Former CIA Director: We’re Not Doing Nearly Enough To Protect Against The EMP Threat

On Monday we covered the release of an open letter written to President Obama, issued by a committee of notable political, security and defense experts  — which includes past and present members of Congress, ambassadors, CIA directors, and others — on the country’s concerning level of vulnerability to a natural or man-made Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP).

An EMP has very real potential for crippling much of our electrical grid instantaneously. Not only would that immediately throw the social order into chaos, but the timeline to repair and restart the grid in most estimated scenarios would take months to a year or more. Those curious on learning exactly how devastating an EMP can be can read our report on the topic from last summer.

This week, we’ve been fortunate enough to get several of the authors of that open letter to join us and explain in depth what they conclude needs to be done to protect against the EMP risk: former CIA Director and current Ambassador James Woolsey, Executive Director of the EMP Task Force Dr Peter Pry, and security industry entrepreneur Jen Bawden.

What’s frightening in this story is not just the carnage an EMP could wreak, but the apparent rabid intransigence with which the electrical power lobby is fighting any responsibility for defending against one:

Chris Martenson:   Now, we’ve had a commission to assess the threat to the United States from an EMP attack, which delivered a report back in 2008. In fact, I found no less than two congressional commissions, a National Academy of Science report, other U.S. government sponsored studies, including your own. All have raised heightened concerns about this issue. All have found, all of them, that the EMP threat poses a significant and existential threat to the United States, and yet here we are still talking about this. Why is that?

Dr. Pry:   Well, the short answer to that is it’s called the North American Electric Reliability Corporation. They used to be a trade association or a lobby for the 3,000 electric utilities that exist in this country. And, their relationship with the federal government, with the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, is a 19th century-type relationship. There is no part of the U.S. government that has the legal powers to order them to protect the grid. This is unusual, because in the case of every other critical infrastructure, there’s an agency in the U.S. government that can require them to take actions for public safety. For example, the Food & Drug Administration can order certain medicines kept off shelves to protect the public safety. The Federal Aviation Administration can ground aircraft and require protective devices, put locks on aircraft doors, for example, to protect people from having the aircrafts hijacked by terrorists.The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission doesn’t have those legal powers or authorities.

And, the NERC, which owns half of K Street and has got very deep pockets, has been successful in lobbying against legislation like the Grid Act and the SHIELD Act, both bipartisan bills supported almost unanimously by Democrats and Republicans. They’ve been able to stall for years and keep these bills held up. One time when we got a bill passed: the Grid Act actually, in 2010, unanimously passed the House. Everybody supported it. But Washington is so broken, one senator put a hold on a bill—if they know which senator to buy, they can buy that one senator and the person can put a hold on the bill so it can’t come to the floor for a vote and they can do it anonymously. The senator doesn’t have to identify themselves. So, you never know who stopped the bill.

And, that’s been the problem in Washington. We’ve been trying to overcome resistance by the electric power lobby to try to protect the grid.

They’ve basically been successful in stymying efforts at the federal level. Now, we’ve got another bill, Critical Infrastructure Protection Act, that we’re hoping will pass this year. Again, we’ve got a lot of support, but it’s already under attack by the utilities. And, they’re trying to change the language of the bill to basically gut the bill.

Ambassador Woolsey:  And, when NERC is studying a problem, it doesn’t exactly operate at breakneck speed. After the ’03 outage in Cleveland that started with a tree branch touching a power line and took out the electricity for several days of Eastern Canada and much of the northeastern United States, NERC was finally prevailed upon to do a study. And, they did one and focused entirely on how to cut tree branches so that they won’t interfere with electric power lines. And, that tree branch study took them three years and eight months. What’s interesting about that lapse of time is three years and eight months is exactly the amount of time the United States was engaged in World War II, from beginning to end. So, one wonders how many wars worth of time it would take NERC to deal with a more complicated problem such as say, squirrels.

Chris Martenson:  I understand that NERC is against this and they think this is overbearing regulation and they don’t want to be more highly regulated. I think possibly understandable concerns from any industry, but in this case, what kind of money are we talking about here? How much would it take to really begin to remedy this issue and how much time would it take? What is NERC fighting here?

Dr. Pry:  Sure. Interesting question, because there are different numbers, depending upon how much security you want to buy. One of my colleagues on the, who served on the EMP Commission, had a plan that would cost $200 million. That’s not billions, but millions with an ‘m’. Now, that would be a very minimalist plan, and it would just protect the extra high voltage transformers that service the major metropolitan areas. It would by no means—we would still be at a very high level of risk, but it would at least give us something like a fighting chance to save all those people in the big cities, in the hundred largest big cities from starving to death, if you just invested $200 million.

