An EMP, also referred to as a ‘transient electromagnetic disturbance’ is a robust burst of electromagnetic energy and is a phenomenon that can occur both naturally (lightning, electrostatic discharge, meteoric) and via man-made (power line surges, gasoline engine ignition, nuclear electromagnetic pulse: NEMP and HEMP) events. In all fairness pre 911 Congress did establish a dog and pony show called the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack. E1 pulses are by far the most devastating, and result from gamma radiation emitted from a nuclear detonation that removes electrons from the surrounding air.
E2 pulses are also caused by gamma radiation and follow within in a fraction of a second of an E1 pulse, and are akin to those produced by lightning bolts (so they would be protected by typical surge protectors). If a nuclear weapon is detonated at significant altitude (30 plus miles above the surface), an E1 would be followed in quick succession by an E2 and E3, with the results of the extremely devastating E1 pulse possibly removing the protection in place for the others. There have been at least two series of EMP tests, Operation Fishbowl carried out by the United States over Hawaii and the K Project carried by the USSR over the skies of Kazakhstan. Electromagnetic pulse results from a nuclear detonation, and under certain conditions, it can damage electronic equipment in a wide radius from the blast. Gingrich, now a fellow at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, has stood at the vanguard of the EMP awareness movement. Op-eds in favor of EMP awareness have appeared in the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and a host of conservative publications. At this point, neither Iran nor North Korea possess a missile capable of delivering an EMP attack against the United States.
The central political purpose of the EMP awareness movement appears to be advancement of the cause of missile defense. The Niagara conference’s emphasis on strategic and policy considerations shows that alarmist predictions about EMP attacks serve as fodder for promotion of a larger nuclear weapons stockpile, for missile defense, and for preventive attacks.
But the biggest threat to the American public, by far, is the almighty Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP). The EMP effect was first discovered in 1962, when an aerial nuclear weapon test over the Pacific Ocean affected electronic equipment in Hawaii. Nick Schwellenbach, a former researcher at Project on Government Oversight, suggests that the idea of a small, EMP-optimized warhead is absurd: "You have a lot of points of failure in order to get to a warhead that is EMP optimized. However, Graham, as well as Peter Pry, the president of EMPACT America and former senior staffer with the EMP Commission, have argued in Congressional testimony that Iran could launch a medium-range ballistic missile from an offshore barge or freighter, thus giving the Islamic Republic first-strike capability. Under the most aggressive assumptions, a first-strike EMP attack might cause widespread economic damage. The most extreme estimates of the effect of EMP restore the Cold War-era existential fears of nuclear war. The New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, Fox News, and other major television news organizations declined to cover the EMPACT conference. An EMP event would instantly set us back to the pre-industrial age and eliminate our critical infrastructures.
That there is no evidence of EMP’s ostensibly far-reaching impact—or that anyone has developed EMP-optimized weapons—has not stopped hawks from making outlandish claims, like that within a year of an EMP attack, 9 out of 10 Americans would be dead. It is very important to note that E1 pulses are only produced by a detonation that is significantly high enough in altitude in which electrons can interact with the Earth's magnetic field. Curt Weldon (R-PA) convened a Congressional hearing on the threat that an EMP attack presented to the United States. On this day, Congress would work without electricity, electronic equipment, and food in order to simulate the effects of an electromagnetic pulse attack.
It is important to note that North Korea has a nuclear bomb size satellite rotating the planet and crawls the American sky from the south and at the precise altitude for an EMP attack. Both the United States and the Soviet Union detonated EMP-generating nuclear weapons tests in space during the darkest days of the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the world was already on the brink of nuclear war.
A page has been developed about the things that individuals can do to help protect themselves against the EMP threat -- and there is much that individuals can do. As the above report points out, even if power grid transformers survive an EMP attack, the power grid is extremely vulnerable to EMP and other attacks because of control and monitoring devices called SCADAs, which would be easily knocked out even with a relatively small weapon. For a shorter summary, the comments of the chairman of the EMP Commission, made when the report above was delivered to the U.S.
Another good report on the nuclear EMP problem is this report on Electromagnetic Pulse Threats in 2010 released by the United States Air Force (originally released in 2005). For a discussion of some of the problems in correlating the results of EMP simulator testing to the actual results seen in the 1962 high altitude nuclear tests, see this transcript of a House Armed Services Committee discussion between congressmen and physicists.

