Ex-CIA Director: Government Ignoring 'Existential Threat to the American People'

CIA, Central Intelligence Agency

WASHINGTON – Former Central Intelligence Agency Director R. James Woolsey warned lawmakers that natural and manmade electromagnetic pulses present an “existential threat to the American people” and accused congressional and White House officials of ignoring a potential catastrophe.

Testifying before the Senate Homeland Security & Government Affairs Committee, Woolsey, who served two years under President Bill Clinton, warned that EMP is “a clear and present danger and that something must be done to protect the electric grid and other life sustaining critical infrastructures -- immediately.”

But Woolsey noted that official Washington is ignoring the looming threat despite a report issued by a blue-ribbon congressional commission in 2004 that offered what he termed cost-effective solutions.

“Continued inaction by Washington will make inevitable a natural or manmade EMP catastrophe that, as the Congressional EMP Commission warned, could kill up to 90 percent of the national population through starvation, disease, and societal collapse,” said Woolsey, now the chairman of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “Indeed, some actions taken by the Congress, the White House and the federal bureaucracy are impeding solutions, making the nation more vulnerable, and helping the arrival of an EMP catastrophe.”

Experts maintain an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) resulting from a high-altitude detonation of a nuclear weapon high above the jet stream -- perhaps by a rogue state -- or a geomagnetic “super storm” caused by the sun, could conceivably lead to an electrical blackout lasting months or even years. A 2008 report by the congressional Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse found that up to nine out of 10 Americans could die from a long-term blackout as a result of starvation and societal collapse.

Reportedly, according to the Wall Street Journal, a study by the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission warned that a terrorist attack that destroys just nine key transformer substations could cause a nationwide blackout lasting 18 months.

The world almost found out what life would be like in wake of a super storm in 2012, according to NASA, which places the possibility of such an event at 12 percent per decade, meaning that a catastrophe could occur within the lifetime of those currently populating the planet.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), the committee chairman, intends to address the potential catastrophe by proposing an immediate $100 million congressional allotment to address the vulnerabilities extent in the nation’s power grid.

The U.S., Johnson said, needs to “pull our heads out of the sand.”

“This is a threat that is real and we need to acknowledge it,” Johnson said.

Woolsey told Johnson – the lone lawmaker sitting through the hearing for the first hour and a half – that EMP “is not science fiction.”

“One prominent myth is that a sophisticated, high-yield, thermonuclear weapon is needed to make a nuclear EMP attack,” Woolsey said. “In fact, the Congressional EMP Commission found that virtually any nuclear weapon -- even a primitive, low-yield atomic bomb such as terrorists might build -- would suffice.  The U.S. electric grid and other civilian critical infrastructures -- for example, communications, transportation, banking and finance, food and water -- have never been hardened to survive EMP.”

Woolsey noted further that North Korea or Iran could launch a SCUD missile off the nation’s coast, set off a nuclear device from a high altitude and knock out a substantial portion of the grid.

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Joseph McClelland, director of the Office of Energy Infrastructure Security at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, backed up Woolsey’s claim, asserting that an EMP “could seriously degrade or shut down major parts of our power grid,” potentially for years, should an attack occur.