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)