On Monday we covered the release of an open letter written to President Obama, issued by a committee of notable political, security and defense experts — which includes past and present members of Congress, ambassadors, CIA directors, and others — on the country's concerning level of vulnerability to a natural or man-made Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP).
An EMP has very real potential for crippling much of our electrical grid instantaneously. Not only would that immediately throw the social order into chaos, but the timeline to repair and restart the grid in most estimated scenarios would take months to a year or more. Those curious on learning exactly how devastating an EMP can be can read our report on the topic from last summer.
This week, we've been fortunate enough to get several of the authors of that open letter to join us and explain in depth what they conclude needs to be done to protect against the EMP risk: former CIA Director and current Ambassador James Woolsey, Executive Director of the EMP Task Force Dr Peter Pry, and security industry entrepreneur Jen Bawden.
What's frightening in this story is not just the carnage an EMP could wreak, but the apparent rabid intransigence with which the electrical power lobby is fighting any responsibility for defending against one:
Chris Martenson: Now, we’ve had a commission to assess the threat to the United States from an EMP attack, which delivered a report back in 2008. In fact, I found no less than two congressional commissions, a National Academy of Science report, other U.S. government sponsored studies, including your own. All have raised heightened concerns about this issue. All have found, all of them, that the EMP threat poses a significant and existential threat to the United States, and yet here we are still talking about this. Why is that?
Dr. Pry: Well, the short answer to that is it’s called the North American Electric Reliability Corporation. They used to be a trade association or a lobby for the 3,000 electric utilities that exist in this country. And, their relationship with the federal government, with the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, is a 19th century-type relationship. There is no part of the U.S. government that has the legal powers to order them to protect the grid. This is unusual, because in the case of every other critical infrastructure, there’s an agency in the U.S. government that can require them to take actions for public safety. For example, the Food & Drug Administration can order certain medicines kept off shelves to protect the public safety. The Federal Aviation Administration can ground aircraft and require protective devices, put locks on aircraft doors, for example, to protect people from having the aircrafts hijacked by terrorists.The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission doesn’t have those legal powers or authorities.
And, the NERC, which owns half of K Street and has got very deep pockets, has been successful in lobbying against legislation like the Grid Act and the SHIELD Act, both bipartisan bills supported almost unanimously by Democrats and Republicans. They’ve been able to stall for years and keep these bills held up. One time when we got a bill passed: the Grid Act actually, in 2010, unanimously passed the House. Everybody supported it. But Washington is so broken, one senator put a hold on a bill—if they know which senator to buy, they can buy that one senator and the person can put a hold on the bill so it can’t come to the floor for a vote and they can do it anonymously. The senator doesn’t have to identify themselves. So, you never know who stopped the bill.
And, that’s been the problem in Washington. We’ve been trying to overcome resistance by the electric power lobby to try to protect the grid.
They’ve basically been successful in stymying efforts at the federal level. Now, we’ve got another bill, Critical Infrastructure Protection Act, that we’re hoping will pass this year. Again, we’ve got a lot of support, but it’s already under attack by the utilities. And, they’re trying to change the language of the bill to basically gut the bill.
Ambassador Woolsey: And, when NERC is studying a problem, it doesn’t exactly operate at breakneck speed. After the ’03 outage in Cleveland that started with a tree branch touching a power line and took out the electricity for several days of Eastern Canada and much of the northeastern United States, NERC was finally prevailed upon to do a study. And, they did one and focused entirely on how to cut tree branches so that they won’t interfere with electric power lines. And, that tree branch study took them three years and eight months. What’s interesting about that lapse of time is three years and eight months is exactly the amount of time the United States was engaged in World War II, from beginning to end. So, one wonders how many wars worth of time it would take NERC to deal with a more complicated problem such as say, squirrels.
Chris Martenson: I understand that NERC is against this and they think this is overbearing regulation and they don’t want to be more highly regulated. I think possibly understandable concerns from any industry, but in this case, what kind of money are we talking about here? How much would it take to really begin to remedy this issue and how much time would it take? What is NERC fighting here?
Dr. Pry: Sure. Interesting question, because there are different numbers, depending upon how much security you want to buy. One of my colleagues on the, who served on the EMP Commission, had a plan that would cost $200 million. That’s not billions, but millions with an ‘m’. Now, that would be a very minimalist plan, and it would just protect the extra high voltage transformers that service the major metropolitan areas. It would by no means—we would still be at a very high level of risk, but it would at least give us something like a fighting chance to save all those people in the big cities, in the hundred largest big cities from starving to death, if you just invested $200 million.
At this point, as I recently testified to Congress, I think the U.S. FERC is so broken and untrustworthy that we probably need to scrap the regulatory system we’ve got now and go to something completely different. I think what you’ve got is a situation of what’s called regulatory capture. You’ve got a rotating door between FERC and NERC and these guys are basically in cahoots with the electric power industry .
Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with Dr. Peter Pry, Jen Bawden, and Ambassador James Woolsey (48m:35s)
Chris Martenson: Welcome to this Peak Prosperity podcast. I am your host, Chris Martenson. And, for several years, we’ve been writing about electromagnetic pulse or EMP events and the threats they pose. As you know, we’ve interviewed NASA scientists, we’ve written reports, we’ve held podcasts describing these possible events and what might happen should one occur. Well, today, we’ve got three top level and highly experienced people to help us understand both the threat the United States faces from an EMP, and what still needs to be done to reduce that threat.
Well, I will let each person introduce themselves more fully. Today, we have with us, Dr. Peter Pry, Executive Director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security. Welcome, Dr. Pry.
Dr. Pry: Thank you.
Chris Martenson: And, we’ve got Ambassador James Woolsey, a national security and energy specialist and former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, who headed the Central Intelligence Agency from February ’93 to January of ’95. Welcome, Ambassador Woolsey.
Ambassador Woolsey: Thanks. Good to be with you.
Chris Martenson: And, we’ve got Jen Bawden, a serial social entrepreneur who is passionate about disruptive technologies with a decade of experience in homeland security technology solutions, and whom I’ve had the pleasure of knowing personally since 2009. Welcome, Jen.
Jen Bawden: Thank you, Chris.
Chris Martenson: Well, along with a host of other notable players, our three guests sit on a Homeland Security EMP task force, which has recently penned a letter to President Obama seeking more focus and specific actions on what many term an existential threat. So, Dr. Pry, starting with you, could you please provide us with a bit more of your background and experience?
Dr. Pry: Sure. I worked at the CIA on these issues, on nuclear weapons and strategy with a specialty in AMT, including under Jim, who I consider to be the best CIA director we ever had. Worked on these issues for the House Armed Services Committee, looking for solutions. I served on the Congressional EMP Commission, which was stood up by the Congress to try to come up with a plan to protect the country. And, we did come up with a plan. And, since then, I’ve been the Executive Director of the EMP Task Force, which is a congressional advisory board, where we’re trying to find ways to get this problem solved, and hopefully on an accelerated basis.
Chris Martenson: Well, also, Dr. Pry, to you, and with a nod towards those who may not be familiar with an EMP, or why it could be a threat, could you please tell, what are these things and what do we really need to know about them?
Dr. Pry: Well, an electromagnetic pulse can be caused by a nuclear weapon detonated at high altitude, for example, 200 kilometers over the center of the country. That would be so high that you wouldn’t even know that the nuclear weapon was going off. You wouldn’t hear it, you might not see it on a cloudy day, there’d be no blast or fallout effects. The one thing it would do is create an EMP, which is a super energetic radio wave that’s got so much energy in it that it would fry electronics across the whole continental United States, and cause the collapse of the power grid, burn out big transformers that are very hard to replace, very difficult to replace, and cause a protracted blackout across the whole country that could last years.
The Congressional EMP Commission in which I serve, estimated that given a year-long blackout, up to 90% of the American population could die from starvation, disease and societal collapse. This, by the way, is why Iran wants the bomb. They actually write about this scenario. So does North Korea. And, China and Russia also have contingency plans.
It actually gets worse. This can cause an EMP; Mother Nature can cause it. And, in fact, a great geomagnetic storm like the 1859 Carrington Event is inevitable. We were narrowly missed by such a storm just three years ago, and NASA estimates the likelihood is 12% per year that a nature-caused EMP will happen. That means our lifetimes and that of our children, we will almost certainly experience a natural EMP that could collapse electric grids, not just in the United States, but all over the world.
And, last, a lunatic or a criminal or a madman, through non-nuclear EMP devices or weapons—you can even build one using design information available on the Internet. Now, these don’t cause a nation-wide kind of an EMP field that would collapse electric grids across the whole country, but we’ve arrived at a place for the first time in history that someone armed with one of these small, manned portable radio frequency weapons could topple the technological pillars of civilization for a major metropolitan area. And, you don’t even have to build them. There are actually devices that are not intended to be used as EMP weapons, but could be. You could actually buy them, and you don’t even need a license. And, in effect, the people who are selling them don’t know that they’re selling a weapon of mass destruction.
Chris Martenson: Well, fascinating. I did not know about that angle at all. So, that’s certainly something to look towards. And, what I’m interested in is finding out, of course, what we can do about this.
Mr. Woolsey, Ambassador Woolsey, excuse me—also starting with a bit more about your background and experience, start there, and then tell us what sorts of things might happen. I would like to know more about what might happen if we lost a significant portion of the grid in our country, if that might last years, as I just heard, but what would happen if it even lasted a month? So, again, starting with a little more about yourself, and then onto that question, please.
Ambassador Woolsey: Well, I practiced law for 22 years here in Washington, focusing on litigation, especially arbitration dealing with technical conflicts and issues. And, then I was in the U.S. government for 12 on four different occasions, and actually, five. And, participated four times in negotiations with the Soviets and once with the Warsaw Pact as a whole, on weapons systems, mainly strategic, but the last time, in ’91, I was the Ambassador and Chief Negotiator for the conventional forces in a Europe treaty that would still be in effect if we hadn’t have walked out on it. I have been consulting for about the last 12 years, working on especially energy and national security issues as they relate to one another.
