U.S. needs a missile defense against North Korea or rogue states that would approach 100% reliability; nothing less will be acceptable

One of the fundamental issues in personal ethics has to do with facing singularities in life.  We will all die someday, and face something at the end, which could be sudden and random or predictable and prolonged.  But facing sudden violence from an enemy, especially fed by resentment, is especially problematical; for me, pimping victimization just won’t get it.

We generally think about appropriateness of behavior and bearing in terms of playing by the rules of the system, of “democratic capitalism” as it is in the West, given a narrow focus on personal responsibility and transparent consequences, with the expectation that the legal and physical infrastructures will always function with stability as they do now.  People who do well in life legitimately (from any Western or reasonably stable country) generally deal with this personalized moral paradigm well.  But a sizable minority of people (at least in my own social media feeds) talk as if they believe everyone has an obligation that they could start out with nothing and start over in a post-technology world – the doomsday preppers.

While there were scattered kooky publications predicting financial ruin throughout the nineties, most of us suddenly felt we had to deal with the idea of sudden apocalypse after 9/11.  Many asymmetric threats, including small nuclear bombs and dirty bombs, as well as biological weapons, became the subject of widespread speculation.  The anthrax attacks shortly after 9/11 contributed.  An online preview of a chapter on terrorism in my DADT II book got hacked on April Fools Day, 2002, at exactly the point where I was talking about small nuclear weapons.

Like Dr. Strangelove, we’ve learned to live with all this, and the fear, from my perspective, has receded.  But the scare has returned with the increasing threats from North Korea.  There are two main threats.  The most obvious would be North Korea’s long range ICBM’s actually being able to deliver thermonuclear weapons on US cities.  Off hand, it sounds like this may be more difficult for North Korea to achieve than most reports (and Kim Jong Un’s bravado) suggest but by mid 2019 it would probably be a realistic threat.  But in the meantime, based on scattered reports (including James Woolsey’s) it sounds like North Korea might well be able to detonate an EMP weapon at fairly high altitude, from either a satellite or missile;  this may be easier to do.  Such an event would much more likely be an E1 (from a fission device) than an E3 (fusion, or Carrington solar storms) but it could severely damage the US technological infrastructure and home devices, unless they were shielded. That’s why I disagree with some speculations that North Korea would only use nuclear blasts.

While North Korea has said it would use the weapons only if it felt threatened, it has recently said that all of its nukes are pointed at the US only. (That’s absurd; only the medium or long range ones can reach US territory.)  Since most of North Korea’s people as individuals have almost nothing, Kim Jong Un can play the card of targeting US civilians for personal loss, having everything to lose personally.  This was a common tactic of revolutionary communism in the 60s and 70s (consider the Khmer Rouge, and Patty Hearst, for that matter), long before Al Qaeda brought its own horror to American civilians. I think of this as the “Scarlet O’Hara” problem, in the opening of “Gone with the Wind”, where Scarlet first contemplates that her privileged life could be taken away from her by force during war.  But she gets it back (“I’ll never be hungry again”).  But maybe the rest of us would not be so personally resilient. (Think about a similar scene in the middle of “Cold Mountain”—“I can embroider but I can’t darn!”)

The concern about EMP has been known a long time (a Popular Mechanics magazine issue called attention it a week before 9/11) but concern increased somewhat in 2009 with the publication of Fortschen’s novel “One Second After”, which has yet to make it to film. Ted Koppel’s 2015 “Lights Out” book has reinforced the concern, as has perhaps NBC’s series “Revolution” (which really offers a different explanation for the blackout).  The US has an EMP commission, which was reportedly defunded in October.  As I’ve noted, it’s mostly conservative media outlets which have been willing to talk about this, some of them reporting explicit EMP threats from Kim and reporting that Trump recently has said he understands the threat.  So far, Huffington Post is the only major “liberal” publication to deal with it in detail.

That brings us to the subject of US missile defense.  If in fact NORAD and similar systems could knock down 100% of missiles that North Korea or any future rogue state could fire, the US citizens would not have to take the nuclear threat from Kim personally, as aimed at them out of vengeance.

Mainstream journalistic reports on current capacity are not too encouraging. A Washington Post article Nov. 29 by Bonnie Berkowitz and Aaron Steckelberg talk about a GMD system that right now could handle “only” 44 missiles.  (I thought, that’s the maximum number of characters in an IBM mainframe dataset name!)  But the New York Times on Nov. 16 has an article about layered defense by David Sanger and William Broad. PBS News Hour after Thanksgiving gave a more pessimistic assessment.

What, we may ask, happened to Reagan’s Star Wars (Strategic Defense Initiative)  proposal of 1983?  SDI would not have defended against all kinds of threats, but one of the issues was that the very concept contradicted MAD (mutually assured destruction) so it was seen as inappropriate for the traditional Cold War with the Soviet Union and China. But it makes a lot more sense in defending against rogue nations, who also could hire clandestine terrorists (as from Al Qaeda or ISIS).

An effective defense system would have to anticipate submarine launches or possibly from rogue hijacked ships (as seems to happen in “One Second After” and is speculated in Michael Maloof’s “A Nation Forsaken”).

This brings up my own background.  Early in my career, my background seemed to point to defense, and my second full time job was working coding missile intercept subroutines in FORTRAN (later assembler) at the Naval Command System Support Activity (NAVCOSSACT) at the Washington Navy Yard in Washington DC, from 1971-1972, about nineteen months.  I worked in a four-story building near the river and Water Street which surely has been renovated by now, beyond recognition; but there were no windows inside. One of the systems was called “COMINT” and the results of the simulations were to be used in the SALT (Strategic Arms Limitations Talks). Perhaps the result of these talks was a scaling back of defensive systems.  But I know from having worked there that the mathematics and theory of how to do everything was quite advanced at the time, 45 years ago.

