“17 Misconceptions about the Effects of Electromagnetic Pulse”: half-hour film seems the best explanation of the real threat to ordinary Americans so far

 

I usually review “YouTube” films on my legacy blogs on Blogger, and the following 25mnute video by “Reality Survival” would normally go on my “Films on Major Threats to Freedom” blog. But I thought that this particular technical explanation of the electromagnetic pulse (EMP) threat so cogent as to need to be brought over here as a significant longer short film that ought to be offered in festivals.

It is titled “17 Misconceptions about the Effects of an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP)” by Reality Survival

He (the presenter) does not list his point, so I trust that his strike count is 17.

He starts out by pointing out that a high altitude nuclear blast from a thermonuclear weapon (hydrogen bomb) who have a “source area” below where the effects are severe, and a “tangent” area surrounding it where they are much less severe.

The most widely touted damage is the “E3” phase, or third phase, lasting perhaps a minute, where Earth’s magnetic field around the event is severely disturbed.  This is the phase that overloads transformers and knocks out the power grids (there are three in the U,S.)  He says there are about 370 major transformers in the United States that are too large for conventional transportation and have to be built in situ.  It could take two to three years to rebuild them all.  That presumes that the components could still be manufactured in other parts of the world and shipped.  But he says that a solar storm that was severe enough (larger than Carrington in 1857) could envelop the Earth even on the night side and prevent any remanufacturing anywhere, so that rebuilding would take maybe 10 years.  We may have had a close call with a huge coronal mass ejection in late July 2012.  So from the power grid perspective, the solar storm risk may be greater than what is posed by North Korea (although Russia and China are capable of wiping out civilization for good, as are we).

But the EMP from a nuclear blast has two other components, E1 and E2, where it is much easier to provide some protection. Furthermore, (at least according to Resilient Societies) fission nuclear weapons produce only these first two effects (a fact touted by “EMP deniers”).  That is one reason why North Korea’s claim to have a hydrogen bomb is strategically significant.

The HEMP E1 is a fast pulse that destroys magnetic data and personal electronics.  These devices might be protected by “nested Faraday cages”.  He notes that solid state electronics (like thumb drives) can be destroyed by E1 even though they are not ordinary harmed by household magnets or ordinary magnetic fluctuations in the environment (like by nearby transmission towers).  He recommends people back up their data on optical data, like single-sided CD’s.  Automobile ignition systems are often touted as vulnerable (as in the book “One Second After”).  He says that most cars made before 2003 would probably run, and some newer cars still have the proper shielding.  He says that sometimes a car will start if the battery is disconnected and then reconnected.  But of course you would run out of gas eventually, and electrical charging stations presumably would not work.

The speaker hints that old-fashioned electronics of early stereo and HiFi enthusiasts in the 1960s might work (when I was collecting classical phonograph records) but some vacuum tube components could be undermined by “selenium rectifiers”.

The E2 pulse is more like what a lightning strike to an existing power line does.  Your surge protectors may actually shield from these.  The E2 pulse is the easiest to deflect.

It’s noteworthy that the E3 pulse (like from solar storms) does not normally threaten personal electronics.

James Woolsey, as noted before, has warned that North Korea could launch an EMP attack (possibly in retaliation if Trump strikes the DPRK mainland) from one of its “Shining Star” satellites.  But it does not appear that it would have a thermonuclear weapon on one of these satellites, but it might be capable of an E1 strike.  So consumers need to back up their data on optical data now, even this week?  Remember, an E1-only strike would wipe out devices without wiping out the power grid, apparently.  As a purely geopolitical matter, I note that some other videos on YouTube suggest that China could actually goad North Korea into a high-altitude thermonuclear E3 EMP strike over the US so that China could then conquer the US.  The Domino Theory is back.

There is no information that I am aware of as to whether big cloud companies (Google, Apple, etc) have physical protection of their data with faraday-like covers.