At this point, as I recently testified to Congress, I think the U.S. FERC is so broken and untrustworthy that we probably need to scrap the regulatory system we’ve got now and go to something completely different. I think what you’ve got is a situation of what’s called regulatory capture. You’ve got a rotating door between FERC and NERC and these guys are basically in cahoots with the electric power industry .

Click the play button below to listen to Chris’ interview with Dr. Peter Pry, Jen Bawden, and Ambassador James Woolsey (48m:35s)

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  • Stephen Collens

    I bet my back side that the NSA would know exactly what needs to be done to protect the downing of its grid as they are most likely itching to take out a few countries of with greater integrity then is own

    • Southern

      Nothing like a good horror story to keep the funds coming in….

  • Southern

    All the more reason to invest and dedicate yourself to renewable energy sources instead of continually playing scaried little cats…..who will no doubt demand collossal funding.

    If you really want to do something positive, please don’t continue dreaming up imaginary threats but go looking for the inside help for nine eleven.

    • That Renewable line is a bureaucratic line. Are you a government agent? You must be anti-birds, and anti-food for the poor, and the environment you claim to support!

      6. Dezember 2014 German Renewable Energy Keeps Blacking Out! Supply Often Less Than 2% Of Wintertime Demand

      My last post featured a commentary by renewable energy expert Prof. Fritz Vahrenholt, who forcefully conveyed the folly of Germany’s mad rush into renewable energy, and the country’s hysterical obsession with its suicidal fast-track shutdown of its stable base-electric-power generation.

      Feb 20, 2014 Solar Plant Is Melting Bypassing Birds

      The opening of the world’s largest solar energy plant, located in Nevada, was a thrilling moment for many, but not for the birds that fly over it.

      Corn Ethanol: Bad For Farmers, Consumers And The Environment By Scott Faber, Vice President of Government Affairs FEBRUARY 4, 2013

      By driving up the price of food and gas and causing costly engine damage, corn ethanol has been bad news for consumers.

      • Southern

        False equivalency won’t you say agent 76 ? — James Woolsey is a super Neo-Con and a Zionist to boot.

        The title of this article kinda gives the game away, specially when you find out who it is that’s making the claim and his history of profiting from the GWOT.

        First of all – Me a government agent? ~HA…. Allow me to retort – considering you’re opposed to switching funding from the MIC towards renewable energies perhaps you qualify as a supporter of the MIC plus the big energy companies.

        I was advocating to stop funding on the wasteful MIC and allocate more on developing renewable energies – I did not specifically mention which types while no doubt some are several some are better than others depending on location.

        By requesting yet more funds to fight another imaginary threat — And I’m strongly opposed to the US fallacious sequential warfare resulting from invading another nation from trumped up charges, remember that the purveyors of these lies have been allowed to profit from telling these lies.

        Lets point out that the US Has Been At War 93% of the Time – 222 Out of 239 Years – Since 1776 The numbers will soon increase to 223 out of 240 years while years of peace will not have increased.

        The contuation of the GWOT under a (P)resident with the grand Nobel for Peace — A paper weight for Tuesdays list?

        Q – You’re in defense of the MIC and big oil?

        Molon Labe If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy – James Madison? That is a good point…Just that the Neo-Cons always require more funding to fight more imaginary threats.


        James Woolsey is a government agent mentioned in the above article, a Neo-Con / Zionist to boot.

        By James Woolsey 2nd March 2015 – The Washington Times

        Our attention these days with regard to security is understandably riveted on the Islamic State, or ISIS, and its hideous decapitations, rapes and live immolations. We must deal with the Islamic State, but it is not the gravest threat we face. The Israelis are right — we should awaken to the fact that the coming of a nuclear Iran holds special dangers and requires particularly urgent attention.

        – See more at: here

        Wait there’s more – much more Bush ally set to profit from the war on terror

        Spoiler – James Woolsey, former CIA boss and influential adviser to President George Bush, is a director of a US firm aiming to make millions of dollars from the ‘war on terror’, The Observer can reveal.

        Woolsey, one of the most high-profile hawks in the war against Iraq and a key member of the Pentagon’s Defence Policy Board, is a director of the Washington-based private equity firm Paladin Capital. The company was set up three months after the terrorist attacks on New York and sees the events and aftermath of September 11 as a business opportunity which ‘offer[s] substantial promise for homeland security investment’.

        And now there is motive as well as a conflict of interest – James Woolsey among others have a history of profiting from the fallacious GWOT.