One reason for my leaving this job and going to Univac in New Jersey in 1972 was the issue of my getting a Top Secret Clearance (I had Secret only) given my pseudo-psychiatric history after my expulsion from William and Mary in the Fall of 1961 (for admitting “latent homosexuality” to the Dean covertly). I would have my programs keypunched (or would punch them myself) and turn in compiles and test shots upstairs at a “production control center”.  Eventually the modules and results would be taken to an “inner sanctum” of other programmers with top secret clearances.  We surely are way beyond all this now.

While in the Army (“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, 1968), I spent a summer in the Pentagon.  I do remember conversations to the effect that the draft, enhancing conventional capability, were seen as part of psychological nuclear deterrent by enemies (i.e., we could demand some sacrifice by individuals if we had to).  I’ll get more into the “McNamara’s Morons” issue in a book review soon.  But the issue of exposure of civilians to involuntary risk and inequitable sacrifice (the Battle of Britain issue in 1940) was on people’s minds.  We see that today the way we refer to Vietnam-era draft dodging (both Clinton and Trump) by politicians today. I would go to the library and read articles on the impacts of nuclear strikes on various cities (I remember one about St. Louis, and in 1983 the TV movie “The Day After” would show Kansas City in such a situation; or later, “Testament“, showing northern  California residents awaiting radiation sickness after San Francisco gets it). Even then, though, the ability of the US to defend itself with missiles was said to be considerable, following the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, which had unfolded suddenly while I was a pseudo-patient at NIH, and with my daytime student passes, the only one on the ward who understood what was going on.

I also worked three summers (1965 through 1967) at David Taylor Model Basin (near Washington) while finishing graduate work at KU; similarly, it seemed that weapons systems detection systems were really quite advanced then. Although computing has become personalized in a revolutionary way since then (the Internet and social media), the basic command and control hardware and software were intact in the 1960s, when we put a man on the Moon.

So, coming back to where we are with missile defense today, in short, it is not politically controversial to expect missile defense approaching 100%.  Having that capability would take Kim Jong Un’s direct threats to individual Americans (I take them personally) off the table.  Nothing less than that should be acceptable.

It would be necessary to take down missiles even before they enter continental US air space.  Missile tests that result in missiles go beyond Japan out into the Pacific should be shot down.

But, there are those in the world who want to see everyone brought equally low, to start over. That is radicalism 101.  It also relates to nihilism. (The extreme Left wants this to happen to almost everyone, like in North Korea;  the extreme Right wants to waste those whom it deems unfit to live – that’s what Nazism was all about.)  Right now, we have to wonder if we’ll have the world as we know it eighteen months from now.   There are plenty of moralizers on social media who will preach mandatory prepping for everyone;  you don’t know if thirty minutes from now, the lights go out forever.  It shouldn’t be that way.  We need to do the least controversial thing to protect ourselves, and make our missile defense solid.  Maybe then I could personally pay more attention to more localized “identity politics” which seems pretty meaningless right now.

The Libertarian Party had stressed missile defense, while avoiding foreign engagements, back in the 1990s, as Harry Browne had explained in his book “How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World“.  I remember his talking about this at a conference in Manassas VA in May 1996.

(Posted: Wednesday, January 10, 2018. At 9:30 PM EST)

Huffington Post has been running a series on North Korea’s potential EMP threat, and now seems to have a solution

In previous posts I have noted that the discussion of the EMP threats to the United States, from weapons acquired by terrorist organizations or (as of much more concern recently) rogue or hostile smaller states like North Korea (and possibly Iran in the future) have largely taken place in conservative media.  It is true that a fewer high profile conservative politicians like Newt Gingrich have discussed the threat, but their warnings tend to be forgotten.  The most notable Democratic (Clinton era) appointee to talk about this has been former CIA director James Woolsey, who thinks that North Korea already could have the ability to launch such an attack from a satellite as well as an ICBM.

It is also true that the Department of Energy (in Oak Ridge TN) and National Academy of Sciences have been publishing peer-reviewed papers on the threat (most notably with respect to large solar storms) for a number of years, as I found when I made a personal trip to Oak Ridge in July 2013, which I have already covered on older blogs.

On Dec. 20, Dennis Santiago, Managing Director, Total Bank Solutions and US National Policy Strategic Thinker published a piece in the “liberal” Huffington Post, “Neutering North Korea’s EMP Threat: Making the US Power Grid Impervious Is Achievable”.  (I thought, that meant neutering Kim Jong Un like he had been a tomcat, something Milo would say.) Quickly, I discovered that Santiago had presented two other sophistries (first, second) in Huffington, in  September; so my complaint that the liberals have been sleeping on the EMP threat is no longer entirely correct.  But I only found out about the current article from a tweet this evening from New Hampshire-based Resilient Grid.   The September Issue reported an explicitly EMP threat from North Korea, but Fox had reported this too.

In the second article, Santiago had covered some of the technicalities of missile defense against especially FOBS, which may be related to Shining Star and the threats Woolsey had mentioned.  It’s really quite intricate.  But the interception strategies against an orbiting device may be more sophisticated than those against a “conventional” (oxymoron) ICBM.

Santiago’s recommendations comprise three major areas.  First, he supposes that a possible EMP attack might offer a lead time as long as 90 minutes.  He recommends that electric utilities rehearse war games to draw down the grids, with brownouts or blackouts, so that transformers can’t be overloaded so much.  He and others have also talked about newer methods of grounding transformers so they are less vulnerable.  Dominion Power of Virginia has recently aired TV spots (especially on CNN) saying that it is developing a smart grid that can anticipate failures.  I hope this means they are implementing some of these suggestions.

He then points out that America as a whole needs to decentralize its power generation.  That would logically mean that most owners of single family or large townhomes ought to be incentivized to provide their own solar panels or other power sources like gas.  I recently downsized and moved into a highrise condo.  In the house, I actually had a generator that came into heavy use after the derecho of 2012. Had I stayed, I probably would have needed to consider not only a new roof but also a solar system. But making highrise condos and apartments and commercial buildings less grid-dependent sounds like a challenge.  Ironically, Dominion Power recently forced a short outage in my own new location to install new underground cables and, I hope, some of the newer grounding technologies.

