Writing in the New York Times, William J. Broad portrays GOP presidential frontrunner Newt Gingrich as a loon for his view that an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) is one of the most dangerous threats we face as a nation:
Newt Gingrich, the Republican presidential hopeful, wants you to know that as commander in chief he is ready to confront one of the most nightmarish of doomsday scenarios: a nuclear blast high above the United States that would instantly throw the nation into a dark age.
In debates and speeches, interviews and a popular book, he is ringing alarm bells over what experts call the electromagnetic pulse, or EMP — a poorly understood phenomenon of the nuclear age.
The idea is that if a nuclear weapon, lofted by a missile, were detonated in outer space high above the American heartland, it would set off a huge and crippling shockwave of electricity. Mr. Gingrich warns that it would fry electrical circuits from coast to coast, knocking out computers, electrical power and cellphones. Everything from cars to hospitals would be knocked out.
“Millions would die in the first week alone,” he wrote in the foreword to a science-fiction thriller published in 2009 that describes an imaginary EMP attack on the United States. A number of scientists say they consider Mr. Gingrich’s alarms far-fetched.
The sci-fi thriller that Broad alludes to is William Forstchen’s One Second After, a book similar to others in apocalyptic fiction genre, such as David Crawford’s Lights Out, James Howard’s What So Proudly We Hailed, or Michael Turnlund’s The Raggedy Edge. All of these novels focus on what would happen after the collapse of the power grid in the United States.
I’ve seen the power grid up close, having mapped a fraction of it with a GPS and ATV in the mountains and bogs of upstate New York as part of a crew working for CH Energy Group. I’ve seen firsthand how something as simple as ice, a fallen tree, or even a scared bear can shut down power for hundreds of thousands.
You would be amazed at how poorly defended this hemisphere’s power grid is to physical attacks on key installations such as substations and transmission lines. Not to mention the network attacks noted in the Grey Goose Report, and the electromagnetic pulse events the bi-partisan EMP Commission Reports detailed to the House Armed Services Committee in 2008.
I’ve read the work of Yousaf Butt that Broad cites in his article, and like Dr. William Radasky and Dr. Peter Vincent Pry, I find him frankly unqualified to speak on the subject authoritatively:
Although Dr. Butt holds a Ph.D. in physics, served in NASA, belongs to the Union of Concerned Scientists, and obviously did a quick study of EMP for his article, Dr. Butt is professionally unqualified to offer competent opinions about EMP, nuclear weapon designs, and the other specialized national security issues in his article. Unlike the EMP Commissioners, Dr. Butt never worked professionally in the Department of Defense or the Intelligence Community on the subject matter addressed in his article, nor has he had access to classified information indispensable to forming competent judgments about the EMP threat. Because Harvard University’s prestigious The Space Review published Dr. Butt’s article, we are concerned that the article will misinform the public and scientific community on a vitally important issue of national security policy, and so seek to correct the record with this rebuttal. The rebuttal offered here is ours and is not an official response from the EMP Commission.
As one example of the quality of Dr. Butt’s research, he asserts that, “The methodology and conclusions of the EMP commission have already been criticized a few years ago.” To substantiate his claim, Dr. Butt references articles such as “The Newt Bomb” in The New Republic — none are serious scientific studies but merely political cartoons, authored by persons who have no competence to judge the EMP Commission’s work, and who obviously never even read the EMP Commission reports. For example, these articles condemn the EMP Commission for advocating National Missile Defense and preemptive war against Iran. Yet the EMP Commission never made any such recommendations.