There is a comprehensive and well-referenced page at this site with extensive details about the 1962 Soviet nuclear EMP tests over Kazakhstan, which resulted in extensive damage to the electrical and communications infrastructure.
Another page on EMP explains the critical difference between the E1, E2 and E3 components of nuclear EMP. Also at this site, there is a very important page on common EMP Myths, which cause an enormous amount of confusion. The wooden spark gap holder is attached to the side of the pulse capacitor using some two-part epoxy putty.
Defense systems that depend on the commercial electric grid are vulnerable to electromagnetic pulse attacks and solar storms that could seriously damage the nation’s infrastructure, experts from the Homeland Security and Defense departments told a House Homeland Security subcommittee.
Major military weapons systems and nuclear assets are hardened against EMP events, but “DOD is heavily dependent on the commercial electric grid,” Michael Aimone, director of DOD Business Enterprise Integration, told the subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies.
China is gearing up for war against the United States and their top weapon is a super electromagnetic pulse bomb that can blanket the U.S. The warning follows the publication of a report by the Defence Select Committee which urges the government to take seriously the threat to infrastructure such as the national grid, GPS satellites and communication networks from EMPs and naturally occurring solar flares.
Reports from organizations like the Center for Security Policy have confirmed that Electromagnetic Pulse, or EMP, weapons could potentially wipe out the entire infrastructure of the United States in a matter of seconds, the consequences of which may be the death of 9 out of 10 Americans within a period of one year after the blast. The North is believed to be nearing completion of an electromagnetic pulse bomb that, if exploded 25 miles above ground would cause irreversible damage to electrical and electronic devices such as mobile phones, computers, radio and radar, experts say. During the 1990’s Russia admitted to sharing its discoveries of multiple weaknesses in America’s critical infrastructure and EMP technology with North Korea. With the E1 portion of the pulse being the most significant contributor to an EMP attack, the payload of the nuclear weapon is less significant than the altitude of the detonation if a country or organization desired to conduct an EMP attack. The United States EMP Commission was formed in 2006 to survey civilian reaction to an EMP disturbance. Attention to EMPs waned with the end of the Cold War, and the apparent reduction of the Soviet nuclear threat.
The Heritage Foundation has also advocated EMP awareness, and one of its homeland security experts was a panelist at the Niagara conference. Uncertainty regarding the effect of EMP has fed alarmist predictions about overall impact.
The strategic logic of an EMP attack on the United States remains unclear, and skeptics’ doubts mostly focus on the strategic implausibility of such attacks. The 90 percent casualty estimate advanced by EMP awareness advocates hypes the notion that the United States faces potential annihilation at the hands of its enemies, and goes a step farther: even the smallest nuclear power can destroy the United States with a small number of warheads. Nevertheless, the presence of Huckabee and Gingrich at the conference indicates that some major Republican Party politicians see EMP either as a splendid political opportunity, or as their latest conservative litmus test.
This commission was to assess the likelihood of state and non state actors who could acquire nuclear capabilities and facilitate an EMP assault within the next 15 years, our Nation’s EMP attack vulnerabilities in the civilian infrastructure as a matter of emergency readiness, our recovery capabilities and cost analysis for civilian and military systems to be used against such an attack.
It has published numerous articles linking the danger of EMP attacks with the need to beef up missile defense, something it has avidly pushed for many years. Curt Weldon, who gave the EMPACT conference’s opening address, argued back in 1997 that it would be politically difficult for the United States to respond to such an attack, as no cities will have been destroyed and no lives lost (at least initially), a claim which other EMP awareness advocates have echoed. Since evidence of EMP’s allegedly lasting impact is purely theoretical, EMP awareness advocates can make outlandish claims regarding the threat that even the smallest nuclear arsenal poses. This process creates a very strong pulse aimed directly at the surface that carries enough strength to exceed the breakdown voltages of many electronic devices.
However, since only one nation, the United States, has ever attacked another country with an atomic bomb, the precise extent of EMP’s power to damage electronic-dependent infrastructures is not fully understood. Testing bans have also prevented the established nuclear powers from fully investigating the EMP effect (prompting some EMP awareness activists to argue for a resumption of nuclear testing). However, numerous EMP awareness advocates (and some members of the EMP Commission) have argued that a much smaller warhead could destroy electronics from the East Coast to the Midwest. These weakness included the purveyance of unmanned substations and poorly sheltered (if sheltered at all) control cables, which would serve to further carry the negative effects of an EMP. Such an explosion would create an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) which would knock out electrical systems and make it very difficult to live in cities. Many Senators, Congressman, and terrorism experts have said that EMP is the single biggest security threat the United States faces from foreign powers and terrorist organizations.