It’s also possible for non-nuclear magnetic flux devices deployed by terrorists in local areas.  It is not clear which effects they have, but they might mainly be E1 and E2.  This was covered by a now largely forgotten Popular Mechanics issue around Labor Day of 2001, one week before 9/11.   The Washington Times wrote about this in 2009.  The US Army uses these devices in Afghanistan now, and one is on display in the Ordnance Museum in Aberdeen, MD.

All of this suggests an enhanced kind of cultural hygiene that we have already gotten used to in meeting cyber threats and hackers (particularly, recently, ransomware as well as doxing and release of PII).  Protection of personal data with optical devices or with Faraday cages could become part of the culture that people need to learn to deal with.  I plan a visit to Best Buy soon to discuss this with Geek Squad.  But that seems applicable only against one kind of threat: older fission nuclear weapons.

The larger point is that society has become much more technology dependent than it was, again, say in the 1960s, the time of the last Cuban Missile Crisis.  While the Pentagon seems to have protected its own systems, protection of consumer and commercial use of technology seems to have lagged behind the serious threats.

It’s noteworthy that “Resilient Societies” has claimed on Twitter that the power grids could be protected with an investment by the utility industry of about $5 per consumer (about $2 billion nationwide), but I can’t yet find any statement as to what the technology at the transformer protection level would be.  However, many utilities (Dominion Power in Virginia for example) have recently announced unspecified security enhancements to their grids against both cyberterror and direct physical threats.

That’s one reason why the “doomsday prepper” and survivalist crowd has developed its somewhat extreme vision of personal morality (that we sometimes associated with the alt-right):  that everyone needs to learn to deal with the immediate physical world and participate in a familial social hierarchy to protect others before seeking global fame through modern civilized living.

The Wikipedia article on nuclear EMP is here.  Note the 2013 bill proposed in the House.

This article by Motoko Rich and David E Sanger about the geopolitical strategy is quite chilling. The Domino Theory of the Vietnam ear draft (my DADT I book) is indeed back.

I have to ask, also, where is the mainstream media on this?  It’s hardly ver mentioned.  But Newt Gingrich and others have testified about this threat before Congress as recently as March of this year. It’s not just North Korea, it’s also space climate (which doesn’t change.)

(Posted: Monday, September 4, 2017, at 10:30 AM EDT)

Update: Sept. 5

The filmmaker has sent me the link of his followup:
How to Build a Nested Faraday Cage: Protect Your Electronics from an EMP

(28 Minutes)

“Guilty Knowledge”: The media and political establishments remain asleep on power grid security (Oh, do they really know?)

IMG26220

Author(s) or Editor(s): Frank Gaffney, editor; David Reboi and Adam Savit
Title, Subtitle: Guilty Knowledge: What the US Government Knows about the Vulnerability of the Electric Grid, but Refuses to Fix
publication date 2013
ISBN 978-149535018-4
Publication: Center for Security Press (Amazon), 62 pages, paper, 11 short chapters after Foreword
Link: Secure the Grid

There are some issues which potentially imply individuals and families need to prepare themselves to take on challenges they don’t think they have chosen for themselves.  And the media seems loath to talk about these very openly. So are the politicians, except at the fringes.  That may be one reason why you get a presidential candidate like Donald Trump.

IMG26190

Such is the nature of the security of our electric power grids – all three of them.  A group called “Center for Security Policy” publishes a 62-page booklet (inexpensive, $6 from Amazon), edited by and with Introduction by Frank Gaffney. Jr., “Guilty Knowledge: What the US Government Knows about the Vulnerability of the Electric Grid, But Refuses to Fix”, apparently dated 2013.

The book comprises a Foreword and 11 abstracts, each with a strike page, on the issue, dated from 2004 to 2012.   The first two abstracts are Electromagnetic Pulse Commission Reports;  other pieces deal with solar storms, cybersecurity, and unconventional weapons.  But there is little attention to physical attacks, like the rifle attack on a station in the Silicon Valley in April 2013 (and there have been other small attacks).