And, I am especially concerned about electromagnetic pulse and both the natural variety, which could be devastating enough, but especially from Iran and North Korea. It’s very troubling that both China and Russia have nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles capable of getting them into space, into orbit. But, it’s even more troubling that North Korea already has such. And Iran could, within a year or two or three. Any country that has a ballistic missile that can get something into orbit—and 45 countries or so have Scuds, for example, they would work just fine—and has a nuclear weapon, even a very primitive one, can detonate it in orbit over a target and, as Peter said, the target may never know. And, the only thing it knows is that all its electronics all of sudden get fried at the same moment.
We have 18 critical infrastructures in the U.S—food, water, medicine, telecommunication, etc. And, as Peter said, and the reason the forecast of fatalities in the event of an EMP attack is so huge is because all 17 of the other infrastructures depend on electricity to operate. So, if the lights go out, it’s not just the lights, it’s the fuel pumps, it’s the water purification, it’s food transportation, it’s pretty much everything that makes us a 20th century society. And, very few of us have enough hand water pumps to get through and live in the 19th century. This is a really terrible prospect and one that the North Koreans and the Iranians, as well as the Russians and Chinese are fully aware of the opportunity for use or threatened use of something like this.
Chris Martenson: Now, Ambassador Woolsey, in researching this, I found a number of critics who said that, “Well, you know, we have limited experience with really knowing what an EMP might or might not do, of the nuclear sort bouncing off the ionosphere.” Do we really have the data to know what kind of a threat we’re dealing with here?
Ambassador Woolsey: Thank God we don’t have the experience, because if we did, it would’ve fried our electronics. There were several tests in the early 1960s, just before the atmospheric test ban took effect, in which the U.S. and the Soviets detonated nuclear weapons at high altitudes. And, both were extremely surprised at the ability for some of the early non-vacuum tube electronics, how they would be fried at distances—thousands of miles. And, the problem is that the electronics of that age are about a thousand times less capable than the electronics—I’m sorry, a billion times less capable than the electronics that we have today. But, today’s electronics are not only a billion times more capable, they’re a billion times more vulnerable.
So, we happily will not, I hope, see a nuclear weapon detonated on orbit, so that these people who are skeptical can see through dimmed eyes, since all the lights will have gone out, what the result would be of an electromagnetic detonation at substantial altitude. But, of all the foolish concerns, not to believe the distinguished physicists and scientists that work with Peter and others in the National Academy of Sciences’ study of EMP and in the EMP Commission’s work and the congressional commissions’ work—not to believe all of those and say, “Well, we don’t have any direct experience with EMP bursts at very high altitude,” means you don’t have experience with the destruction of the infrastructure of major parts of the earth. Thank God.
Chris Martenson: Well, on the plus side, I’ve heard that regret goes well with candlelight. So, perhaps they will be able to…
Ambassador Woolsey: Right.
Dr. Pry: Could I add to Ambassador Woolsey’s comment?
Chris Martenson: Peter, please do.
Dr. Pry: Yes, we actually do have excellent empirical evidence. And, that is, or I should say, the Russians have it. Our test was conducted over the Pacific Ocean, and we have information, of course, from Hawaii. But, after the Russians learned about EMP, when they knew it, initially, they were surprised by it when they did their tests over Novaya Zemlya in the Arctic Ocean. But, then they deliberately conducted EMP attack, the Evil Empire, rightly called, conducted EMP tests, high altitude EMP tests over their own country, over Kazakhstan, an area the size of Western Europe, and deliberately destroyed and then reconstructed their own critical infrastructures. So, they’ve actually got the best data in the world on what you can do. And, they released some of that data from one of their least effective tests, and the consequences were catastrophic against the electric grids in Kazakhstan, which was a highly industrialized country at the time.
The _____ [00:12:40] need to detonate a nuclear weapon. We have EMP simulators and we have 50 years of data from the EMP simulators as well that gives us very high confidence in what would happen. And, finally, the EMP Commission in which I serve, it wasn’t a paper commission. We actually were the last body that did extensive analysis and went back and we put modern electronics into EMP simulators and fried them to verify what Jim Woolsey was just saying about how our modern electronics are millions of times more vulnerable than the vacuum tube-type technologies that existed in the ‘60s.
So, this isn’t a speculation. This is based on solid science, and it’s a much more certain threat than global warming or even cyber-attacks. We have more of an empirical basis for this threat than we do for those others.
Chris Martenson: Well, you say 12% a year and if that was a Wall Street option I could buy, I’d take that. That’s a very clear and obvious threat. Jen Bawden, so great to have you on. Hey, please tell us a bit more about your background and experience.
Jen Bawden: Well, I’ve been a serial social entrepreneur. I helped build with the Department of Energy and Homeland Security an anti-terrorism technology company. It was funded by the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, DNDO, and we were developing and deploying innovative technologies to protect America’s infrastructure from radiological and nuclear attack. So, we were trying to make sure that no nuclear weapons were being smuggled through the ports and borders in the cargo containers. So, that’s how I came to learn about this threat, and of course, I was very shocked and concerned a number of years ago when I recognized that nobody was really doing anything to help the cause. So, I joined the EMP warriors, Jim and Peter, to try to do whatever I could to make a difference.
