Lessons to Avoid Another Day that Will Live in Infamy.

by AMBASSADOR HENRY F. COOPER December 6, 2016

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The United States has always responded to major threats, but usually after the danger is obvious essentially to all - often after a rude awakening like at Pearl Harbor in the dawn's early light 75 years ago. Still, even that threat was foreseen and clearly identified by Billy Mitchell and others, but America's leaders ignored, some even ridiculed, that warning - though others began important advance preparations for the war that was to come. 

In those years, oceans separated our country from those who sought to do us harm and technology was such that time was permitted for preparations and response. In today's world, we should remember Pearl Harbor's lessons of failing to recognize emerging threats for two reasons:

  • Today's all too real threats pose more significant dangers to the American people and our liberty, and
  • Advanced and advance preparations are needed to minimize the damage that can occur, because do not have the benefit of space and time barriers that allow us to remain asleep.


Increasing terrorist attacks on American soil are awakening Americans to possible (inevitable?) attacks on the systems and structures upon which our society depends. And they have begun to demand action from our leaders in a Washington establishment that seems to have been ignoring them. Will the Trump administration be timely and effective in responding to these important growing concerns?

Some Lessons from Pearl Harbor:

The Pearl Harbor attack should not have been a surprise . . . and not just because the "tactical" warning of the attack in progress was ignored.  Years earlier, Billy Mitchell's private and particularly public attempts to get the U.S. "powers that be" to understand the future importance of air power led to his 1925 court-marshal. In his pre-trial testimony before the "Morrow Board" and the trial itself, he warned of the coming war with Japan and of Pearl Harbor attack - over 15 years in advance. He predicted the rise of Japanese strength and foretold its Sunday-morning attack on Pearl Harbor and the Philippines. He saw war as global and imminent, and that airpower was the only way to master the situation.

But the "powers that be," up to the President, refused to listen to Mitchell's "strategic warning" and ended his career, though he remained a hero among those who would see his warnings come true after his death in 1936.  Many were leaders during World War II, and considered him to be the Father of the U.S. Air Force, in which I was pleased to serve.  Mitchell received many honors following his death, including a commission by President Roosevelt as a Major General.

He is also the only individual for whom is named a type of American military aircraft, the North American B-25 Mitchell-ironically the aircraft used in America's April 19, 1942 retaliatory bombing raid on Tokyo, led by Jimmy Doolitle, a protégé of Mitchell's - with whom I was privileged to serve on several Air Force Scientific Advisory Board studies.

So certain were the military brass of their "remote" safety in Hawaii that they parked all defensive fighter aircraft together, composing an easy target for the Japanese to attack from the air - more easily guarded against sabotage, you see.  And most of the Pacific Fleet was docked in the harbor, as the Japanese anticipated. So we collectively ignored "strategic" warning of an attack on Pearl Harbor.

Perhaps more troubling and instructive, our leaders also ignored the "tactical" warning of the specific attack on Pearl Harbor, as analyzed in considerable detail by Roberta Wohlstetter in 1962.  Recently, Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan provide even more specific information that shows how U.S. leaders had specific access to and ignored and/or closeted clear indications and warning of the pending attack. Click here for their book: A Matter of Honor: Pearl Harbor: Betrayal, Blame, and a Family's Quest for Justice.

Click here for yesterday's Washington Times' most pertinent informative review of key implications of this new analysis, "Pearl Harbor 75 Years On" by Retired Admiral James A. Lyons, former Commander in Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and senior U.S. Military Representative to the United Nations. Most appalling is that:

  • Many up to and including the then Chief of Naval Operations, Army Chief of Staff and President were informed of compelling warning intelligence, but
  • Those most notably not informed were Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet, and Lt. General Walter Short who were responsible for the Pacific Fleet and its defense in Hawaii, and
  • They were made scapegoats for the fatal lack of preparedness at Pearl Harbor.