IMG31075

The booklet does layout the background setting, that western society (and the individuals pimping themselves out in it) has become “addicted” to technology, especially electricity, whose modern grid developed somewhat by fortuitous decisions by a few early entrepreneurs (as in the History Channel’s Modern Marvels documentary on the topic). That context means that the old “mutually assured destruction” of “Dr. Strangelove” during the Cold War, as applied to nuclear war and thermonuclear weapons (which do emit EMP) doesn’t deter terrorists interested in destroying our way of life but leaving us alive to be conquered and converted.

The Foreword gives us a taste of the problem. In 2014, Fox got a rude memo from the Pentagon, “The Department is unaware of any increase in the threat of a deliberate destructive use of an EMP device. Further, any reporting to the contrary by those without access to current threat assessments is both reckless and irresponsible.”

Oh, we get it. Knowledge of critical national security issues is to be passed down through the cabal of political authority (disguised as security clearances), and the rest of the public goes shopping as usual.  No wonder, then, the doomsday prepper crowd guards its “right” to build up caches of assault weapons for a world like NBC’s “Revolution”.  The Pentagon is unwittingly feeding the lunatic, right-wing fringe.  For power grid security is not a partisan or “right wing” issue, even though Fox News (with Bill Hemmer) and the Washington Times (and probably the Examiner) pay disproportionate attention to it compared to more mainstream media channels.

On Monday, August 8, 2016, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Fox sponsored a “Your Voice Your Future” roundtable on “U.S. Grid Safety” from a Fox studio in Green Bay, WI.  I review the broadcast here.  On Saturday, August 6, ABC Affiliate WJLA (owned by Sinclair) had promised the forum on Monday.  True, the link to the stream was there, but the broadcast was not carried on any DC station (not even on News Channel 8)   I had to pseudo-hack for ten minutes to get the stream to work.  I could not have watched it if I didn’t know something about how the stations and broadcasts are set up. (Does that make me an “ethical” hacker?)  I could not get the system to stream a second hour strictly from the local Fox station in Green Bay.  I wonder if it was shown on stations in Milwaukee or (where I used to live) Minneapolis.  I’ve contacted several parties at (locally more politically liberal) WJLA and News Channel 8 and nobody wants to talk about this!   Sinclair Broadcasting did create a two-minute clip on the issue which WJLA aired just once this summer (my account).

The booklet does cover some critical bases, like the questionable capability of US utilities to replace large transformers should they be damaged by an event.  It covers the Carrington Even in 1859, the Quebec 1989 outage caused by a solar storm (with subsequent large coronal mass ejection) along with another incident in the 1920s, and the solar threat in general (although it doesn’t mention Earth’s reported near miss with another Carrington in July 2012).  It also covers IEMI, intentional electromagnetic interference, and distinguishes between the acronyms HEMP (high altitude electromagnetic pulse) and HPEM, high power electromagnetics.  There are haphazard Youtube videos on how to make HPEM, which hopefully would not work in the hands of amateurs.  An HPEM device could disable and fry electronics (like PC’s and smart phones) in a small area (maybe a few city blocks at most) but could be devastating for small businesses affected (a good reason for making not only Cloud backups but also optical CD’s, which would not be affected).  It’s possible to imagine an attack like this from enemies as a kind of ransomware, although that right now sounds more like a Hollywood B Movie plot.   It’s effect could be compared to a dirty bomb, although it would not leave real estate contaminated or uninhabitable.  It could pose enormous public safety problems for people in high rise buildings (like elevators).  The military uses HPEM weapons in Afghanistan and has used them in Iraq, but they have not been used in civilian settings (the Washington Times had an article about this in 2009, and there was a controversial Popular Mechanics article back in 2001 just before 9/11).

The booklet anticipates Ted Koppel’s concerns about cyberwar.  It does seem that portions of the electric grid are more closely connected to the public Internet than they should be.  The power grid needs the same level of cyber security as the Pentagon (which is better than civilian federal agencies and even banks and retail, which do get hacked).

