Center for Security Policy


Washington, D.C.: On July 29th, President Bill Clinton’s former Director of Central Intelligence, R. James Woolsey, led a panel discussion on the growing – and perhaps imminent – threat of a natural or nuclear electromagnetic pulse (EMP) to the U.S. electric grid and other critical infrastructures that sustain modern civilization and the lives of millions of Americans. The event was sponsored by the newly established EMP Coalition, of which Mr. Woolsey is the Honorary Co-Chair along with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich

Other participants were Ambassador Henry Cooper and Dr. Peter Vincent Pry. Ambassador Cooper led strategic arms control negotiations with the USSR under President Reagan and served as the Director of the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization under President George H.W. Bush. His is currently the Chairman of High Frontier, an organization dedicated to protecting the United States from nuclear attack. Dr. Pry served on the Congressional EMP Threat Commission, as a professional staff member on the House Armed Services Committee and as an analyst in the CIA. He is now the Executive Director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security, a congressional advisory board dedicated to national resiliency in the face of EMP and other threats.

Highlights of the program included the following:

Mr. Woolsey warned that the sun can inflict localized EMP disasters, like the 1989 Hydro-Quebec geomagnetic storm that blacked out eastern Canada, causing billions of dollars in economic losses. He noted that a recent study by insurance industry leader Lloyds of London estimated that if the 1989 geo-storm struck the east coast of the United States, 20-40 million Americans might be blacked out for as long as two years. A rare geomagnetic super-storm, like the 1859 Carrington Event, would collapse electric grids and life-sustaining critical infrastructures everywhere on Earth, putting at risk the lives of billions.

Scientists estimate that the world is overdue for another Carrington Event, and the Sun has already entered its solar maximum that shall last through 2013, when a catastrophic geo-storm is more likely to occur, Woolsey said.

  • Mr. Woolsey warned that an EMP catastrophe may also be imminent from terrorists and/or rogue states armed with nuclear weapons. North Korea already has nuclear missiles, Iran nearly so, and these two are actively collaborating. A single nuclear weapon detonated at high-altitude over this country would collapse the electric grid and other critical infrastructures and endanger the lives of millions.
  • Woolsey emphasized that the hundreds of electric utilities in the United States have thus far not acted to protect themselves from EMP, and cannot be expected to do so voluntarily as national defense and homeland security is a U.S. government responsibility. Woolsey urged that government regulation, by passage of the Secure High-voltage Infrastructure for Electricity from Lethal Damage (SHIELD) Act now before Congress, is necessary to protect the national electric grid.
  • Ambassador Cooper noted that the world escaped an EMP catastrophe just two weeks ago, when a huge Carrington-class coronal mass ejection crossed the path of the Earth’s orbit, but narrowly missed our planet.
  • Amb. Cooper warned that, given our nation’s current state of unpreparedness, if a natural or nuclear EMP catastrophe struck today, blacking out the electrical grid and other critical infrastructures for a year, as many as ninety percent of the American people could perish from starvation, disease and societal collapse. This assessment is from the Congressional EMP Commission that examined the EMP threat for nearly a decade, including performing numerous scientific experiments and producing what is widely regarded as the definitive study of critical infrastructure vulnerabilities and solutions.
  • Amb. Cooper warned that North Korea may already have the capability to make a catastrophic EMP attack on the United States. On December 2012, Cooper said, North Korea used its so-called Space Launch Vehicle like a Fractional Orbital Bombardment System – a secret weapon invented by the Russians during the Cold War to deliver a stealthy nuclear attack on the United States by orbiting a nuclear weapon over the south polar region, bypassing U.S. Ballistic Missile Early Warning radars (BMEWs) and missile defenses. Cooper noted that the U.S. has no BMEWs radars or missile interceptors facing south. North Korea apparently orbited a satellite over the south polar region on a trajectory and altitude consistent with making a surprise nuclear EMP attack against the United States.
  • Amb. Cooper said the needed solution would be to utilize the sensors and weapons aboard AEGIS anti-missile ships and such missiles ashore to protect the U.S. southern flank and east coast from nuclear EMP attack and to harden the electric grid by passage of the SHIELD Act.
  • Dr. Pry warned that a disturbing confluence of events suggests an EMP attack might be imminent. Pry noted that thousands of cyber attacks using computer viruses and hacking are probing the defenses of U.S. critical infrastructures, searching for weaknesses.
  • Dr. Pry observed that the foreign military doctrines of potential adversaries such as Iran, North Korea, China and Russia, all include acts of sabotage and kinetic attacks – including nuclear EMP attack – as part of their planning for an all-out Information Warfare or Cyber Warfare Operation. Pry noted that recently, in April, a sabotage attempt was made against electric grid transformers near San Jose, CA, that damaged five transformers with fire from AK-47 assault rifles.
  • Moreover, according to Dr. Pry, the North Korean freighter Chong Chon Gang recently intercepted and undergoing inspection in Panama under suspicion of drug smuggling, was discovered to have in its hold two nuclear-capable SA-2 missiles. The missiles were without nuclear warheads, Pry said, but the incident is disturbingly like the EMP Commission’s nightmare scenario of a nuclear EMP attack launched from a freighter off the U.S. coast, to conceal the identity of the attacker and escape retaliation. Pry said “connecting the dots” between cyber attacks, sabotage by AK-47s, a North Korean freighter carrying nuclear capable missiles in the Caribbean may warrant a crash program to protect the nation’s electric grid.

All panelists endorsed the SHIELD Act, urged that the Department of Homeland Security develop a new National Planning Scenario focused on EMP, and encouraged other states to follow the example of Maine, not wait for Washington, but pass state initiatives to protect their electric grids from EMP now.

Video of the event and additional information about the EMP Coalition, its partners and their efforts to secure our grid from all hazards can be obtained at


Massive solar flare narrowly misses Earth, EMP disaster barely avoided