Worse Case: North Korea or Iran?

by AMBASSADOR HENRY F. COOPER May 22, 2017

 ". . . Congress should look at EMP attacks as one of the three great threats to our survival, the other two being cyber warfare and nuclear weapons. And they should regard all three as catastrophic.  For us to survive as a civilization we have to be able to defeat all three . . . [Not to do so is] gambling with our civilization . . . " ~ Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich at the May 4, 2017 Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Hearing on EMP and Policy Options to Protect the Grid.    

As I wrote last week, I joined Speaker Gingrich in this important hearing - and I agree with him 100-percent on his entire testimony - and believe mine complemented his. Click here for a link to the entire 2 hour hearing (that begins with Chairlady Lisa Murkowski's introduction, emphasizing the importance of the subject of EMP between 28 and 29 minutes in) as well as the written testimony of all witnesses for the record. And click here for last week's High Frontier message.

Here, I want to emphasize this past week's events that reinforce Newt's point on the critical importance of countering all three existential threats:  Nuclear weapons, Cyber warfare and electromagnetic pulse (EMP) - and the unfortunate fact that the "powers that be" continue to ignore the need to deal with the all too real EMP threat. Actually, an EMP attack can be expected to include precursor cyber and physical attacks to distract, confuse and diffuse our efforts to prepare for and respond to an EMP attack. 

Of course, we lived with nuclear weapons throughout the Cold War, and now must contend with the fact of their proliferation along with their delivery systems - especially long-range ballistic missiles that can reach the United States. Since 1972 and the advent of the antiballistic missile (ABM) Treaty, we have not focused on building the most effective ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems that our technology permits, except during the era of President Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), which began in March 1983 and ended in early 1993, and those innovative efforts since then remain mostly dormant. 

North Korea's recent and accelerating threatening activities should remind even the dumbest among us of the strategic and tactical importance of those BMD systems we have - and the need to improve them by returning to Ronald Reagan's vision to base our technology efforts on unrestrained efforts to "save lives rather than avenge them."

This past weekend, the reports on "Ransomware cyber-attacks" on ~150 nations around the world have captured the public's imagination of great danger that nation states and even hackers can create by conducting cyber-attacks that directly affect citizens, major companies and even nation states. 

An informative BBC article yesterday morning, "Microsoft warns ransomware cyber-attack is a wake-up call," includes the following figure describing just the early hours of that global attack. Click here for the complete article. And click here for an earlier New York Times article by Nicole Perlroth and David Sanger with more details, including that the source was stolen from the National Security Agency.

CYBER ATTACK MAP_EMP_ ACOOP

This event reinforces the wisdom of the recognition being paid by President Trump to Cyber Warfare, as called for by Speaker Gingrich, and evidenced by his May 11, 2017 Executive Order, "Strengthening the Cybersecurity of Federal Networks and Critical Infrastructure." Click here for that important order - and here for Bill Gertz's informative Washington Beacon article on the Executive Order and the status of efforts to protect the grid.

Among other things, Gertz quotes testimony by the Commander of U.S. Cyber Command, Admiral Mike Rogers, who warned two days earlier that "several nations, including Iran, have been tied to disruptions and remote intrusions into U.S. critical infrastructures, such as the electric grid, financial networks and others."   And Admiral Rogers warned that known infiltrations "look like preparations for future attacks that could be intended to harm Americans, or at least to deter the United States and other countries from protecting and defending our vital interests."

So, we are at least visibly addressing two of the three critically important existential threats emphasized by Newt Gingrich, but regrettably not addressing the third - the EMP threat, which by the way is linked to the other two. To nuclear weapons, because they can be the source of an existential EMP threat via detonation high in or above the Earth's atmosphere.  Perhaps less obviously also to the second: As pointed out in my message last week, EMP Commission Chairman Dr. William R. Graham observed in his April 20, 2017 letter to Secretary of Energy Rick Perry that:

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.

There is more than a little irony that the Trump administration left EMP out of the President's Executive Order on Cyber threats.