He also points out that regulations often discourage decentralization (that’s normally a conservative position, rather analogous to opposing legally driven network neutrality).  The securities markets, especially bonds, could be rattled by sudden changes in energy policy, or even by unfavorable publicity, which I am probably giving them with this blog posting. But he says markets could be legally reformed rather easily to encourage local homeowners and businesses to become more self-sufficient in their own energy management, and even to be able to sell solar or wind power pack to the grid.

There’s another aspect to the newest article that seems striking: Santiago seems to suggest that the administration, most of all DOD and DHS, is well aware of the EMP threats and are perhaps paralyzed as to what to do.  The administration does not seem to want to take a public position on the issue and force reforms on utilities perhaps out of fear on the effect on the markets.  I have tweeted “Real Donald Trump” myself about the issue, and I’ve wondered if Trump cognitively understands the nature of the threat given unprecedented American and western dependence on technology.  Santiago apparently thinks the president does understand. But if the U.S, could neutralize the EMP threat, and go public with its policies, it could afford to become much more aggressive in its policies toward any future provocations (like missile tests with actual weapons over the Pacific Ocean), as the ransom of American civilian technology life would be removed from the table.

It seems more likely that North Korea could detonate a fission weapon (or some sort of microwave device) in the air than a thermonuclear hydrogen bomb; so the real practical threat to the US homeland is more likely to be the E1 threat, which affects electronics more than the grid itself, than E3, which is more like a Carrington solar storm. As I indicated before, this would raise questions about how well companies have secured their data centers from external microwave-like pulses (with Faraday-like protection and distribution of cloud data with multiple redundancies).

I won’t belabor it here much, but the whole question of decentralization also begs the question of what “we” expect of individuals and families along the line of “The Survival Mom” thinking. Hyperindividualism and weaker social structures (vertical and horizontal) become pertinent.  The gravity of this topic seems far afield from most of their irreverant complaints about the current administration and “President Poopiepants” (or, as David Brooks once wrote, the idea that the president is a child), along with fat-shaming of Kim Jong In, quoting our own president (and Milo) that you can find on Facebook.  Not only is there weaker social cohesion in out outspoken civilian society;  there is little respect for current leadership (most of all in social media), which is something, related to resilience at a citizen level, that enemies have already noticed.  Look at what the Russians have done already, and North Korea seems so much more fanatical, a kind of communist Al Qaeda.

(Posted: Thursday, December 22, 2017 at 10:15 PM EST)

Update:  Sunday, December 24, 2017 at 10 AM EDT

Various media sources report that North Korea calls the newest UN sanctions as an act of war.

There is also a threat of deploy biological agents by missile, or covertly.

If James Woolsey were right, based on his announcement in March, Kim  Jong Un could launch an E1-level EMP (frying unshielded electronics but not the power grids) over eastern US when his shining star satellite orbited into the right position, right now.

At 2 PM EST

The Washington Examiner, a conservative paper, reports, in an article by Paul Bedard,  that President Trump  will address the electromagnetic pulse threats explicitly and is the first president to do so. The implies that the topic has been coming up at national security meetings, probably even at Mar a Lago (no, I haven’t been invited, yet). I have tweeted Trump explicitly on this topic several times since early July and mentioned the important distinction between E1 (far more likely) and E3 to him.  I’ve also discussed this with OANN and with WJLA (Sinclair).  Maybe the corner is being turned.  Still, the mainstream media companies largely choke on this topic. I’d expect to see Breitbart and Milo weigh in!

One more question: how long will it take the power companies to do what Trump supposedly promise (upgrade grounding circuits, for example, which Dominion Energy seems to be doing) and for the tech companies and server farms to have their centers fully “Faraday” shielded?  Recovery won’t be as easy as the 2001 movie “Oceans 11” makes it look.

 

North Korea, EMP, and martial law: mainstream media needs to wake up and do the fact-checking now

On Sunday, July 1, 2018, a favorite gay disco of mine, Town Danceboutique (Washington, D.C.), closes (after a year of notice) for real estate development.

But Wednesday July 4, 2018, the entire country could well be in North Korea’s nuclear crosshairs, if the timetable that seems to emerge from recent news really holds. And I’ve had at least one person claim to me that by them much of the nation could see martial law.  I’ll come back to that.

We know that on November 28, North Korea tested its largest missile ever, on a parabolic path that took it 2800 miles up, to land short of Japan with no payload. Your Physics 101 test problem would have its maximum range if fired on a “baseball home run” path to be about 8000 miles over the Great Circle, enough to reach all of the continental U.S.

Experts seem to disagree on how much the weight of even a miniaturized thermonuclear weapon would reduce the range. Credible analysts also say that the missile seemed to break up on re-entry, into perhaps three pieces, and that other aspects of the North Korean photos, like the background star constellations, were doctored.  All of this may suggest that technically it is still much more difficult for North Korea to lob a thermonuclear weapon over the US than the doomsday preppers believe.  Still, six months sounds like a reasonable benchmark.

So Trump may feel pressured to create a pre-emptive attack   well before June 2018, even given the horrific predictions of what happens to South Korea, and perhaps Japan, even Guam.  “The war will be fought in their back yard, not ours”, Senator Lindsey Graham rants.  This is one game where there is no home field advantage, no walk-off win;  you have to win on the road.

Recently NBC News reported (story and video by Cynthia McFadden et al, link) on the possibility that the US could disable North Korean missile control with a stealth cruise missile or fighter attack (similar to those in this week’s controversial maneuvers with South Korea) blaring non-nuclear flux microwaves (E1 level), which would destroy electronics but not kill people, most of whom (outside the privileged in Pyongyang) live without electricity anyway. But the missiles are certainly hidden underground and perhaps shielded in Faraday fashion. Still, this sounds like the “least bad” military option Trump has.

