That we are under incessant cyberattack is not news; as the Journal notes, the Pentagon had to spend $100 million last year fixing damage done by hackers, most of whom seem to be from China and Russia.
What is news is that our enemies from those countries, and perhaps others, have put themselves in a position to strike our Achilles’ heel: the electrical production and distribution system and all of the other infrastructures — transportation, communications, food distribution, health care, water and sewage, banking, etc. — that critically depend upon it. For a sense of what an “unplugged” America would look like, think New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast region post-Hurricane Katrina.
Unfortunately, the cyber threat to “the grid” is only one means of eviscerating the soft underbelly of American society. Another which has been getting increasing attention could be delivered via the kind of nuclear-armed ballistic missile that Iran and North Korea have been developing: a strategic electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) attack. As Newt Gingrich and others — including a blue-ribbon commission that reported to Congress last year — have been pointing out for some time, by detonating a nuclear weapon in space high over the United States, an intense burst of electrical energy would be unleashed.
The effect of that EMP wave on unprotected electronic devices and the grid that powers them would be at least as severe as whatever the cyber-spies have cooked up: severe damage, if not the irreparable destruction, to transformers and other critical nodes without which our 21st-century society simply cannot function. In fact, according to Dr. William Graham, President Reagan’s science adviser and the chairman of the congressional Commission on the EMP Threat, within a year of the loss of much, if not all, of our electrical and related infrastructures, nine out of ten Americans would be dead due to such afflictions as starvation, disease, exposure, civil unrest, and lawlessness.
The Wall Street Journal report notes that the Obama administration will be releasing soon the results of a cybersecurity review it has nearly completed. It would be good if, while it is at it, Team Obama decides to make a priority of hardening our electrical grid and other infrastructures against what Janet Napolitano might call “man-made disaster” of EMP, as well as cyber attacks. With the billions the stimulus bill is showering on upgrading the U.S. power production and transmission systems, money should not be an object. And building in resiliency against such “disasters” will be far cheaper to do if it is designed in from the beginning, rather than retrofitted later.
– Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. was responsible for nuclear weapons policy in the Reagan Defense Department.