This miscarriage of justice should be rectified as urged by Admiral Lyons as indicated in his subtitle, "Remembering the grim day and ongoing injustice" and his article's bottom line that "It is clearly time for Adm. Kimmel and Lt. General Short to have their honor, reputations and ranks restored. It is a matter of honor to correct this terrible injustice." 

It seems to me that we should also learn from this sad history and not make the same mistakes again, especially as we consider today's existential threats, for which we are incredibly repeating many of the same errors that led to Pearl Harbor.

On Recognizing and Countering Some Existential Threats:

As an example of today's lack or preparedness, consider the threat of natural or manmade electromagnetic pulse (EMP) events that can take down the electric power grid for an indefinite period, ultimately leading to the death of most Americans.

Solar Storms: A natural EMP event will surely one day occur (only its timing is uncertain), when a major solar emission intersects the Earth's orbit coincident with the Earth's passage - we missed just such a massive solar flare emitted from the Sun on July 22-23, 2012. Had this massive flare occurred a week earlier, the entire electric grid of the United States (and other unprepared nations) would likely have been lost for many months.

Eight years ago, EMP Commissioners testified that without electricity for that period most Americans would die within a year from the loss of water and food in our just-in-time economy and the resulting starvation, disease and societal collapse of returning to 19th century America without its agrarian equities that then served the needs of all our citizens.

This existential threat was recognized in an October 16, 2016 Executive Order, but little has yet been done to deal with it. The Department of Energy is responding - reportedly with research, reinventing the means for hardening key infrastructure - no doubt relearning lessons mastered half a century ago by the Department of Defense and still applied to protect our strategic systems and their essential C-3 systems to assure the President can control our retaliatory forces if we were attacked by the Soviet Union. But doing essentially nothing to protect our civil critical infrastructure.

The Department of Homeland Security has not even included EMP scenarios among the 15 National Planning Scenarios against which the nation's emergency managers, at all levels, are supposed to recognize, plan, train, and respond. NORTHCOM is not leading or demanding preparations for effective countermeasures or disaster management operations to protect the American people or even our military bases. Hopefully, the recently passed National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), if signed by President Obama, will rectify this shortcoming and direct all segments of government - local, state and federal - to the protect our critical infrastructure from EMP effects. 

Manmade Threats: Moreover, there is an even more catastrophic EMP threat long posed by Russia and China and more recently by North Korea and soon by Iran, if not already-by detonating a nuclear weapon a hundred miles or so above the United States. The exploitation of such High-altitude EMP (HEMP) effects is explicitly included in the military doctrine of these nations.

If we harden our critical infrastructure to such manmade EMP threats, it will also be hardened to the natural EMP threat - the converse if not true because high-frequency components of the manmade HEMP pulse are not present in the natural EMP threat.

We are not prepared to deal with these manmade EMP threats; we seem instead to be depending almost totally on deterrence as in the Cold War against nuclear threats from all of them-including Iran, whose leaders have openly announced their intent to kill Americans and Israelis.

Our foolish dependence on a faulty Iran Deal (the Joint Cooperative Plan of Action-JCPOA) should be met with more than skepticism by prudent planners, especially at NORTHCOM under its homeland defense mission. This concern should extend to ISIS and other Islamic terrorists that Iran's mullahs might support in seeking to gain plausible deniability and protection against retaliation following an attack.

Our current and planned ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems leave major gaps our adversaries can exploit. Even terrorists, if they get their hands on nuclear weapons, can mate them to SCUDs (that they can purchase for a few million dollars each) and launch them from vessels off our coasts, especially from the Gulf of Mexico. Today, we are completely vulnerable to some such technically credible and operationally plausible scenarios.

