An Open Letter To Senators John McCain and Jack Reed, and Representatives Mac Thornberry and Adam Smith

by DOUGLAS ELLSWORTH January 10, 2018

The purpose of this letter is to address you as Chairmen and Ranking Members of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees regarding the National Defense Authorization Act of 2018 (NDAA-2018) and the recently ended Conference to agree upon the final language to submit to President Trump for signing.

There were many laudable provisions agreed to in the NDAA-2018 which will benefit the brave Americans of our Armed Forces to whom we are all indebted.  So thank you for that.

But there is Section 1691, a provision short in length but long on impact.  Section 1691 has been met with no small degree of puzzlement from persons familiar with the state of affairs that encompass national defense in the 21st Century.

The following is my own assessment of Section 1691 and not necessarily reflective of the official stance of my several affiliations, (which includes the Task Force on National and Homeland Security and Secure-the-Grid Coalition) although I am certain all my fellow affiliates share in the rigorous questioning of its inclusion in NDAA-2018. 

Following these remarks is the offering of a recommended course of action to deliver the American people from the potentially improvident impacts of Section 1691.

The concept of "Peace through Strength" has kept our "Fortress America" secure during decades of unspeakable destructive power in the hands of potentially hostile nations.  Most Americans comprehend this concept and are on-board with it.  Threat awareness refers to cliché, "we are only as strong as our weakest link." 

Today - right now, the weakest link in America's national and homeland security is our exceedingly vulnerable Bulk Electric System (BES), which includes electric generation facilities and the transmission grid.  It is vulnerable to attack by long-standing hostile nations, rogue nations, and even small-scale terrorist groups.  The BES has not been sufficiently toughened to be resilient to impacts of cyber threats, electromagnetic pulse (EMP) creation, and even physical sabotage of "keystone" nodes with small-arms.  The BES is vulnerable to acts of nature in the form of recurring solar eruptions through which Earth orbit has not passed in scores of years (before our dependence on electric power), and which leading solar weather experts believe to be long overdue. 

Rogue and hostile nations and terrorist groups know of this extreme vulnerability in our security and defense posture.  America's grid frailties take a prime position in their war doctrines, and they have practiced every element of bringing down our grid in military drills and exercises.  Taken as a whole, the actions of hostile powers demonstrate both the intentions and the capabilities to create an extended (months to years) power blackout that would consume major regions of the CONUS and even the entire CONUS.  Most of us will not survive if that happens.

There simply exists no greater destructive yield for so little cost and effort on the part of a motivated enemy.  Less than one hundred years ago electrical energy was a convenience.  Today, electrical energy has become the lifeblood of our society and over 320 million individual lives have become dependent upon it for food, shelter from the elements, disease-averting waste disposal and transportation, and so much more.  An extended power outage lasting only one year would result in the deaths of hundreds of millions of innocent Americans due to starvation, disease, and societal upheaval leading to breakdown in civil order.

Such vulnerability together with the magnitude of impact greet those with truly harmful intentions with what is essentially an invitation to attack.  This is ever-more true given the perceived impunity from retaliation which is due to the impossibility of positively identifying the perpetrator.  Certain and swift retaliation does not function to deter aggression of this sort.

The good news is that our Nation has the knowledge, learned by the Pentagon since the 1960s, and the technical devices ready-to-go to dampen / mitigate damaging effects also developed by the Pentagon since the early 1960s.  Then why don't we do it?  What has been the delay?

The answer is not what one would first imagine - that of costs.  The costs are not the major impediment.  In fact the costs are relatively inexpensive within the realm of extra high voltage hardware.  The reason is one of ownership, self-regulation, lack of effective oversight, incompetence or neglect pertaining to the metrics of strategic national threat assessment, over-reliance on metrics of risk assessment, re-inventing the wheel (suspicion of outsider knowledge) and kicking the can down the road for the "next guy" to deal with.  Many things such as these have influenced the stance of special interests to create indeterminate delays.

The result of intense lobbying has brought us to where we are today, in a state of affairs where our lives, our futures, and our national security depends, as Dr. William Graham recently observed, "upon the restraint of North Korea."

Poor odds. 

I might add to Dr, Graham's message the nations of Iran and Pakistan, two nations of long-standing mutual collaboration with North Korea in development of nuclear weapons and missile technologies.

Industry special interests downplay or outright deny the frailties uncovered by the original (now dismembered) EMP Commission.  In my own direct, personal experience, I have witnessed in their denials that Industry executives have not kept their stories straight, which most observers would conclude to be a sign of deception.  Is it purposeful deception or a lack of knowledge on the part of Industry?  A former vice-chairman of the HASC, then Representative Curt Weldon in 2004 at the HASC hearing to receive the (now dismembered) EMP Commission's first formally written report remarked that he had "raised the [EMP] issue with the electric and utility industry and also with the Homeland Security Agency during a hearing there, and they really were not even aware of what the possibilities and what the threats were."