Chris Martenson: Well, thank you for that. And, I did read the letter that I alluded to before. And, so this is a letter to Obama. The EMP threat is described as potentially catastrophic and even as an existential threat. Well, those are big, loaded words. Were those just a device to catch a busy president’s attention:
Jen Bawden: No, I think we could’ve used words that were a lot bigger than that, Chris. I think it is, it’s a category killer if you’d like to call it that. It took hundreds of years to build American and it would take one minute to destroy it. So, I truly believe that we’re custodians of this great country and our first priority must be to protect it. And, right now, there is no protection for our grid. And, as Jim and Peter have explained, this could happen at any time and almost has happened. There’s been a number of, I would say near misses and attacks, which I’m sure that we’ll talk about further in this program. But, when you look at the big black swans that we’re trying to protect ourselves against, and to know that we have no protection against protecting our grid, which is really, I would say, the worst thing that could happen to us, it’s just—it’s unbelievable to me.
Chris Martenson: Well, here’s where I’m surprised, too, because I can’t think of anything more essential than electricity. You take that out, hospitals go down, food systems go down, we can’t refine fuels, like everything stops. And, so I look at that and I am shocked by the lack of hardness that exists in our grid at this particular stage. You know what really caught my attention, was it 2010, maybe 2011, I can’t remember, but the San Jose transformer shootings were…
Jen Bawden: Exactly.
Chris Martenson: …were really quite eye-opening and we studied those quite a bit at my site and analyzed those. And, they looked like the works of professionals. I don’t know who they were or what sort of demands were made. I assume some were made, but they were kept completely out of the public sphere. But, those just showed that you could take out a pretty major substation with pretty minimal effort, with using literally 18th century technology, if you consider a rifle born in that century. And, still to this day, I don’t see anything has particularly happened in the transformers and substations I drive past. To me, is it unfair for me to look at that and say that same level of concern that I don’t see being applied to substations currently, that that’s just indicative of how this whole issue is being treated right now?
Jen Bawden: Absolutely. I’d like to mention that—think about not just the substations, but think about the nuclear stations, that’s when it really gets heavy-duty scary. Think about the fact that if the grid went down, now many of those nuclear stations would be able to shut off. When you also look at the fact that the former chairman of the U.S. agency responsible for grid security and the U.S. Navy Seals warned that Metcalf is probably a dry run for future large-scale attacks on the national grid. So, we’ve got—and, I think another interesting thing to mention is that we had the north, well, we had in July 2013, a North Korean freighter was discovered in the Gulf of Mexico and coming through the Panama Canal. And, they decided to check it for illegal drugs and they found two nuclear capable SA-2 missiles mounted, missile mounts for a launcher hidden in the hold, so under a bunch of bags of sugar. Peter can tell you more about that, but that, to me, was also very scary.
Ambassador Woolsey: One thing to pay attention to when you’re looking at terrorist activities is anniversaries. Benghazi was on 9/11. There are _____ [00:18:33] this year. There are a number of circumstances in which there seems to be a substantial amount of attention paid, particularly by Al-Qaeda-like organizations, to anniversaries. And, one that is interesting is Metcalf occurred on the anniversary of the American Revolution. It was one day off because of a holiday in Boston and a marathon at the same time and so forth. But, 18th of April, 1775, was Lexington and Concord, the beginning of the American Revolution. And, I think that one wants to, when you’re trying to decide whether something was just a random bunch of thugs, which is what all the law enforcement people except the woman sheriff of the county where Metcalf is, thought that this was just a bunch of thugs and they didn’t need to pay any attention to it. Look for anniversaries. If there’s an important patriotic anniversary for the United States in there, it’s probably somebody’s plotting it.
Chris Martenson: Now, we’ve had a commission to assess the threat to the United States from an EMP attack, which delivered a report back in 2008. In fact, I found no less than two congressional commissions, a National Academy of Science report, other U.S. government sponsored studies, including your own, have raised heightened concerns about this issue. All have found, all of them, that the EMP threat poses a significant and existential threat to the United States, and yet here we are still talking about this. Starting with you, Dr. Pry, why is that?
Dr. Pry: Why are we just talking about it and why hasn’t the problem been fixed?
Chris Martenson: Yes.
Dr. Pry: Okay. Well, the short answer to that is it’s called the North American Electric Reliability Corporation. They are basically the representative—they used to be a trade association or a lobby for the 3,000 electric utilities that exist in this country. And, their relationship with the federal government, basically, the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, is a 19th century-type relationship. There is no part of the U.S. government that has the legal powers to order them to protect the grid. This is unusual, because in the case of every other critical infrastructure, there’s an agency in the U.S. government that can require them to take actions for public safety. For example, the Food & Drug Administration can order certain medicines kept off shelves to protect the public safety. The Federal Aviation Administration can ground aircraft and require protective devices, put locks on aircraft doors, for example, to protect people from having the aircrafts hijacked by terrorists.
