Friday, December 26, 2008


I received the following email on Dec. 25:

Electromagnetic Pulse Attack Would Devastate U.S., But Missile Attack Could Prevent It: A rogue state or terrorists could launch an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack on the United States that would kill more Americans than a nuclear strike on a major city, but an EMP attack on the homeland could be defeated with a missile defense system, a noted expert said.

That could involve the Boeing Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, or it could involve using the Lockheed Martin Aegis sea-based ballistic missile defense system that uses the Raytheon Standard Missile interceptors, according to William Graham, chairman of the commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse Attack.

Bartlett (where did this name come from? He/she is not listed on or in the report. jg) has pointed out that all a terrorist group would need to do to cause an EMP attack would be to smuggle one missile with a nuclear warhead into the United States, then take it by truck to Iowa or North Dakota.

There, the missile would be launched straight up, and the nuclear weapon detonated at an altitude of about 300 miles. That would create an EMP of immense proportions, covering the continental United States (lower 48), Mexico and much of Canada.

The Missile Defense Agency at this point hasn't been charged with defeating EMP attacks by a missile launched within the United States. Rather, it is charged with creating a multi-layered missile defense shield against missiles from abroad.

Before I go pretending to be Chicken Little, let's find out

    (a) how BIG an N-device would need to be, both in physical size and in kilo-tonnage

    (b) how big the delivery vehicle needs to be - the missile that would carry the nuke up "an altitude of about 300 miles."

I won't claim that a missile and a bomb can't be smuggled into the US or Canada, but I'd say the probability of this occurring is slim. That part of the ERM-BC-COOP practitioner's Probability-Impact equation rates a "Low." Yes, Virginia, I realize our borders, especially those of Canada, can be pretty porous - it is more than hard to police the country's arctic landscape.

I'll also concede that there is lots of open space in the northwest border states (and provinces).

But I lived in the Intermountain states and I will tell you that people are pretty alert to "strange things" happening in their midst and, unlike some others, they are likely to take action, if only to report something to the local sheriff or constable. Little chance of a Kitty Genovese incident in this part of the country.

Then there's the problem of hauling the device - surreptitiously "trucking" the missile cross-country would be difficult, even assuming the bad guys knew how to avoid all the inspection stations.

My gut reaction to the email was" "Someone is trying to sell something" - specifically more missiles.

But here's a thought.

Let's imagine that an N-device and a missile were somehow mated and launched toward that "about 300 mile" elevation.

An anti-missile missile is sent chasing it - I'm assuming the weapon with the N-device is headed more or less straight up as presented by either Graham or Bartlett (email's third paragaph)

First question: How is it going to "catch" the threat missile? The threat would have a pretty good head start - at least in missile speed terms.

Second question: If "our" missile kills "their" missile, won't the N-device be triggered and explode?

I'm not a mad scientist nor do I play one on tv, but it seems to me that it is logical to expect an intercept attempt and if there is an intercept, to make certain the device explodes at the intercept point (maybe only 200 miles altitude). There still would be some "bang for the buck."

My job as an ERM-BC-COOP practitioner is, I think, to consider all the possibilities.

All things considered, and based on what little I know about missiles and nuclear devices, it seems to me the threat probability is too low to go throwing Big Bucks (Canadian or US) at the risk - although it might help stimulate the economy. On the other hand, since the idea was broached, and since "they" have access to the same information as you and I, there is a chance . . .

Question: How to avoid or mitigate the threat?

Number 1 is awareness.

People do live in the proposed launch area.

Planes - commercial at high altitudes and private usually lower - fly over the area. Pilots could become more vigilant.

If we want to throw $$s at the threat, aircraft that regularly traverse the area could be equipped with cameras (infra-red- IR - is a good tool to spot "things" that are out of the ordinary for the terrain), the images could be reviewed by qualified photo interpreters on the ground.

The idea always is to prevent a risk rather than to try to recover from a threat that happened. (Whatever happened to the idea, floated several decades ago, of "blowing up" hurricanes over the Atlantic?)

Much as I would like to help stimulate the economy - I'm already doing my part, just ask my Financial Manager (a/k/a The Spouse) - I don't think pouring money into an additional anti-missile system to shoot down a rocket launched from the US or Canadian west is the answer.

Some background

John Glenn MBCI
Enterprise Risk Management-Business Continuity-COOP practitioner
JohnGlennMBCI @ gmail dot com
If I wrote it, you can quote it.

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