Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte


"I appreciate the urging that we not let our guard down ... recognizing that this [threat] is  complicated and multifaceted ... truly daunting ... and that we need to start out locally ... It is important that we in congress be reminded of the urgency and imperative of our task and I think we were given that message this morning."

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) Chairlady of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee at the conclusion of a Hearing on  EMP and policy options to protect the grid.    

I recall a wistful song from 1964 - "Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte," associated with a horror movie of the same name that garnered a number of Oscar nominations for a notable cast, including Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland and Joseph Cotton - no doubt long ago forgotten by today's cognoscenti. Click here for a summary of that story and click here for Patti Page's version of that song that brings back many memories for me. 

Not least of all is that was the year we left  Bell Telephone Laboratories, New Jersey to serve my tour of duty at the Air Force Weapons Laboratory (AFWL) on Kirtland AFB, New Mexico.  That was also the year I first heard of Lt. Bill Graham - who memorably stamped "Rubbish" on a report our AFWL office sent to those pioneering our highly classified efforts to understand the physics of the recently discovered electromagnetic pulse (EMP) and how to harden our strategic systems against it.  I had heard of EMP at Bell Labs, where I was working on R&D efforts to harden our Nike Zeus ballistic missile defense (BMD) system against nuclear weapons effects - but the subject was so classified that we then had little direct involvement.

That was to change markedly over the next several years, especially as I left the uniformed service to take a senior civilian AFWL post to lead efforts to better understand nuclear weapons effects and how to develop simulators to test our strategic systems and their supporting command, control and communications against those effects.  Eventually, I left AFWL to join R&D Associates in Santa Monica - and again to join forces with Bill Graham - this time to become a fast friend for life.

Whatever ... now we are engaged again in trying to get the powers that be to protect our critical civil infrastructure, especially the electric power grid against EMP effects.  He was Chairman of the EMP Commission that produced the 2004 and 2008 reports.  Click here for links to both. 

The 2004 report, which was briefed to a closed session of Congress, remaines classified - so that only its executive summary is available.  The 2008 report achieved authorization to downgrade a lot of key information - but it's warnings and recommended solutions may have received little attention then because the 9/11 Commission report went public at approximately the same time, gathering most of the public attention. And unfortunately not all that the private sector needs to do an truly effective job in hardening the electric power grid was made public. 

In last Thursday's testimony before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in their hearing "to examine the threat posed by electromagnetic pulse and policy options to protect energy infrastructure and to improve capabilities for adequate system restoration,"  I indicated the need to release more information to the private sector now seeking to harden the electric power grid to EMP effects.

Click here for a link to the entire 2-hour hearing (that begins with Chairlady Lisa Murkowski's introduction between 28 and 29 minutes in) as well as the written testimony of all witnesses at that hearing, for the record.

I want to emphasize just a few thoughts from my testimony.  As a prelude to my recommendations on how best to deal with this threat - which focused on protecting the grid from the bottom-up (beginning at the local level in conjunction with utility companies and cooperative electric power companies (CoOps)), I quoted from Dr. Graham's observations in his April 20 letter to Secretary of Energy Rick Perry:

  1. Nuclear EMP is the ultimate cyber weapon in the military doctrines and plans of Russia, China, North Korea and Iran for Combined Arms Cyber Warfare that they see as a decisive new Revolution in Military Affairs.
  2. Protecting the grid from the worst threat - nuclear EMP attack - can also mitigate lesser threats, including from natural EMP from solar storms, non-nuclear EMP from radiofrequency weapons, cyber-attacks, physical sabotage and severe weather.
  3. State electric grids can be "islanded" by installation of surge arrestors, blocking devices, Faraday cages, and other devices to protect individual states, even though they may be part of a larger regional electric grid, from a prolonged catastrophic blackout. For example, Texas State Senator Bob Hall has introduced legislation to harden the Texas Electric Grid.
  4. The Commission is profoundly concerned that the 2014 Obama administration intelligence community assessment of nuclear EMP is profoundly erroneous, and perhaps the worst ever produced on EMP, and that has been used to thwart efforts to protect the nation against nuclear EMP by dismissing the threat, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
  5. The Commission is very concerned over misleading and erroneous studies by the NERC and others that grossly underestimate the natural EMP threat from solar storms, and dangerously, have become the basis for grossly inadequate standards for EMP/GMD protection approved by the Obama administrations' FERC.
  6. The Commission is also concerned over misleading and erroneous studies recently completed by industry's Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), in cooperation with Obama administration holdovers in the Department of Energy, that grossly underestimate the nuclear EMP threat.