Such an attack would no doubt include plausible advance physical and cyberattack components - to distract us, if not to pose major existential threats themselves:

  • Former Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Jon Welinghoff noted (as published by the Wall Street Journal) two years ago that comprehensive FERC studies concluded a physical attack on only nine specific substations (like the April 16, 2013 attack on the Metcalf Substation near San Jose) could take down the nation's electric grid for 18 months.
  • In November 2014, NSA Director and U.S. Cyber Command Commander ADM Michael Rogers testified that a CYBER attack could being down the entire electric power grid for 9-18 months with catastrophic consequences. Ted Koppel's recent book, Lights Out, also provides an excellent discussion of this threat.


NORTHCOM, National Guard and other DoD and Government planners should be considering plausible HEMP attack scenarios that include physical and cyber components to distract and confuse our ability to respond effectively.

As was the case before Pearl Harbor, we have long had warning of this important threat. For example,

  • The U.S. demonstrated HEMP effects on "ancient" vacuum tube electronics nearly 1000 miles from our 1962 Starfish Prime test in the South Pacific - today's solid state electronics are much, much more vulnerable to HEMP.
  • At considerable expense during the Cold War, the U.S. hardened its key military electronic systems to HEMP to assure the President could retaliate after a Soviet HEMP attack on the U.S. This capability was at the heart of our deterrent policy.
  • Post-Cold War discussions with Russia validated this investment - their high altitude tests were actually more extensive than ours and they included HEMP in their attack plans.
  • We continue to harden our strategic military systems but have done little or nothing to harden our civil critical infrastructure - especially the electric power grid, upon which the viability of most other critical infrastructure depends.
  • The Congressionally mandated nonpartisan EMP Commission reports warned of the devastating consequences of such an attack in 2004 and in 2008 provided previously classified information to back up these conclusions in a comprehensive report.
  • The EMP Commission identified the electric power grid vulnerabilities as being critically important, deserving remediation immediately - its Chairman testified that unless these vulnerabilities were rectified, starvation, disease and social collapse from a HEMP attack could lead to the death of most Americans within a year following the attack.
  • Russia has shared its nuclear and ballistic missile technology with China, North Korea, Iran and, at least via the cacophony of proliferation if not directly, with others. This includes information that helps North Korea develop nuclear weapons to maximize EMP effects. For example, close collaboration between North Korea and Iran has benefited both - of course with help from Russia and China.
  • Iran has collaborated with North Korea and attended North Korean tests, which some believe were intended to demonstrate advanced designs that could easily be adapted for ballistic missile or satellite delivery to create HEMP effects.
  • Iran has pursued an extensive ballistic missile development program - including testing in the late 1990s that knowledgeable observers associate with an interest an HEMP attack from a seagoing vessel.
  • In September 2011, Iran indicated that its warships would sail "near maritime borders of the United States." In February 2014, Iranian Naval Admiral Afshin Rezayee claimed that Iranian warships had "started their voyage towards the Atlantic Ocean via the waters near South Africa," were headed to U.S. coastal waters and added that "this move has a message." Then in April, the Iranian ships were called home. A "cat and mouse" gambit?
  • Previously, Iranian officials had observed their ships can threaten U.S. coastal cities - particularly from the Gulf of Mexico. We are completely vulnerable to such an attack.
  • A ten-day maneuver exercise in the summer of 2011 launched some 14 ballistic missiles of various ranges, after which Iran's then Defense Minister, Gen. Ahmad Vahidi, boasted: "The war games...show Iran's great capability in designing, producing and using various kinds of missiles based on domestic knowledge. This showed that the sanctions imposed had no effect on Iran's missile program."
  • In 2014, EMP Caucus Chairman Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), made public that "The National Intelligence University of the United States recently translated an Iranian military doctrine called ‘Passive Defense' which referenced the use of nuclear EMP as a weapon more than 20 times. This doctrine stresses that electrical grids are vital to national existence. It includes a formula for calculating the value of electric power plants and for prioritizing the targeting of electric grid components and other infrastructures."
  • As reported by Cylance, a private security firm, Iranian cyber operations referred to as Operation Cleaver involves a threatening Iranian team, "Tarh Andishan," that has displayed an evolved skillset to perform attacks of espionage, theft, and the potential destruction of control systems and networks. They reportedly have targeted, attacked, and compromised more than 50 victims since at least 2012. Targets include "military, oil and gas, energy and utilities, transportation, airlines, airports, hospitals, telecommunications, technology, education, aerospace, Defense Industrial Base (DIB), chemical companies, and governments."
  • Iranian military strategy includes the exploitation of EMP along with physical and cyberattacks, as implied by Cylance's bottom line after tracking the Operation Cleaver team for over two years, that "the government of Iran, and particularly the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), is backing numerous groups and front entities to attack the world's critical infrastructure."
  • North Korea and Iran have launched satellites to their south, traveling over the South Polar regions, which could easily have been directed over the U.S. in their initial orbit at an altitude to optimize HEMP effects over the entire continental U.S. Our missile defenses are seriously deficient for countering this threat.
  • President Obama's unverifiable Iran Deal agreed to over the objections of the majority in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives provides two pathways to a nuclear-armed Iran - Iran can cheat, or simply wait until the deal expires and then develop a nuclear weapons. Some experts believe Iran may already have nuclear weapons. Even as the deal was consummated, Iran's leaders declared nothing changed in Iran's policies, with the Mullah's chanting in the background, "Death to Israel" (the Little Satan) and "Death to America" (the Great Satan).