The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission doesn’t have those legal powers or authorities. And, the NERC, which owns half of K Street and has got very deep pockets, has been successful in lobbying against legislation like the Grid Act and the SHIELD Act, both bipartisan bills supported almost unanimously by Democrats and Republicans. They’ve been able to stall for years and keep these bills held up. One time when we got a bill passed, the Grid Act actually, in 2010, unanimously passed the House, everybody supported it. But, Washington is so broken, one senator put a hold on a bill—if they know which senator to buy, they can buy that one senator and the person can put a hold on the bill so it can’t come to the floor for a vote and they can do it anonymously. They don’t even have to identify—the senator doesn’t have to identify themselves. So, you would never know who stopped the bill.
And, that’s been the problem in Washington. We’ve been trying to overcome resistance by the electric power lobby to try to protect the grid. They’ve basically been successful in stymying efforts at the federal level.
Now, we’ve got another bill, The Critical Infrastructure Protection Act, that we’re hoping will pass this year. Again, we’ve got a lot of support, but it’s already under attack by the utilities. And, they’re trying to change the language of the bill to basically gut the bill.
Ambassador Woolsey: And, when NERC is studying a problem, it doesn’t exactly operate at breakneck speed. After the ’03 outage in Cleveland that started with a tree branch touching a power line and took out the electricity for several days of Eastern Canada and much of the northeastern United States, NERC was finally prevailed upon to do a study. They did one and focused entirely on how to cut tree branches so that they won’t interfere with electric power lines. That tree branch study took them three years and eight months. What’s interesting about that lapse of time is three years and eight months is exactly the amount of time the United States was engaged in World War II, from beginning to end. So, one wonders how many wars worth of time it would take NERC to deal with a more complicated problem such as say, squirrels.
Chris Martenson: Well, if anybody ever asks me what do Hitler and tree branches have in common, I now know. They both take about the same amount of time to understand and theoretically defeat. This is concerning. This is really concerning to me, because I’ve done a little other research and I don’t have hard numbers on this. So, help spell this out for me. I understand that NERC is against this and they think this is overbearing regulation and they don’t want to be more highly regulated. I think possibly understandable concerns from any industry, but in this case, what kind of money are we talking about here? How much would it take to really begin to remedy this issue and how much time would it take? What is NERC fighting here?
Ambassador Woolsey: Peter, you know that.
Dr. Pry: Sure. Interesting question, because there are different numbers, depending upon how much security you want to buy. One of my colleagues who served on the EMP Commission had a plan that would cost $200 million. That’s not billions, but millions with an ‘m’, okay. Now, that would be a very minimalist plan, and it would just protect the extra high voltage transformers that service the major metropolitan areas. It would by no means—we would still be at a very high level of risk, but it would at least give us something like a fighting chance to save all those people in the big cities, in the hundred largest big cities from starving to death, if you just invested $200 million. The EMP Commission…
Chris Martenson: With an ‘m’, million, Peter, we’re talking million with an ‘m.’
Dr. Pry: With a million, yeah.
Ambassador Woolsey: Yeah, that’s one dollar for every adult American. That’s one dollar for every adult American.
Chris Martenson: I got a buck.
Dr. Pry: The EMP Commission plan costs about $2 billion, with a ‘b.’ That’s what we give away every year in foreign aid to Pakistan. And, it’s a robust plan. It would’ve protected every transformer in the United States, all the control systems, all the SCADA systems that are necessary. It would greatly reduce the risk and give us high confidence that we would be able to restore the grid in timely fashion to avoid mass starvation of the population. It would basically reduce it from an existential catastrophe to a manageable disaster.
Now, there are more expensive plans than that. You could spend 10, 20, 30 billion, and I would be in favor of that. I would be in favor of spending that much, because it would even further reduce the risk. I don’t think you can over-invest when you’re protecting the country against an existential threat. But, if you wanted to, with the EMP Commission plan, that was the official body to try to solve this problem, it’s just $2 billion. You know, a very modest amount of money indeed, especially against the threat.
Chris Martenson: Well, those are, I mean, I just read in the paper today that the U.S. has spent 2.8 billion bombing ISIS since the beginning of April. We can argue about what kind of a threat that is, but in my book, ISIS is so far down my personal list compared to my grid that it doesn’t even begin to compare. So, sounds like priorities. What it sounds like to me is that we have a serious mismatch between a for-profit power industry and a national security issue. Who’s in charge of this? Does anybody have commanding authority? Peter, you mentioned that FERC does not have that particular capability, but is anybody seriously in charge of this at this point from the national security side?
Dr. Pry: The U.S. FERC is supposed to be the tip of the spear. I mean, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, they partner with NERC, and they’re supposed to be the ones responsible for it. But, I think what you’ve got is a situation of what’s called regulatory capture. You’ve got a rotating door between FERC and NERC and these guys are basically in cahoots with the electric power industry and are very—as an example, they did do some positive things. FERC forced the NERC to adopt or to propose what’s called a GMD standard, a standard for protecting the grid against natural EMP, from the sun. And, NERC didn’t want to do that. At one point, they were arguing that there isn’t even any threat from the sun in terms of the natural EMP. And, that was completely destroyed, their credibility was destroyed on that point in a technical conference that has held before the FERC. And, they were ordered to come up with a standard.