Meanwhile, the media is primarily focused on recent North Korean tests against the background of its persistent (for over two decades) missile and nuclear testing programs - while treating with low volume (reflecting a lack of interest?) the related efforts of North Korea's ally Iran.

And when these threats are discussed for either North Korea or Iran, the media propagates several myths; e.g., that we still have time to respond to a growing threat, because North Korea has only tested "low yield" nuclear weapons and that It has not successfully tested a maturely designed warhead to be mated to the missiles it has tested.

However, as discussed previously, how to design and build "enhanced radiation warheads" was invented in the 1950s - and Russian Generals told the EMP Commissioners in 2004 that they had passed how to build low yield "super EMP weapons" to North Korea, which could he expected to develop one in a few years - that was 13 years ago . . .  hello???

Moreover, North Korea is credited by most "experts" to have over a dozen nuclear weapons and is building more at a 3-5 annual rate.  Perhaps including EMP weapons, you think???

With such thoughts in mind, note that Dr. Graham, observed in his letter to Secretary Perry that:

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.

Finally, while focusing on the more obvious cyber and nuclear weapons threats, we - or more specifically our leaders - are ignoring the closely related, most threatening, EMP existential threat. Addressing that threat, if done wisely, could also go a long way to countering the other two threats emphasized by Newt Gingrich.

This is not to argue that we should not be concerned about North Korea (or Iran) gaining long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Kim Jong-un claims now to have nuclear-armed "medium long-range ballistic missiles" that can reach the United States. Indeed, the recent test of a "new" missile was reported to be in flight for 30 minutes-the same time we used to worry about for ICBM attacks from the Soviet Union and now from Russia - but in a highly lofted trajectory. Surely, it can reach our troops in Guam - and possibly Hawaii, which illustrates the wisdom of locating one of our Aegis Ashore BMD systems there.

Click here for an informative May 14, 2017 Reuters story that reports North Korea's recent launch landed closer to Russia than Japan, suggesting Kim Jong-un could also be sending messages to its erstwhile ally Russia.  And click here for Allistair Gale and Jonathan Cheng's very informative May 14, 2017 Wall Street Journal article: "Inside North Korea's Accelerated Plan to Build a Viable Missile."

Gordon Chang, a noted authority on North Korea, China and related issues in their neighborhood, warned in his May 15, 2017 Newsmax article, that "Now is not a good time for talks with North Korea," largely because Kim Jong-un might be trying to intimidate South Korea's new President, Moon Jae-in.  Click here for this thoughtful article. 

Perhaps - but I worry that Kim may be angling for bigger fish to be fried.  And I would not take negotiations off the table, especially in conjunction with whatever deal President Trump is working with China. The Devil is in the details.

Click here for the views of a "scarred veteran" of the failed multilateral talks with North Korea (that broke down in 2009) and former Director of the National Counter Proliferation Center, Ambassador Joseph R. DeTrani. He was quoted in this May 11, 2017 Washington Times article as being "guardedly optimistic" that China will ratchet up the pressure on Pyongyang in a bid to force its isolated ally back to the negotiating table, given that China doesn't want North Korea with nuclear arms. 

Unfortunately, that horse is "out of the barn." Nevertheless, I share Joe's support for President Trump in putting all options on the table - that could give negotiations a chance. But we should not get too optimistic for a sensible agreement - we've seen this act for far too many times before.   Click here for Ambassador DeTrani's elaboration of his views about joining South Korea's new President, Moon Jae-in in seeking such a meaningful agreement. 

Meanwhile and lest we forget, Iranian scientists and engineers are probably witnessing the North Korean events, close-up with considerable interest. And they can purchase whatever they want from North Korea with the previously sanctioned funds that were released by the terrible unverifiable 2015 Iran deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).   

Click here for Adam Kredo's informative report in his May 9, 2017 Washington Free Beacon article, "Iran to launch two new satellites, likely cover for illicit ICBM program." Along with his discussion of Iranian military leaders' announcement that these are two "domestically produced" satellites, Kredo also reported that the Trump administration is currently conducting a comprehensive review of our Iran policy.