Thus Far, A Lethargic USG Response: The "powers that be" have begun to focus on dealing with the cyber threat, though they seem to have little if any plan to rectify our vulnerability to physical attacks. And there is no visible plan to deal with the manmade EMP threat to our critical civil infrastructure.

Former NORTHCOM Commander ADM William Gortney told an April 7, 2015 Pentagon press conference about the major program (about which DoD is publically known to be investing at least $700 million) to harden key electronics in the Cheyenne Mountain Command Center against EMP. This initiative reinstates and improves previous conditions associated with NORAD's Cold War mission. But NORTHCOM has done little if anything to assure our Homeland Defense against natural or manmade EMP. At a minimum, NORTHCOM should be providing "requirements" to Pentagon leaders, while demanding that our critical infrastructures, especially the electric power grid, be hardened against EMP threats.

NORTHCOM, which commands our Homeland Missile Defenses, should also seek to rectify our vulnerability to viable North Korean and Iranian satellite and missile attack strategies, the latter from even Islamic terrorists. NORTHCOM should press the apparent requirement to close these BMD gaps, especially from our undefended South-from the Gulf of Mexico in particular. Aegis Ashore sites, like the one we are operating in Poland to protect our allies from Iranian missiles, should be deployed on military bases around the Gulf of Mexico to end our total vulnerability from threats from the South. The first such site most plausibly should be deployed on Tyndall AFB in Panama City, Florida - home of First Air Force that is charged with defending the Continental United States against air attack under the command of NORTHCOM Commander.

The "People" are Impatient and Acting: Given the lack of leadership in Washington, "grass roots" efforts have been raising citizens' consciousness of the nation's vulnerability and that little has been done and is being done to deal effectively with it. Consider a couple of examples.

  • A few months ago, I joined four or five others at a dinner hosted by Louisiana Governor John Bell Edwards, a Democrat and West Point Graduate who served with the 82nd Airborne. Threats to the electric grid-especially EMP-was the main subject. Before convening our dinner, when Governor Bel Edwards spoke to the larger assembled group including the Emergency Managers of all the Louisiana Parishes and many local people, he made explicitly clear that he wanted them to prepare to deal with the threats mentioned above, including EMP. So our small group dinner discussion was not to persuade him the problem was real, nor that he had to worry about how technically it needed to be countered. The urgent problem is political and a lack of leadership especially in Washington. Since Washington is failing in its duty to provide leadership and direction for making things better, we urged that they must take key initiatives themselves.