Utilities have come late to threat cognition, only as recently as 2004.  By way of contrast, the Pentagon and its teams of scientists have known since 1962 about the extreme effects of EMP and have, throughout that time, devised the means to "harden" electronic and electrical systems to a state of survivability.  Efforts to position even more robust protection continues to this very day at major military installations because devastating capabilities have intensified beyond what was known only a few years ago.  Among the Commissioners of the original EMP Commission that you just dismembered were such top-of-the-world scientists, working for the Pentagon and the celebrated Department of Energy National Laboratories - "Top Gun" masters of their domains each of them.

But nothing of the sort is even seriously contemplated by Industry.  Since 2004, Industry has decided to eschew the knowledge-base and high-dollar investments of decades of Pentagon research, development and experimentation and embark on a course of self-education, despite lacking much of the pertinent data that remains classified.  This places, in reality, Industry's proclamations of their own "expertise" at the pre-adolescent phase of  the learning curve.  While Industry knows the grid it operates, Industry demonstrates no expertise in the area of threat assessment.  The United States, moreover,  lags other Western nations that have taken proper steps to increase resilience of their electric power grids.

Seventeen years ago your committees, in the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2001, established the "Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack."  That Commission became populated with Commissioners and Staff that were the undisputed Masters of the Western World in fields of science and defense strategy.  Among the luminaries on the original (now dismembered) Commission:

Chairman, Dr. William Graham, former Chief Science Adviser to President Reagan and former Director of NASA, and one of the few people living to actually see the impacts of nuclear EMP on electronic instrumentation used to take measurements during nuclear testing in the 1960s as a USAF lieutenant and science officer.  Instrumentation that was, as designed, thousands of times more rugged against EMP than the electronic microcircuitry in use today.

Commissioner, Dr. Lowell Wood, astrophysicist formerly of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories.  The most inventive American ever, holding the world's record for most inventions, with 1,085 patents (eclipsing Edison) and about 2,500 patent applications pending. 

Commissioner, Dr. Joan Woodard, Formerly of Sandia National Laboratories, Executive Vice President and Chief Executive of National Security Programs and the Nuclear Weapons Program.  Also membership in numerous federal defense advisory boards.

Commissioner, Dr. John S. Foster, Jr., designed most of the nuclear weapons in the current American nuclear arsenal.  Each year, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories bestows the John S. Foster, Jr. medal to deserving recipients who have demonstrated innovation and inspirational leadership in providing a safe, secure and effective deterrent to ensure international peace and strategic stability in the manner exemplified by the career of the medal's namesake, Dr. Foster.

Commission Chief of Staff, Dr. Peter Vincent Pry, formerly WMD Threat Analyst at Central Intelligence Agency.  Currently Executive Director, Task Force on National and Homeland Security.  Author of many books on national security and threat assessment.

- - - and many others, unnamed for the sake of brevity.

Section 1691 of the Conference Report for NDAA-2018 dismembers that original Commission.  An action that exhibits very bad form.  This action is not the kind of send-off any reasonable person would expect from a grateful nation to be directed towards Commissioners of their caliber who served for 17 years, both formally and informally and moreover, without compensation.  Commissioners voluntarily waived compensation to expend the monies appropriated toward conducting complex and rigorous experiments and reimbursing travel costs of persons called to testify before the Commission and Staff.

Section 1691 of the Conference Report for NDAA-2018 has done exactly what our Nation's enemies had hoped for, what these states have been counting on us to do while they continue making  investments in ever greater capabilities to create a prolonged power outage to destroy America's sovereignty.  Several organizations and persons, including myself, have sought to inform every member of the Senate Armed Services Committee of this state of affairs through letters, faxes, emails, briefings and conference calls with staffers.

What is the purpose of a provision (Section 1691) that creates a Congressional Commission to be assigned with a mission that has been performed brilliantly over a 17-year period by a Congressional Commission that the same provision does away with?  Who stands to gain from this?  Why was the newly created Commission given a deceptively similar name if not to confuse the less exacting observer?  How is a trusting public being served and protected?  How is this provision promoting "Peace through Strength?"  Who or what was the ultimate originator of this provision?  Whose brilliant idea was this anyway? 

The least likely scenario is that the deep-pocketed Special Interests had nothing to do with it.

Is this the final straw?  It is not too late to deliver us from the losing consequence of Section 1691.  It is now your tasks Senators McCain and Reed, and Representatives Thornberry and Smith, to populate the newly-formed Commission.  As you know, each of you will appoint three commissioners of the 12-member Commission created by Section 1691.  We who are tracking this potentially sovereignty-ending matter implore that you answer the call to protect America and Her People, deny the special interests and first seek and then follow the learned direction of the Chairman of the (now dismembered) EMP Commission, Dr. William Graham, and Chief of Staff to the (now dismembered) EMP Commission, Dr. Peter Vincent Pry.

In short, retain the illustrious and irreplaceable Commissioners who served Americans for 17-years formally and informally without compensation.

Douglas Ellsworth is Director, Western United States of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security, a chartered Congressional Advisory Board.

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