That leaves us with one other nagging problem that the mainstream media doesn’t want to talk about.  That is, the possibility of an EMP attack, not only on South Korea or Japan, but even on the continental U.S.

Former CIA chief James Woolsey has already warned us (March 7, 2017 post) that North Korea could launch a small device from its “Shining Star” satellite.  But the more obvious question would be, is it easier technically for North Korea to detonate a weapon at high altitude in flight, possibly over north central US, than at the end of the route at a target?  No mainstream publication seems to have taken this question up yet.

Last week, Fox News ran a story reporting that Kim Jong Un had threatened such an attack (see Nov. 7) – and it’s pretty obvious that he would.  I see from YouTube that Fox has run similar stories before,  But the mainstream news sites have given very little explicit attention to these possibilities.  I do recall a story on Vox concerning solar storms (Sept 13, 2016) and a later similar one in the Wall Street Journal. And I also see that I’ve covered the mainstream media’s reticence on this matter on Sept. 8, 2017.

Still, it seems that the mainstream media owes us a major factfinding effort on questions like (1) the preparedness of the three major power grids for huge transformer overloads (there is talk of “neutral ground circuit technology”), and (2) the preparedness of the tech industry for extreme disruption, by distributing cloud data (which they already do) around the world, and the possibility of building Faraday-like protections for their servers.

Keep in mind, the electromagnetic pulse threat has two major components.  The E3 component, which is a delayed effect from thermonuclear weapons and is similar to extremely large coronal mass ejections from solar storms, is destructive to power grid transformers and other circuitry, at least with current technology. The E1 component is what destroys consumer electronics and ignitions of many cars.  (There is a good question as to whether solid state drives are more immune than traditional hard drives, for example, since they the new stuff is less sensitive to ordinary magnets).  The E1 component can come from smaller (fission) nuclear weapons (more likely from a DPRK ICBM or mid range missile or possibly satellite), and also comes from non-nuclear microwaves (which are much more local because they are usually detonated at low altitude closer to targets – the US military can use them in Afghanistan now).

With all this discussion, we should not lose sight of the cyber threats, which I think are more difficult for an enemy to carry out (against infrastructure) than popular legend suggests, but here is a prediction for an incident even this week.

Conventional reporting suggests that Kim Jong Un’s insistence on becoming a nuclear power is purely defensive.  I would wonder if the old Vietnam era Domino Theory applies:  he could later try to force us to leave South Korea or lift all sanctions.  The EMP peril is a very novel threat because of our unprecedented dependence on technology.  An enemy could conclude, if his own people will eat grass, that we aren’t resilient enough personally as civilians to recover from loss and hardship and be ever more tempted into aggression. North Korea has almost certainly tried to work with other terrorists like ISIS out of shear resentment of western values.

It does seem that the mainstream media is distracted by the more obvious stories about Trump’s presidency:  the Flynn and Manafort investigations, Trump’s claim he can get away with “obstruction of justice”, the Jerusalem move announced today.

I won’t moralize here about civilian preparedness (like “The Survival Mom” on Facebook) as I have before and will again. But that does bring back the idea of martial law, which an authoritarian president presumably could want to find an excuse to implement so that he has more “control”.

The Wikipedia article (on martial law in the U.S.) gives a detailed history of is use, most recently in 1961 in Montgomery Alabama as a response to the “Freedom Riders” – that was shortly before I graduated from high school, and I don’t recall this news.  Hawii was under martial law from Pearl Harbor until 1944.   It is difficult to suspend habeas corpus under US law, given especially the Posse Comitatus Act, which is supposed to shield civilians from military intervention – yet enemies are likely to regard American civilians as (un)deserving combatants.

I am not so cynical as to believe that Trump wants to see half the country without power for a year so he can seize control.  Consider Dan Trachtenberg’s film “10 Cloverfield Lane” (2016). That reminds me of conspiracy theories where right-wing authorities start war and live in luxury underground.  Who wants that?  The sci-fi conspiracy to escape from Earth (if possible) makes more psychological sense to me.

I would be more concerned that if a real catastrophe occurred, and most of the country were without power for months, the entire government would fall and foreign powers, which could be China, or could be Islamist, could take over.  That does bring up personal morality again, and that’s another post that’s coming.

We’d better not blow this.  It’s hard for me to join “identity groups” so concerned about narrow oppression (bathroom and “religious freedom” bills) when there are issues like this, at least as potentially dangerous to me personally as was the Vietnam War (I stayed out of combat because of education and “privilege”) and later AIDS (I never got infected).  The lessons that Scarlet O’Hara had to learn sound appropriate.

I will challenge the major networks and news outlets to get to the facts (and not leave this to conservative sites and groups like Resilient Societies), and I am available for hire (at 74, in “retirement”) to help them do this.  I’ve really collected and organized a lot of material. What a way to go back to work.  I even bought a suit and updated my Linked-In profile, while there is still time.

I wish I could get back to believing in Google’s plans for quantum computing as our future.

Update: Dec 7  (“Pearl Harbor Day”): 10 AM EST

Probably by coincidence I got a letter to my own mailbox in my condo building about a planned power outage for “improving a portion of the energy grid that serves your area.”  Upon checking, this may be related to a specific problem some months ago before I moved in. But Dominion Energy of Virginia has been mentioned as one of the few companies so far preparing to install neutral ground circuits that are supposed to protect transformers from extreme surges, as with solar storms or possibly terror attacks.

The mainstream media really does need to start “connecting the dots” on this one and not leave it to right-wing sites, amateur bloggers, and suspense and sci-fi novelists to figure out.

 

(Posted: Wednesday, December 6, 2017 at 11 PM EST)

Cato Institute holds forum on North Korea and escalation of tensions while Trump visits

On Monday, November 6, 2017 the Cato Institute in Washington DC held a three-part, three hour forum (9AM -noon), “How Do You Solve a Problem Like North Korea?”