Now, FERC can’t tell them under the law, it can’t tell them what the standard has to be. That has to come out of NERC, and they set the standard so low that it’s worthless. And, that’s the dilemma. And, the object of the SHIELD Act and the Grid Act was to try to empower the U.S. FERC so it would have more regulatory authority to tell these guys, “No, this is the level to which you’re going to protect the grid. And, you are going to install blocking devices and Faraday cages and surge arresters and things like that.” Just the same way that the Federal Aviation Administration can force an airline industry to ground a plane that isn’t safe to fly, because hundreds of lives are at stake when people fly in an airplane. Well, millions, hundreds of millions of lives are at stake about preservation of the electric grid. So, there should be at least as much authority over the grid in the FERC that the FAA has over the airline industry.
But, at this point, I recently testified to Congress, I think even U.S. FERC is so broken and untrustworthy that we probably need to scrap the regulatory system we’ve got now and go to something completely different. Maybe, give it to…
Ambassador Woolsey: Yeah, it’s…
Dr. Pry: …the Department of Homeland Security, or—sorry, Jim, go on.
Ambassador Woolsey: It’s essentially worthless and part of the psychological dimension of this is that people have a propensity to identify with ostriches in the face of really horrible threats. And, but the problem with NERC, especially, is that it’s sort of a proselytizing ostrich. It wants everybody to fall in line and not protect themselves, because otherwise it would require NERC to pay some attention to what people outside its own four walls are saying. And, they just don’t want to do that.
Chris Martenson: Understood, and that’s not an atypical thing. I’ve seen that in other industries. So, Jen, you spearheaded the effort to write a letter to President Obama. Tell us why you did that and what you hope might come from that.
Jen Bawden: Well…
Ambassador Woolsey: Well…
Jen Bawden: Oh, sorry.
Ambassador Woolsey: Yeah, Jen, go ahead. I was about to say I did not, but you were talking to Jen, not Jim. Please.
Jen Bawden: That’s funny.
Chris Martenson: We’re going with J-E-N, Jen. Sorry, go ahead, Jen.
Jen Bawden: Exactly. We’ve already got the two mixed up, Jim. Well, I was, frankly, very shocked and concerned that nobody was doing anything to protect our grid. And, I was trying to think of anything that I could do here in New York. Washington, Peter and Jim live in Washington and are trying to deal with the government and push things along from that side. And, I was thinking more as an entrepreneur what kind of tactics could we take and I thought that if we wrote a letter to the president and we got an awful lot of top scientists and government experts to sign it, that maybe sent it to Obama, that maybe we would at least get to his desk. But, I also thought that we could get it out into the press. So, what’s quite, I say shocking to me, is that 15 years ago I wrote a best-selling book, and the best-selling book, it was a guide for young women, and it was called Get a Life, Then Get a Man. And, in I would say, I did 100 national shows, and so I said to myself, “No problem. This is such an important issue, everybody’s going to want to put Jim on national television to talk about it. And, it’ll be no problem for us to get the word out.”
Well, I can tell you that the whole world wanted to somehow learn about how to get a life and then meet the right guy, but nobody seems to care, except for you, Chris, and this very small group of others about publishing the information on an EMP and what it can do to destroy America and civilization. Because, if America is gone, what do you think happens to the rest of the world? I mean, the stock markets will be shut down the next day. So, it’s really just shocking to me that it’s being, I say, so hard to get the world interested or especially American newspapers and radio shows interested in this situation. So, we really thank you, Chris, for helping to bring this to your readership.
Ambassador Woolsey: Chris, I think Jen is exactly right and there’s, I think, one thing I would add, which is that there’s really been a very aggressive campaign by the utilities to keep from being given any, even the most minimal requirements. And, it seems as if we were trying to nationalize the electric business or something. And, that’s the way they’ve reacted and that’s the way they deal with the issue. They are just not willing to sit down and figure out what you need to do to fix this very serious problem. And, you can’t really pass legislation that will put somebody in charge effectively as long as the industry itself is fighting tooth and nail against being asked to deal with the problem in any way. And, it’s really quite remarkable why people should want to run the risk.
I think people are thinking of this sort of like nuclear war and therefore, it can be deterred. If the Chinese or the Russians launched a nuclear weapon at us the traditional way, we would know where it came from and we’d be able to retaliate and that, during the Cold War, that deterrence has worked. But, the problem with electromagnet pulse is you may not know anything except all the electricity stops. As Peter said, you may not know that anything has been detonated, because the altitude would be so high, there won’t be any blast, there won’t be any sound. And, it might have come at you, instead of coming over the northern pole, which is where all of our warning gear is set up and radars, they might launch it around the south pole, so-called fractional orbital bombardment system, which the Soviets developed in the last, during the Cold War. And, we don’t have hardly any surveillance trained on something that would come around from the south.