Dr. Graham's observations provide a sound basis for assessing and responding to the current vulnerabilities in the management and execution of efforts to provide a viable electric power grid.  The EMP Commission is the most competent and technically credible source of such advice - and I hope the powers that be will assure that it continues, hopefully in a role that can more directly report its findings and recommendations directly to President Trump.

I then pointed out that given these and other political/bureaucratic difficulties, I concluded several years ago that I would never see major progress in dealing with the EMP existential threat in my lifetime, especially if the current conditions remain.  And I could see no prospect for meaningful improvement.  So, I decided to try a different approach and work the problem from the "bottom up" . . . literally.

As I observed in my written testimony, I entered this phase with several biases, based on a lifetime of pertinent experiences, which have survived to this day and which guide my assessments and recommendations.

  • I have no confidence that we will ever harden the entire grid, so I believe we have to establish priorities-I give top priority to assuring the safety and viability of our ~100 nuclear power plants that produce about 20-percent of the nation's electricity, and half the electricity of my home state South Carolina. Thus, I believe our top priority is to build protected "islands" around our nuclear power plants.
  • To assure the viability of the nuclear power plants, we must first assure their cooling water systems are viable in an indefinite grid shutdown to avoid Fukushima-like disasters.
  • We must assure that sufficient generating and loading conditions provided by the surrounding "island" in the grid-and linked with other critically important elements of the grid-are available to restart the nuclear power plants-and other power plants, which will shut down to protect themselves if the grid goes down.
  • I don't believe anything that isn't regularly tested and subjected to independent critical review-effective design and deployment is not enough; truly effective testing and maintenance are major challenges.
  • Accomplishing these objectives requires considerable emergency management cooperation at the local level-without which there is little hope for most citizens who today depend on electricity for life-line services in our "just-in-time" economy.


My written testimony elaborates on how I intend to apply these basic principles in working with colleagues at Duke Energy - one of the nation's largest electric power companies, if not the largest, on a project we call the "Lake Wylie Pilot Study" on which Duke operates Nuclear and Hydroelectric Power Plants in York County, SC and a Coal Power Plant in Gaston County, NC. (Duke's Corporate Headquarters in Charlotte is in neighboring Mecklenburg County, NC.

I emphasized to the Committee that we are working with the local Electric Utility organizations and Electric Cooperatives (CoOps) to assure a viable "island" in the grid around Lake Wylie - that, as the top priority, assures the safety of the nuclear power plant and seeks to assure essential services to the citizens within that "island" - like water-wastewater services that are very important to essentially all critical civil infrastructure. For example, without water-wastewater services, deaths in hospitals are expected within hours.

Moreover, Duke needs information on Electric Utility and CoOps infrastructure and it's hardening status to manage loading conditions on their power plants and provide needed electricity to the citizens of the three counties mentioned especially for assuring the viability of such critical operations.

I noted there are thousands of such utility companies and CoOps around the nation - so we hope that what we achieve in our Pilot Study will be a model for many other similar operations in this "crazy quilt patchwork of utility companies and CoOps," especially to constitute viable "islands" around the nation's nuclear power plants. I emphasized that hardening the entire grid is a very complex and demanding challenge - requiring that priorities be set as to what comes first, and that I think assuring the viability of our nuclear power plants comes first.