I did not have time yesterday to get to it, so I watched the live feed.  It’s pretty effective, although the volume is low and sometimes the sound is out of sync with the lips.  Here is the basic link for all of the video.   The link gives the syllabus and identifies all the speakers.

But what was said is critical.

In the first session “Pyongyang’s Capabilities and US Policy”, the last speaker Joe Cirincione from the Ploughshares Fund was quite blunt.  He said that the U.S. probably does not have the capability to stop all incoming missiles over the U.S. once North Korea masters the ability to send them with thermonuclear weapons.  There was some mention of the probabilities of war (some as high as 50%), literally like at the beginning of “Gone with the Wind“.  Earlier Joshua Pollack (“The Nonproliferation Review”) said that North Korea had only to master “old technology” well known from the Soviets and from China. Suzanne DiMaggio, of New America, spoke also (her NYTimes piece, “How Trump Should Talk to North Korea“, followed).

The last session, “New Approaches to Solving the North Korea Problem”, saw Michael Austin (Hoover Foundation) in particular raising questions as to whether being South Korea’s protector indefinitely could remain a sustainable best interest of the United States. Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute seemed to echo a similar concern. While some speakers today agree with the theory that Kim Jong Un’s insistence on having nuclear weapons is simply his strategy for surviving (given what happened to Saddam Hussein and Gadaffi) there was also some skeptoicism, that, once he has the ability to hit the U.S., Un might start demanding that the U.S. halt all exercises near South Korea or even withdraw completely, or lift sanctions. That sounds like the “domino theory” that led to the escalation in Vietnam during the Johnson Administration, where I wound up getting drafted myself in early 1968 (setting up, ironically, my own subsequent involvement in repealing “don’t ask don’t tell” decades later).  Bandow, particularly, talked about how the Soviet Union and particularly Communist China (as during the Maoist Cultural Revolution of the 1960s) were seen as an existential “political” threat to the American way of life that North Korea cannot be, as repulsive as the regime may be now. But the speakers also noted the apparently docility and gullibility of the people, who will sacrifice and “eat grass” for their fat little leader (“fat little Rocket Man”, to quote Donald Trump with a little seasoning from Milo Yiannopoulos, although not during Trump’s current Asia trip).

Will Ripley had reported on North Korean people on CNN recently (the notorious “no chest hair” line) and now reports on CNN on Trump’s trip. Trump wants to put the DPRK on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, and indeed there is concern that Iran or terror groups in Muslim world will get nuclear technology underground from North Korea.

No one on the panel or in the audience mentioned the possible EMP threats from North Korean missiles.  I did tweet a question about it but it was not read.

Wikipedia link on North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction.

Here is a link with the text of Trump’s speech in South Korea later Tuesday (Wed AM there).

UBS (n September) created a link for its investors with discussion of North Korea, with a link to a 37-minute podcast to a retired admiral.  The audio says that US atmospheric defenses are much more advanced than deep space systems, which have slowed down on the theory that the Soviets could have overwhelmed anything Reagan had wanted to do with his “Star Wars”. There is also a whimsical note that people watch the Pentagon parking lot and Metro for increased activity.  There really hasn’t been much lately. I make mental note on Uber or cab rides home from the bars late weekends.

(Posted: Tuesday, November 7, 2017, at 9:30 AM)

Update: Nov. 29, 2017, 8:45 AM EST

Here is a typical detailed story  (Jonathan Cheng), from the Wall Street Journal, on DPRK’s highest-ever missile test Tuesday Nov. 28.  The missile may have actually broken up before landing, which could mean it is less “successful” than North Korea claims. Here’s a WSJ article from July on the reentry issue.  It does appear that North Korea could place a missile anywhere over the continental US, even Florida (the farthest Great Circle point). The media still sleeps on the EMP (levels 1 and 3) issue.  This issue will get another detailed post soon.

Also, Anthony Furey at Fox News reports that North Korea has stated an EMP threat rather explicitly, which the “non-conservative” networks haven’t picked up yet.  I will definitely follow-up on the credibility of this claim.  Resilient Societies reports that a Pacific nuclear test by DPRK would disrupt the trans-Pacific cable.

I was at Cato again Nov. 28 (see).

We need to be prepared, as a nation, to house people quickly after catastrophes

I can remember, even living in Arlington having returned to look after Mother, the shock in that late August morning of 2005 learning when I got up that Hurricane Katrina had been much worse than expected.

I would volunteer some time at the Red Cross in nearby Falls Church (mixing the shifts with substitute teaching at the time) finding with many callers there was very little we could do but tell them to wait hours on the line for FEMA.

Over time, a few hundred people settled temporarily in the DC area.  Many more settled in Texas, and I believe that in some cases families, or especially individuals, were housed in private homes.  I at least wondered if we could be asked to do this.  I’ve entertained this kind of emergency before (May 18, 2016).

The Sunday before Hurricane Sandy (which came inland on a Monday night in late October 2012) the pastor at an Arlington VA church gave a sermon on “radical hospitality”. Fortunately, there was little damage in this area from the storm.

I’ve also documented on this blog some of the issues with hosting asylum seekers, which I have suspended as I consider moving (no more details right now).

And I’ve noted the somewhat informal private hosting website “Emergency BNB”. And the sharing economy, developed by companies like Airbnb, many people, especially younger adults, may be used to the idea of keeping their homes ready to be shared, which is not something that would have been very practical for me during most of my own adult life. Younger adults may be less interested in collecting possessions that could be put at risk from a security perspective. Music and film could be stored in the Cloud.

Younger adults living in “earthy” neighborhoods (like New York City’s East Village) or in certain rural areas, even in collectives or intentional communities, and used to social interdependence, may be more willing to share their spaces with less attention to personal, material or legal liability risks.  Many do not have an economically realistic choice, beyond building on common social capital, as Rick Santorum or Charles Murray would describe the idea.