But, since you’re talking about something in orbit, not just a launch, and detonating in orbit, it can be a very primitive nuclear weapon. It doesn’t have to re-enter the atmosphere, it doesn’t have to be accurate, you’re not shooting at a specific target. It, in a lot of ways, is much easier to do than what we have all spent years thinking about, at least from time to time, which is deterring a traditional Soviet or Chinese nuclear attack. This is much harder to deter.
Chris Martenson: Understood. And, as a kid, I shot bottle rockets off. They’re unguided. It sounds like you need the same level of technology. You just need to get something up in the air. That’s a much simpler task in some ways. So, Dr. Pry, I’m almost afraid to ask this question: How does the United States fare in its EMP protection efforts? Are we just as bad as everybody else, or has Europe already addressed this? Where do you think Russia stands and China as well?
Dr. Pry: Well, Russia and China are the only countries in the world that have hardened their civilian critical infrastructures, including their electric grid to survive an EMP. Taiwan and South Korea are in the process of doing that, because they know the Chinese plan EMP attacks against Taiwan, and of course, South Korea is right opposite North Korea. Countries at high northern latitudes like Sweden, Finland and Norway are much better off than we are, because they have protected their grids against geomagnetic storms. However, not against the super geomagnetic storm like a Carrington Event, even they would be affected by that. But, most of the world, aside from Russia and China is pretty vulnerable.
We’ve got— the U.S. military, the Department of Defense has hardened selective parts of our critical military infrastructures that, in fact, NORAD is putting more commands, they’re moving back basically into Cheyenne Mountain, and spending $700 million to further harden Cheyenne Mountain against the EMP threat from North Korea. So, the military part is being done responsibly. But, what we’re concerned about, if the Iranians or the North Koreans attack us, it’s not our military systems that they’re mainly interested in going after. It’s going after our people and our civilian critical infrastructures. If you just think about that, spending $700 million just to increase the hardness of Cheyenne Mountain, that’s almost half of what we would need to spend to protect the whole country.
I mentioned before that we give away two billion dollars in aid to Pakistan for some reason every year. Pakistan isn’t even a friend of the United States, and they are a nuclear weapon state. I don’t know why we give them two billion dollars. But, if we suspended that foreign aid to Pakistan for just one year and spent it on the security of the American people, it would be a giant step toward solving this problem.
And, one last thing about the threat in terms of its proximity. Most Americans don’t know it, but you had mentioned earlier in this broadcast about the attack on the Metcalf transformer substation in April of 2013 by parties unknown. Had that attack succeeded, it would have—and, we don’t, it would’ve collapsed, it could’ve collapsed the western grid. This country has three parts of the grid system, the western grid, the eastern grid and Texas. Well, on that same day, on the very day that that happened, that’s the day that North Korea orbited that satellite, the KSM-3, over a position where it could’ve collapsed the eastern grid. And, we don’t know who did the western grid attack. It’s possible that that was, that they were experimenting with some kind of combined arms operation that involves both nuclear EMP as well as physical sabotage on April 16th. And, the KSM-3 is still up there, it still passes over the United States with regularity. And, nobody knows what's inside that satellite. Is it just a peaceful satellite, or do they have a nuclear weapon in there already that is passing over us as a force in being that could be used to blackmail us or to actually make an EMP attack on the United States.
Chris Martenson: Wow. Fascinating, terrifying. I somehow suspected that other countries would’ve already undertaken the hardening, because the cost is minimal and the potential benefit is extraordinary, it’s huge. So, for the individual—yeah, go ahead.
Jen Bawden: I was just going to say that an EMP could also happen very simply if they wanted to send it off a boat from the East Coast, just above, high into the altitude, you could take down the entire East Coast pretty quickly.
Chris Martenson: And, that seems like probably the easiest way to go about doing it, too. Lots of ships travelling.
Jen Bawden: I mean, you can’t check every single boat. So, there’s a lot of ways that they can get in to cause a lot of damage.
Dr. Pry: Yeah, Jen had mentioned earlier, the North Korean freighter that passed through the Gulf of Mexico, and that we found the SA-2s onboard in the Panama Canal. There’s an example, a real world example of what they were probably practicing to do it off of a boat, off the Gulf of Mexico, where we have no early warning capabilities. And, all you really have to do to destroy the United States, by the way, is to collapse the eastern grid. A nuclear weapon detonated anywhere over the eastern grid would do that, because 75% of our electricity is generated by the eastern grid. Most of our nuclear reactors and population are located under the eastern grid and we can’t survive—even if the western grid and the Texas grid remained intact, it would be catastrophic and we wouldn’t be able to survive as a nation without the eastern grid.
Chris Martenson: Understood. And, so here’s a question, maybe for Peter, maybe for Ambassador Woolsey. So, let’s imagine you’re an individual listener or maybe a corporation out there who doesn’t want to wait for D.C. and the power industry to align their actions. Is there anything we could do to help insulate ourselves, besides getting a hand pump for our water, anything to insulate ourselves and our families? What really could we—how could somebody respond who’s not responding at the national level?
Dr. Pry: Could I jump in here?
Chris Martenson: Sure. Please do.