Hopefully, this "comprehensive" review will include not only Iran's alliance with North Korea and their common interests in nuclear armed ballistic missiles, but also the very unsettling fact that neither Iran nor North Korea needs a proven ICBM to deliver an existential attack on the United States. 

The recently reported planned satellite launches could, as demonstrated previously by both Iran and North Korea, place satellites in orbits over the South Polar regions and approach the United States from our mostly undefended south - and detonate their nuclear weapons without re-entering the earth's atmosphere to create an EMP that could shut down our entire unhardened electric power grid for an indefinite period.

Millions of Americans would die within a year.

But it appears, from the recent testimony of the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, that the intelligence community is intent on the ICBM threat - I hope not to the exclusion of the other threats.  Click here for his prepared testimony for the record and here for Adam Kredo's Washington Free Beacon article based on it.

These folks perhaps need reminding (again) that, as demonstrated by Iranian tests in the Caspian Sea in the late 1990s, they can launch attacks on the U.S. homeland from vessels off our coasts - and such attacks could deploy nuclear weapons not only on our cities but also to be detonated at high altitude to produce EMP that could bring down at least the Eastern Interconnect of the electric power grid.  To quote former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in his September 16, 2002 Pentagon Press Briefing:

"Countries have placed ballistic missiles in ships - dime a dozen - all over the world.  At any given time, there's any number off our coasts - coming, going.  On transporter-erector-launchers, they simply erect it, fire off a ballistic missile, put it down, cover it up.  Their radar signature's not any different than 50 others in close proximity."

It surely makes one wonder why Secretary Rumsfeld did not address this well-known threat on his watch.  But he didn't, and moreover he ignored the most important BMD systems and technology conceived and advanced during the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) era-from 1983-1993-and gutted by the Clinton administration in 1993.  Instead of reviving these important efforts, he and his followers focused on building the most expensive, least effective defenses of the U.S. homeland - and we still today are remiss in addressing the now looming threat.

Time to return to Ronald Reagan's SDI vision . . . you think? More for another day.

In conclusion, consider my opening comments in my May 4, 2017 testimony to the Senate Energy Committee on the need to address the fragilities of the electric power grid and the means to do so: 

"I view that the related current status and plans known to me leave the grid vulnerable to existential threats. And I believe we have the technical means to rectify these vulnerabilities - but are regrettably blocked from doing so, primarily because of political conditions that this Committee can, and hopefully will, address.

"I consider that we are living in the most dangerous period of my lifetime for a number of reasons, but the vulnerability of our national electric power grid is among the most important ones. Moreover, I believe we have had clear warning of the nature of this threat for years, and are collectively continuing to ignore and/or take ineffective countermeasures to deal with it. Frankly, I have become so concerned about the dysfunctionality of the federal government in dealing with the threat that I am now spending whatever remaining time the Good Lord gives me to work with local and state authorities and private citizens to address the key issues from the "bottom up"-and I will address one of these important initiatives.  If enough of our citizens gain an understanding of the issues and how they can-actually must-be addressed at the local level, then I believe Washington will eventually do its part in addressing this urgent problem."

This past week's events, briefly discussed above, reinforce this bottom line - especially that we must collectively address this critically important issue from local and state level because of Washington's lethargy in even recognizing the existential nature of the EMP threat. 

Click here for a pertinent overview article in The Hill by my colleague Dr. Peter Vincent Pry, who is the Staff Director for the EMP Commission, entitled: "Is the U.S. prepared for a nuclear EMP to shut down New York City?"

The answer is most definitely and resoundingly, "No!!!!"

Do you wish to choose between North Korea and Iran as to which is the worse threat?  Be my guest. 

Concluding Thoughts.

So . . .  Washington efforts are severely broken and show no sign of near-time improvements. 

Still, there is a hopeful sign of help: Perhaps Senator Lisa Murkowski will prove me wrong, as she suggested in her concluding comments last week:

"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, May 4, 2017

Stay tuned . . . but don't hold your breath.

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.

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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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