Along these lines, then, I wonder again about emergency housing in the context of disaster or catastrophe preparedness.  I see I took this up Sept. 22, 2016 (before the Trump election) in conjunction with preparedness month.

A few of my friends on Facebook do indeed come from the doomsday prepper crowd, and it rather alarms me how much they are into it.  A sizable number of people do not believe you can count of civilization to last forever.  They see personal self-reliance in a rural home as a moral prerequisite to participating in a world that goes beyond the immediate surroundings. Indeed, ever since 9/11, we have been warned that at some point, whole generations of people may have to rebuild the world from scratch, as in NBC’s series “Revolution” which predicates a bizarre kind of EMP event.  I say I would have nothing to offer such a world at 74,

We could indeed face a grave threat to personal security in the homeland even in 2018.  War with North Korea might be impossible to avoid, and at least a couple small nuclear strikes on the US homeland might be impossible to prevent.  As a matter of policy, what happens to the people who survive but lose everything?  Insurance doesn’t cover war (whether it covers terrorism is controversial).  Will the government indemnify them?  (It more or less did a lot of this after 9/11.)  Or will we depend on the volunteerism of “GoFundMe”? which to me has sounded self-indulgent and tacky sometimes.

It does seem that we need some kind of “national discussion” or town-hall on this.  Would seniors aging alone in oversized homes be able to take people in?  Would we expect that?  Well, we really don’t do that now with our own homeless.

Any North Korean domestic nuclear strike would probably involve a small low-yield nuclear weapon. If you look at charts like this one, you see that the number of casualties and total property damage in a city might be less than one expects.  The radiation damage is another matter.  But one can imagine calls for people in distant states to house and take in the “victims” as they may never have an uncontaminated habitable home neighborhood to return to (even with Katrina that did not hold).  It is appropriate to consider how effective the manufactured housing industry can be (with Katrina the result was not that good).

Again, another issue is the possibility of an electromagnetic pulse, which would damage all electronics in a very wide region.  Have Silicon Valley companies protected their infrastructure from this sort of thing?  One day we could find most of the Internet (and “GoFundMe”) gone forever if they haven’t.  There is very little written about this.

Nobody likes talk like this to be “thinkable”.  But the preppers have a moral point.  Resilient and prepared people are less inviting targets for an otherwise determined enemy.  Maybe that’s what “America first” means.

(Posted: Wednesday, August 2, 2017 at 3:15 PM EDT)

Bloggers, press credentials, and “legitimacy”

Last week I went to a small demonstration about the lapsing of network neutrality on the Capitol grounds.  After all the speeches, Sen. Markin (D-MA) asked if there were questions, from the press (non-restrictive, I thought). But when I didn’t have a media company employing me (I said I was “independent”) I was “silenced”. Here is my legacy blog account of the incident.

Then, yesterday “it” happened again.  I got an email from a PR company about an opportunity to interview a particular transgender activist, who was going to speak in Washington at a meeting of the American Federation of Teachers.  I asked if I could just go to the meeting.  Apparently, only if I worked for a media company.  I got the impression the PR person wouldn’t have offered the interview had he realized I work solo.

In fact, I get a lot of emails asking if I would interview someone.  Some, but probably a minority, of them mention the possibility of articles on one of my legacy Blogger sites (like “Bill of GLBT Issues”) which obviously don’t come from a “professional news organization.” Most of these invitations are with persons with very narrowly focused niche issues (sometimes embedded in identity politics), or sometimes very specific products or services to sell (of the “self-help” variety), not of broadband interest, so I usually don’t try to follow up.  But what if I got an invitation to talk to someone involved in an issue I view as critical and underreported by the mainstream press, like power grid security?

One of the best links on this issue seems to come from NPPA, “The Voice of Visual Journalists”, which poses the blunt question “How do I obtain press credentials if I do not work for a newspaper or magazine or I am a freelancer?”

There is a US Press Association which appears to offer cards for a membership fee, and I’m not sure how well recognized it is by the industry.

Some videos suggest that “YouTubers” and Bloggers can get press passes for trade shows (like CES) if they are persistent enough.

But many other sources on the Web (for example, WikiHow) suggest that you need to work for someone, and get paid for what you do, at least with a contractual agreement if not an actual employee.   It would be a good question if you can work for your own company in this sense.  Maybe you would have to register your business with the state you live or work in, or show that it pays its own way with normal accounting.

Of course, it’s obvious that many events have to keep the audience small and limited because of space and security reasons (White House briefings).

On the other hand, many events (such as QA’s for newly released motion pictures at film festivals) are open to the public (buying tickets) and take questions from anyone.  Most of the video I present on my parallel “media reviews” blog (older than this one) come from this setup.

There’s a potential dark cloud down the road regarding the issue of press credentials or legitimacy (v. amateurism).  Imagine a world a few years from now where all network neutrality has been eliminated, and only the websites of “credentialed” organizations can be connected to ISP’s   Sounds like Russia or China, maybe.

On the other hand, Donald Trump has expressed a dislike of mainstream “liberal” media companies (CNN, most of the television broadcast networks, most of the big city newspapers), but respects only outlets like Fox, OANN, and maybe even Breitbart, maybe even Milo.  Maybe he actually respects me.

For the record, let me say that I am interested in working with news outlets on some critical issues.  I can’t give more details right now.

(Posted: Wednesday, July 19, 2017 at 11 AM)

James Woolsey (ex CIA) warns CNN that North Korea might be capable of detonating EMP weapon from orbiting satellite soon, even now

Today, Monday, March 6, 2017 Erin Burnett gave former CIA director James Woolsey an interview in the 7:30 PM slot, and Woolsey defended his recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal warning that North Korea could pose a much bigger and more immediate threat to the United States even now than we realize.

Specifically, he suggested that North Korea could be capable of detonating a nuclear device from an orbiting satellite now.