Dr. Pry: Well, actually, we’re trying to—my task force a couple of years ago decided to go to the states, because we weren’t making as much progress as we wanted at the federal level. One of the EMP Commission recommendations is that the states harden their grids individually. It’s called islanding. It doesn’t change the way the grid would normally operate. If you put these protective devices, the Faraday cages, the blocking devices, the surge arresters, if you put them in place to protect the most important parts of the grid within your state, it will basically enable you to keep the lights on in your state, even though the rest of all the other states around you might go down, might go dark. And, we’ve actually started making progress. It took, after trying for years in Washington to get a bill passed, it took only six months to get a bill passed through the Maine State Legislature, a couple of months through the Virginia State Legislature, Arizona passed a bill. So, three states actually passed bills to protect their grids and people from EMP. And, we’re hoping this is a trend that will continue.
We’ve had some disappointment and setbacks this year, though, because NERC figured out what we were doing, and now they’re fighting us at the state level. And, valiant efforts were made to pass bills in Texas and in Colorado that, unfortunately, were defeated because of lobbying by the NERC. We’ve also had other successes, though, in Florida, where they look like they’re moving in the right direction, and most recently, in Louisiana. So, at a state level, people, in addition to agitating and telling their senators and congressmen to support things like the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act in Washington, you could actually ask your state governor, your state representatives and say, “Hey, let’s get our state protected.”
And, as far as individual families are concerned, basically, the same kinds of preparedness that you would engage in to safeguard your family from a protracted blackout in a hurricane. Have food, have water, have a plan to keep your family safe and how to use a—get an electrical generator and have enough fuel there to keep the thing running.
Ambassador Woolsey: The other aspect of this, I think, is that we’ve been far too gentlemanly with the utilities and their representatives. I’m reminded of Admiral Nelson’s notion. He said, used to say, “Never mind the maneuvers, just go right at them.” I think we have to point out that NERC is toying with permitting the destruction of the United States. And, we need to hang that around the necks of the utilities and let people know what they are doing in order to try to thwart efforts to protect the country with these very modest expenditures. They are really worth a Nelson-like approach.
Jen Bawden: I agree with Jim and I’ll just mention that part of the problem is the American citizens don’t even know what an EMP is. When you go out there, one out of every 25 people you speak to even has ever even heard of it before, and it’s usually from a comic book. So, unless we get the word out and unless we can get more people like you to help us let the world know about this devastating threat, it makes it a lot harder. Because, it has to come from the people.
Chris Martenson: Understood.
Jen Bawden: The change has to come from the people.
Chris Martenson: And, I’m completely baffled. This is just another thing that makes me question what’s going in this country. Because, it’s common sense and it’s just classic risk mitigation, and by the way, the numbers—I know two billion sounds like a lot, but not to me anymore. It sounds like chump change. It’s what the Federal Reserve printed up in about, oh, about six hours when they were at the peak of their money printing to make sure the banks were healthy. So, a healthy grid, to me, is more important, actually, than too-big-to-fail banks, but that’s me. And, so what I’m wondering at this point is, well, what then, what can citizens, maybe corporations do to help you break the inertia in D.C., move things along in the right direction? How do people get involved?
Jen Bawden: Well, I’d start by saying that Peter Pry is really ground central. He’s really one of the most amazing men I’ve ever met. So, maybe there’s a way to let people know about his website, let them go, if they want to help out, it’s a non-for-profit. That would certainly be a great help, because Peter’s been doing it just on a very, very limited budget, fighting, it’s David against Goliath. So, anybody that wants to help, that would probably be one of the first places to start. And, I would also say that if you could speak to your congressman, write letters, if anybody that you know of influence can help, let them know, get them involved with Peter and the EMP Task Force and national and homeland security. Peter, Jim, what other ideas do you have?
Ambassador Woolsey: No, I think that’s right. Peter’s really done a superb job of pulling the facts together on this and we can all do what we do best on different things. But, I think we’ve got to make it absolutely clear what the utilities are doing, and they are trifling with the destruction of our civilization.
Chris Martenson: Understood. And, Dr. Pry, what is that website?
Dr. Pry: EMPTaskForce.org. Also, our task force has put out some books for basic education about this. One of them is called Electric Armageddon and another is called Apocalypse Unknown. And, those are available through CreateSpace.com, or Amazon.com.
Chris Martenson: Fantastic. And, we will also provide links at the bottom of this podcast so people can just click and get there. This is a fascinating topic to me and I’m just intrigued by it on a lot of levels, and I know that someday, it’s just a question of "when," not "if," it’s a "when" thing for a coronal mass ejection, a sun event, that’s coming. We know one’s coming at some point, and if we go into that unhardened and find our country destroyed, that’s just such a "shame on us" moment. It just seems so baffling to me that we’re even having this conversation. But, it’s been my pleasure to have it with you, Dr. Pry, Ambassador Woolsey, Jen Bawden. I want to thank you all, all three of you and your colleagues for doing what you can and trying to bring this issue up. God speed, good luck and keep going.
Ambassador Woolsey: Thanks a lot, good to be with you.
Dr. Pry: Thank you so much.
Jen Bawden: Thanks, Chris.