Duke Energy management has agreed to share the lessons learned with other energy companies around the nation. And I noted for the record that I am not selling anything to or for Duke Energy - I am working for my grandkids so they may survive an EMP event if/when it occurs - and they live on both our East and West coasts.

We are working with other initiatives in other states, including in Texas, where Texas State Senator Bob Hall has for the second time introduced legislation that hopefully will pass this time to harden the Texas Grid "island" in the national grid using well known hardening methods, as also pointed out in Dr. Graham's letter to Secretary Perry. Other states, energy companies and individuals are also taking important initiatives with which we will seek to share our Lake Wylie lessons learned.

Virginia's Dominion Power is one; Ohio's American Electric Power is another; and there are others. I believe our best hope is this important "bottom's up" movement, which is gathering momentum around the nation.

Because of the complexities of hardening the grid, I have no confidence we will ever harden it all. We must prioritize; the top priority should be to assure that, in case of a major grid blackout, our nuclear power plants remain safe - and can be restarted to produce needed electricity ASAP. Duke Energy plans to do that - but details of much of the rest of the complex grid are beyond their control - and to serve the public interest the cooperation of many local authorities and citizens is essential. To achieve that objective, I believe we must work from the bottom up.

Because of the likely difficulty of achieving this objective quickly, I wanted to emphasize that we also should place a much higher priority on applying effective ballistic missile defenses against manmade EMP threats - ASAP.  But I was able only to make a fleeting comment or two - particularly about my recommendation that we deploy an Aegis Ashore BMD site on Tyndall AFB, the home of First Air Force that already has the mission of air defense of the continental United States.

I noted that we now have Aegis BMD ships operational at sea around the world and on land in Romania and Hawaii - and by the end of this year, we will have one in Poland. An Aegis Ashore site on Tyndall AFB would end our total vulnerability to ballistic missile attacks from the Gulf of Mexico and Latin, Central and South America.

Aegis BMD ships have the inherent ability to defend the nation as a supplemental mission when they are near our coasts - including against ICBMs from Iran that approach us from the North. This system integrated in a global sensor network can also help defend against North Korean and Iranian satellites that pose an EMP threat as they approach the United States from our currently mostly undefended South to detonate their weapon as they pass over our nation.

Time did note permit me to urge a revival of the most cost-effective defense invented in the SDI era, based in space. It was the first SDI system to be approved by the Pentagon's Defense Acquisition Board for demonstration and validation, but immediately abandoned by the Clinton administration and remains off the list of options being considered to defend our nation.

It is the only truly effective way to intercept attacking ballistic missiles early in their boost phase while their rockets still burn.  We knew how to do this affordably a quarter century ago, and we now can do it better for less money because the needed key technology has advanced.

Finally, I did emphasize my recommendation that the Committee should receive the views of the congressionally empowered EMP Commission, especially to elaborate the items identified in Dr. Graham's April 20 letter to Secretary Perry, and the issues discussed in more detail in my prepared testimony.  I also urged that the EMP Commission be made permanent and report directly to the President through an appropriate Secretariat in the White House to avoid the bureaucratic impedance against which it must currently work.

For completeness, see the summary chart that is in my written testimony below.

May 9, 2017-Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte

I also intend to work closely with the National Guard and the Adjutants General of the United States because of their key roles in disaster emergency management activities. I noted that our SC Adjutant General-a Georgia Tech electrical engineering graduate - is on board with our Lake Wylie project, but that we have not yet engaged our state legislators to seek a supportive legislative initiative. However, SC State Senators and Legislators have indicated to me during the past two years that they would help sponsor such legislation when we are ready.

The Duke engineers with whom I am working have cleared our project with their front office and lessons learned will be shared with all when we are ready. I also noted that my Duke partners had indicated they are fully engaged in a related NC initiative by their Lt. Governor.

Again, I emphasized that before we began our Lake Wylie Pilot Study in earnest, my Duke Energy partner engineers got approval from their front office that the lessons learned would not be treated as "Duke Proprietary" - but could be shared with others in the electric power and related sectors. We are working with local and county officials and associated utility companies and other CoOps to understand how best to assure infrastructure connectivity to enable a Black Start following a major grid shutdown, beginning with the Lake Wylie "Island" in the grid. 