Erin Burnett herself introduced the word “apocalyptic”.  Woolsey said there is disagreement as to how many US transformers on the power grids could survive the overload that would result.  Woolsey’s op-ed calls for strengthening the grid right now.  Bannon’s infrastructure programs so far have not mentioned this problem.  One way to strengthen the grids would be to require utilities to have their own small original generating stations and be less dependent on load sharing with other companies.  (That brings back the whole AC vs. DC debate in the early 20th century, as one time documented on the History Channel “The Men Who Built America”, 2012 episode).  Taylor Wilson (who has been supported by Peter Thiel, who supported Trump) has proposed that these small stations be shielded underground fission reactors.

I do recall many scenarios (as in “One Second After”) proposed where scud-type missiles fire off the US coast from clandestine ships create a high-altitude EMP result. There are even some non-nuclear magnetic flux devices that could be detonated on the group (as in a  mystery Popular Mechanics article shortly before 9/11 in 2001).  But I don’t recall mention of the satellite threat before, not even in Ted Koppel’s book “Lights Out”.

I do see, however, a report about North Korean satellites with this capability on a smaller conservative web site reported back in April 2016.    Wikipedia has details on one satellite.

There have been many reports in recent days of North Korea missile test attempts.  President Donald Trump has not said (or tweeted) much about them yet (except, “not going to happen”).  CNN has a story today, questioning whether North Korean missiles could overwhelm THAAD.

In November 2015, I was reading later chapters in Ted Koppel’s book on the Metro in Washington when a college-age young man looked over my shoulder to read it.  That someone that age would notice this subject matter is encouraging.

There are some issues, for preserving freedom for everyone, that seem more pressing to me than the bathroom bills.

(Published: Monday, March 6, 2017 at 9:45 PM EST)

Update: Thursday, April 6, 2017 at 10:45 PM EST

A Facebook friend (somewhat connected to the prepper crowd) passed on this link from a family security website discussing Woolsey’s predictions about North Korea and even invoking the “fake news” idea.  Note the mention of Popular Mechanics, which had discussed non-nuclear EMP in an issue shortly before 9/11 back in 2001. (The Washington Times discussed it in 2009).  Here is the link.

Update: Tuesday, April 11, 2017  6:15 PM EDT

Common sense would say that DPRK would already need to have developed a miniaturized device that could have been placed on a satellite.  Would we know?  Or could they deploy another satellite soon? DPRK’s statements remain belligerent after the Syria intervention by President Trump.

 

 

Obama’s pre-election use of “red phone” to Moscow actually underscores eventual power grid vulnerability to cyberwar

NBC News reported tonight that on Halloween morning, October 31, 2016, a Monday and eight days before the election, President Obama used the “red phone” line with Moscow for the first time during his presidency.  He reiterated a warning to the Kremlin not to interfere with the election, following up on a session in later September when Obama reportedly told Putin to “stop it”.

On Nov. 4, news media began to report concerns over possible attacks or infrastructure (Internet and power grid) disruptions on Election Day and perhaps the day before.  The threats were supposed to be credible.  On Nov. 5, I reported here a story that some American utilities had been infected with malware as early as 2012 and that the malware could not be easily removed.

The Obama administration, on Oct. 31, was still concerned that an Oct. 21 “denial of service” attack on some companies providing URL domain name resolution has been perpetrated by Russia as a “dry run”.  There are some accounts of how the attack happened, as here on “WeLiveSecurity”    and this statement by DYN. It’s well to remember that back in 2008, researchers in Finland had found a hole in the domain name resolution system that necessitated an emergency meeting with Microsoft in Seattle (story)  And historically it’s a little ironic that this summit happened just a little before the financial crash in September 2008.

More recent investigations seem to have discounted the idea that the Oct. 21 DDOS came from the Russian government.

But the media has also been concerned with various reports from the FBI, CIA and other agencies that the Russians hacked servers of both the Republicans and Democrats, posted embarrassing information about Democrats on Wikileakds, and helped alt-right sources spread “fake news” that influenced the election, especially in swing and “blue wall” states.  It’s hard for me to believe that the claim that this changed the election is really credible, but Matthew Yglesias has a very detailed explanation on Vox here. This is the activity that led Obama to tell Putin to “stop it” the first time.

All of this I write today while listening on CNN to reports of an apparent crude but vicious terror attack in Berlin, Germany by a carjacked truck in a crowd, leading to deaths and horrific injuries, and to a “Word War I”-like assassination of a Russian ambassador to Turkey today at an art gallery.

So for any president to talk “tough” to Russia can run the risk of a backlash, where an attack on the US power grid may be possible because of the reports of the 2012 malware planting.  This sort of problem was covered by Ted Koppel in his 2015 book “Lights Out” and is related to the over-dependence of major utilities on huge transformers to adjust loads, and to the inability of the US to manufacture replacement transformers.

This may be a good place to say that Donald Trump’s “make America great again” phrase when used in conjunction with doing more manufacturing at home is certainly appropriate when it comes to major hardware items at the heart of our infrastructure.  Bringing some of that manufacturing back would provide more domestic engineering and manufacturing jobs, and seems essential to prevent possibly catastrophic breakdowns in the power grid infrastructure, either from Carrington-like solar storms or terror attacks or Hitchcock-style sabotage.  Bur it’s also important for utilities to provide more of their own local generation, and this may be much more economical now with renewable technologies (including Taylor Wilson’s small fission reactors) than fossil fuels, although many such small generating stations could probably use natural gas (the “Pickens Plan”).  This one particular matter needs Donald Trump’s focused attention on Day 1 (now that his Electoral College victory is assured today), and it is totally a-political and not particularly concerned with any one voting constituency.

(Posted: Monday, December 19, 2016 at 11:30 PM EST)

 

 

 

 

 

Underground operation (a sting?) in Dallas obtained enough material for a dirty bomb

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The Washington Post is reporting that a secret group out-skirted the rules of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and accumulated enough material for a dirty bomb, in this alarming piece from the Center for Public Integrity by Patrick Malone   The CPR has its own link for the story here.  I did not see the story this morning on the print version of the Post that gets delivered. I don’t see the story yet (as of time of publication) in the online Dallas Morning News, which surprises me. (I lived there 1979-1988.)