Subsequently, he directed his Adjutant General, National Guard MGEN Glenn Curtis, to provide a plan for Louisiana to deal with these threats. MGEN Curtis is the President of the Adjutants General Association of the United States (AGAUS), and hopefully he will put this important subject on the agenda of their next national meeting in Washington in February 2017. 

  • A second connection are our initiatives with the SC Adjutant General, NG MGEN Bob Livingston, a Georgia Tech Electrical Engineer, former NG Headquarters J-5 and now committed to dealing with the set of issues of concern for South Carolinians.High Frontier is working with the National Guard and local leaders to plan an exercise involving a Lake Wylie Pilot Study that is supported by the Nation's largest Energy Company, Duke Energy - with the objective of assuring that their Lake Wylie Nuclear, Hydroelectric and Coal Power Plants on the Catawba River between SC and NC can be restarted following a major blackout.


Prospects for the Trump Administration?

Complementing such initiatives (and there are many more in several states) will be entirely consistent with some of President Elect Trump's campaign promises, e.g.,

"We propose to rebuild the key tools of missile defense, starting with the Navy cruisers that are the foundation of our missile defense capabilities in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. As we expand our Navy toward the goal of 350 ships, we will also procure additional modern destroyers that are designed to handle the missile defense mission in the coming years." .... Candidate Donald Trump, September 2016 Speech in Philadelphia

This implicit directive directly fits with "making our homeland missile defenses" all they can be, including defending against "threats from the South" mentioned above and specifically including by building "Aegis Ashore" sites on military bases around the Gulf of Mexico, beginning at Tyndall AFB under the command of First Air Force.

Moreover, it is logically consistent with reviving the best technologies from the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) decade (1984-1993) that were scuttled by the Clinton administration and not revived since.  Especially important is to revive the Brilliant Pebbles space-based interceptor program, the most cost-effective defense considered by the SDI era. Click here.

Furthermore, the innovation of NORTHCOM'S key role in homeland defense should extend beyond missile defense interests. It should also include a major effort to protect the homeland against all existential threats.  Somehow, the Pentagon's role (as well as the rest of Washington's Homeland Defense/Security management structure) needs a house cleaning and major renovation, to execute government's first duty, to protect U.S. citizens.

This renovation must be responsive to the strategies and tactics of today's and tomorrow's enemies. As they evolve and become more sophisticated, our heartland critical facilities are severely disadvantaged as intelligence to counter these threats is difficult to receive and disseminate even after the lessons learned from 9/11 and other attacks.

The private sector cannot on its own prepare for and respond to the growing homeland threat. As entities compete for profits, resources to protect their facilities and infrastructure are squeezed, resulting in less than adequate funding for the most essential nodes, including those needed to man and operate our military bases. Protection of key infrastructures relies heavily on local law enforcement, almost exclusively a reactive force constrained by local tax realities that vary widely around the country.

They therefore must be supported by well-conceived State and Federal initiatives, plans and programs-with appropriately funded budgets associated with the sworn duty of Federal Government Officials under the Constitution to "provide for the common defense."

Bottom Lines:

Today, we are inviting another day that will live in infamy.

America is woefully unprepared, in particular to deal with existential EMP threats - that are well understood and much more daunting that were the conditions that led up to Pearl Harbor 75 years ago.  Our current plans and programs will provide "too little, too late" means to counter these threats. All elements of government, Federal, State and Local, must get their act together to prepare Americans to counter the existential threats.

"We The People" must demand this of our leaders, particularly in the Trump administration that will have an opportunity to understand and provide the support needed to the right places quickly - in coordination with owners and operators of our critical infrastructure - particularly to assure the viability of our electric power grid upon which our very survival depends.

This effort is needed "to provide for the common defense" under The Constitution, that President Trump will swear to "preserve, protect and defend" on January 20.

Stay tuned.

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.

Begin by passing this message to your friends and suggest they visit our webpage www.highfrontier.org for more information. Also, please encourage your sphere of influence to sign up for our weekly e-newsletter.

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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