincent Pry is executive director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security. He served in the Congressional EMP Commission, the Congressional Strategic Posture Commission, the House Armed Services Committee, and the CIA. He is author of "Blackout Wars."
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