The group operated in Texas (Dallas), Michigan and North Dakota.  It was not immediately clear if this was a (legitimate) undercover group simply trying to probe a weakness in the NRC’s security procedures (maybe to expose the Obama administration) or whether it had intended to use the materials.

There are procedures to keep track of what materials a given entity has purchased. Apparently these are easily circumvented by certain shell company operations.

Legitimate companies (even small operations owned by individual entrerpeneurs), such as utilities, hospitals and companies inventing new kinds of technology for medicine, power generation, transportation, research or various other purposes, do acquire radioactive materials all the time.  Sometimes small amounts of radioactive materials are found in nature by individual explorers, especially in western state deserts or even caves.   Normally these materials are secured in university or corporate labs in a way that can be regulated. But most of this is low-level, not easily processed into HEU, which would worry DHS. There is even some uranium in southern Virginia, near Danville.

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A dirty bomb or radiation dispersion device would probably not cause many deaths or immediate serious injuries.  But it could destroy real estate values in an area (especially an urban area) for centuries and make a lot of “rich” people (like guess who) immediately homeless.  It isn’t hard to imagine the ideological appeal of using such a device for some radical groups –  long before radical Islam was in the news, the radical Left could be quite menacing, as I recall from my own underground spying in the early 1970s (as when I went to a meeting of the “People’s Party of New Jersey” in December 1972 in a slum in Newark, NJ, before my own “second coming”.  The radical (or pro “Communist”) Left was capable of threatening angry expropriation.

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(Published: Thursday, August 4, 2016 at 10:30 PM)

Sinclair Broadcast Group publishes sudden dire warning about future EMP or cyber attacks on US power grids

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On Tuesday, July 5, 2016, WJLA affiliate station WJLA broadcast (at about 5:55 PM EDT) a 4-minute report  (by Jeff Barnd) from the Sinclair Broadcast Group  (near Baltimore, in Hunt Valley) about the security threats to the three big power grids.  I could not find the story on Sinclair’s own site. WJLA gave the story the title “Next terror target: Our power grids?”

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The report correctly called the Texas grid as the “Texas Interconnect”.

The report suggested that the main threat would probably be a high altitude blast from a hostile state enemy, like North Korea (Alaska and the US Pacific Northwest, within a couple more years, possibly) or Iran (which could try an attack on Israel or even Sunni neighbors), throwing an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) wave(s) over a large area, perhaps most of the country in extreme cases.  The report said that ISIS probably does not have the expertise to mount such an attack.

The report also suggests that a major threat could come from cyber hacking of the grid.  Either a major blast or cyberwar could overload parts of the grid suddenly, because of the “overconnecteness” of power companies selling power for profit.

It’s less clear, to me at least, that an outside actor could even reach the power control systems through the public Internet.  It should not be possible to reach the grid control from my own computer, according to any mathematical topology.   However Ted Koppel’s book “Lights Out” may have been a factor in Sinclair’s report.

The report did not mention that smaller conventional flux weapons can produce localized EMP effects. It also did not mention solar storms.

The report described massive fatalities from prolonged electricity loss like those in the NBC series “Revolution” or the novel “One Second After”.

The report also suggested that an EMP attack might be followed by a physical attack on the homeland, like in the movies (like either “Red Dawn” movie).   That sounds more likely if the aggressor is Vladimir Putin himself.

It has been very unusual for mainstream media to discuss the EMP threat. Only Ted Cruz has mentioned so far, among presidential candidates, but I suspect Newt Gingrich would discuss it as a VP candidate.  When will Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton talk about this openly?

Could my own blogging (June 17) have drawn attention to the problem?  Maybe.  Some people at WJLA know me and I have discussed my concerns about it with their reporters  in person at least twice at “Your Voice, Your Future” forums in Arlington.

Important films on the topic include “American Blackout” (National Geographic Channel, aired Oct. 27, 2013, and CNN’s “We Were Warned: Cyber Shockwave” in February 2010.

To me, this topic deserves a lot more attention than something very narrow (affecting a cohort group close to me personally) like the North Carolina bathroom bills (but there is an iceberg or “slippery slope” effect even from small issues).  But throughout my adult life, many have resented my bringing up external issues and threats when I seem less inclined to live communally as part of a closely knit “helping hands” intentional community.   I’m still a lot more into winning arguments than counting partisan converts.

Anyway, “I told you so”.   But I’m not better than you, and couldn’t live with you in a 19th Century society.

(Published: Tuesday, July 5 at 9:45 PM EDT)

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Update: July 9

I got an email from a site called “Fiscal Beacon” reproducing what it claimed was a story from Fox News about the devastation that could come from a power grid attack, bringing ordinary Americans to their knees in a personal way (that would include me).  The email offered sales of a home solar power generator, so it has a doomsday prepper flavor.  I could not find the source online, but Fox does have a couple of stories about the FBI’s comments on the issue, especially in view of a hack in the Ukraine, here by Victoria Craig, as well as a later one in April by Bill Gertz. It’s possible I got the email in response to this blog post about the Sinclair story, but I could not verify its authenticity quickly.

Here is a video on a typical solar power generator, this one apparently in Utah and popular with LDS.

Update: July 16

The Wall Street Journal carries, on p. C5 of the weekend edition, a book review (by R. Tyler Priest) of the book “The Grid” by Gretchen Bakke, from Bloomsbury.  I will purchase the book and provide my own review soon.

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Update: July 26

The Wall Street Journal also published a major article by Rebecca Smith, “How America Could Go Dark” on July 14, with illustrations, and some focus on the physical attack in 2013 at PG&E’s Metcalf facility in the Silicon Valley, CA.  There is an LTE today about “unsecure technology”.