The most realistic probability for EMP by way of asymmetric warfare would be one of America’s countless enemies, attaching an unsophisticated nuclear bomb to a satellite that rounds the south pole with remote detonation in orbit above the United States.

In 2010, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory commissioned a 168 page document that would anticipate the events of an E1 pulse, The Early-Time (E1) High-Altitude Electromagnetic Pulse (HEMP) and Its Impact on the U.S. The EMPACT conference revealed the diverse array of rightwing factions that have united behind the effort to promote the EMP threat thesis.
Similarly, observers have questioned the capacity of North Korea or Iran, much less a terrorist organization, to develop a warhead sophisticated enough to cause widespread EMP damage.
EMP awareness advocates have thus far failed to offer a convincing motive for why a rogue state would use its scarce nuclear weapons in a first-strike that might not work, and that would in any case leave the attacker open to a devastating counterattack.
The fact that EMP is poorly researched and not well understood works in its favor as a scare tactic.
EMPs are not exclusively caused by nuclear weapons, but ones large enough to cause wide-scale disruptive are most likely to occur by from nuclear rather than typical chemical-based explosions. Stephen Younger, former senior fellow at Los Alamos National Lab and director at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, argues that while an EMP might create problems in the short term, it is unlikely to cause long-term devastation. EMP as a second-strike deterrent fares no better; the strategic logic of deterrence demands that any retaliatory strike be as lethal and as secure as possible, and it is highly unlikely that any state would rely on unproven weaponry of uncertain lethality to dissuade an attack. If the detonation happens at ground level or several kilometers above ground, no E1 pulse will occur, but the E2 and E3 pulses will still follow the detonation. Two Heritage writers, Jena Baker McNeill and James Jay Carafano, have proposed an EMP Recognition Day to be held on March 23. One Standard editor said in an interview with the author, “I don't go for that EMP stuff.
In the absence of conclusive research and testing, the exact size of the explosion necessary to create a devastating EMP remains unknown.
12 hearing, said Russia and several other countries are developing an offensive EMP capability, but there is little protection against such attacks on the commercial grid. Research by EMPact America indicates that a properly deployed EM pulse weapon, or weapons, has the capability of wiping out and disabling the power grid across the lower 48 states.
The final pulse, an E3, is different in nature from the previous two in that it results from a shifting of the Earth's magnetic field, and would continue until the magnetic field re-settled, similar to what occurs with a solar flare.
The testimony stated that a detonation at 300 miles above the surface of the Earth would result in an E1 pulse that would cover an area the size of the United States along with most of Canada and Mexico.
Moreover, EMP awareness advocates have argued that if terrorists acquired a ballistic missile and a nuclear warhead, they could conduct the same kind of offshore attack. Bartlett led a Congressional effort to create the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse Attack.
In testimony to the House National Security Committee in 1997, Gary Smith, the director of Applied Physics Lab at Johns Hopkins University, spoke on the radius of devastation that would occur from a high altitude EMP.
However, that the United States would not respond with overwhelming military force to a successful EMP attack strains credulity.
Huckabee also compared the EMP’s effects on the electric grid to that of a particularly bad ice storm. Both tests used high altitude nuclear detonations to create a limited E1 pulse and measured the subsequent damage, as this was a major fear in the early 1960s while both countries were in the shadow on the Cold War. They can also point to allegations made by the official EMP Commission, ignoring the fact that many outside experts dispute its findings. The commission found civilian infrastructure to be woefully lacking, including healthcare systems, along with a poor vision on the military's protection against an EMP attack in the years after the Cold War. EMPs are often used in pop culture (particularly any time Magneto wants to take over the planet) to caused widespread destruction and to control a population by plunging them into a new Dark Age. Titled “Protecting America Against Permanent Continental Shutdown From Electromagnetic Pulse," the conference featured speakers who argued that "rogue" states like North Korea and Iran, as well as terrorists, are poised to wreak havoc on the United States by blasting nuclear weapons above the country, releasing an electromagnetic pulse that would shut down much of its infrastructure. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD), who has been one of Congress’ loudest advocates of EMP awareness.

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