South Carolina is one of the few states (joined only by Wisconsin when last I checked) focusing a statewide effort associated with NERC's November GRIDEX-IV national exercise on responding to cyber and physical attack threats.  I believe the lessons learned will be helpful in extending, again from the bottom up, our Lake Wylie efforts. Therefore, we are also engaging with several other counties in this national exercise to build the relationships to share our lessons learned.

I emphasized that there are several thousand utility companies and CoOps in the United States - so solving this important problem for that integrated "crazy quilt" distribution system is very complicated.  This was part of my reason for seriously doubting that I will see a solution result in my lifetime from a "top-down" federal or state initiative. This is not to argue against such initiatives - which are important at least for consciousness-raising purposes.  But I do worry that at best they have been proven to be very inefficient in producing serious progress in actually dealing with a truly existential threat.

I'm excited about our progress in working the problem from the bottom-up thus far - with a particular focus on assuring viable water-wastewater services to local citizens, and will be sharing more information in the future, especially with the lessons learned on how best to deal with the political issues that have for more than a decade confounded our collective progress.

My final comment related to a lesson I have learned from my entire career:  Effectively designing, deploying and operating any complex system requires a competent "Red Team" with access to all design, deployment and operations information, and which can challenge at the top level all efforts and report findings to the top management.

In my written testimony I noted that during my watch as SDI Director (1990-93), I voluntarily sent several hundred million dollars from my five year budget to the Defense Special Weapons Agency (now the Defense Threat Reduction Agency) with no strings attached, except that the funds be spent to develop an independent competent assessment capability that could provide needed independent "Red Team" inputs to me (and my boss, the Secretary of Defense) on our BMD acquisition efforts.

I also noted my distinct impression that DTRA's capability and interest is a pale shadow of the DSWA's in that era a quarter century ago. I have no idea whether the key BMD systems developed under acquisition programs that I began (our ground-based interceptors in Alaska and California, our Aegis BMD system, our Patriot System or the THAAD system now being deployed in South Korea - and their associated command, control and communications systems) are confidently hardened against EMP, but without question, they certainly should be.

Again, as noted above, I emphasized my opinion that the EMP Commission should be chartered to play that role - indefinitely, and it should report directly to the President through an appropriate White House office hosting secretariat services. 

Concluding Thoughts.

My opening memories about "Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte" were brought to mind by the horror story we are courting by our lack of a serious focus on the dealing with the threats to the electric power grid - posed by a combination of physical, cyber and EMP threats.

If we are subject to an EMP attack, I believe that those who undertake that attack will include a prelude of physical and cyber components to confuse, degrade and otherwise diffuse our ability to respond effectively.

I was pleased that Senator Murkowski permitted me to provide my bottom line summary comments at the end of the hearing - which I'd urge you to review by linking to the hearing video and going to the end. 

And I intend to follow up with Senator Manchin's (D-WV) request for a meeting with the Intelligence Committee. Thus, I believe there was some bipartisan interest developed in this potentially important session.

All in a good day's work ...

What can you do? 

Join us in praying for our nation, and for a rebirth of the freedom sought, achieved and passed to us by those who came before us.

Help us to spread our message to the grass roots and to encourage all "powers that be" to provide for the common defense as they are sworn to do.

Help Us Grow with flower

Ambassador Henry F. Cooper is Chairman of High Frontier and a former Acquisition Executive for all U.S. ballistic missile defenses.  He also served in several other senior USG acquisition and policy positions, including as President Reagan's Chief Negotiator at the Geneva Defense and Space Talks with the Soviet Union. He is currently focused on helping local, state and federal authorities protect against the natural and manmade EMP threat by building effective ballistic missile defenses and hardening the electric grid. Otherwise, loss of the electric grid would freeze America's "just in time" economy, leaving most Americans without means for survival.


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