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have finally started talking about “infrastructure banks” which could be used to shore up gird security.  One idea could be some decentralization, and Taylor Wilson, who get investments from Peter Thiel (who spoke at the RNC) proposes small underground fission reactors as a way for utilities to become less vulnerable to external events. It mystifies me that Donald Trump, in particular, doesn’t take the opportunity to talk about this issue frankly in his speeches.  He could gain credibility as a candidate if he talked about real security threats and solutions and stopped the name-calling and race or religion or ethnicity baiting.  Isn’t that true conservatism, what the GOP ought to stand for?

I take this kind of personally.  This sounds like an issue of journalists’ “connecting the dots”, which the political establishment is afraid of.  I’m told to be quiet, and that my most important concern should be who among my cultural sisters can use the bathroom of her choice in North Carolina, and that if something catastrophic happens, I’ll have to learn to live with less in more intimate settings around others, that all this “external world” (or even outer space) stuff is above our heads and beyond our control.  Bull!  We can be smart, and prevent most catastrophes.  The Neanderthals did not survive because they didn’t innovate, and didn’t understand ego well enough.

I’ve covered other books on my legacy blogs, missives like “One Second After” (William Forstchen), “Gridlock” (Dorgan), “A Nation Forsaken” (Maloof), and “Lights Out” (Koppel).  I will review Bakke’s “The Grid” soon.  Clynes’s book about Taylor Wilson, “The Boy Who Played with Fusion”, is also relevant. This topic needs a documentary movie from a filmmaker like Morgan Spurlock or Andrew Jenks (not sure Michael Moore would be interested).

(Published: Friday, August 12, 2016 at 1 PM EDT)

“Zero Days”: the history of the Stuxnet worm, and how the blowback just could destroy America

Natanz_nuclear

Name: “Zero Days”
Director, writer:  Alex Gibney
Released:  2016
Format:  digital video
When and how viewed:  Landmark E St, 2016/7/8, fair audience 7 PM, had played at AFI Docs
Length 114
Rating PG-13
Companies: Participant Media, Magnolia
Link: Site

Zero Days” (or “World War 3.0”) is Alex Gibney’s latest political documentary, and this one comes with a serious warning.

If the U.S. and allies (especially Israel and the UK or “Little England” now) can hack into hostile countries industrial control systems (even for the laudable process of stopping the development of nuclear weapons) they can do it to us.

nsa21

The documentary, with lots of interviews, particularly with a translucent female avatar (Joanne Tucker) playing a combined NSA analyst, establishes the case that the U.S. drove the development of the Stuxnet worm during the Bush administration, in order to compromise nuclear-related centrifuges in Iran.  The worm was so well written that it could completely cover its tracks, and it made many “zero day” exploits that could fire off according to parameters (but the same idea is common in ordinary maware  and even mainframe crime, where elevation integrity has been compromised).

nsa25

The code was developed at the NSA, and at corresponding facilities in England and especially Israel. The Pentagon put in a “cyber command” in place at the NSA headquarters at Fort Meade (south of Baltimore) with the authority to deploy the cyber weapon.  The CIA was also involved, especially in bridging the “air gap” and getting the malware delivered (possibly on a thumb drive) by an operative when the system (normally offline of the Internet) was being maintained.

In time, some security companies, especially Symantec and then Kaspersky in Moscow, began to see evidence of the worm, which first showed up in Belarus (a former Soviet republic).

Obama continued the process, but the U.S. “got caught”, and Iran retaliated at least twice, once against Saudi Arabian oil companies and once against several US banks in early 2013. But in the meantime, the US has embarked on an even bigger program against Iran’s infrastructure called “Zeus”.

The film warns that a state-sponsored hack could compromise many US industrial systems.  It showed the May 2015 Amtrak crash in Philadelphia, as a false example (because positive train control wasn’t in place there).  It suggested that if the power grids were overloaded or the Internet went down, the world might be like “humpty dumpty”.

An ordinary hacker serving malware, even ransomware, through phishing or drive-by websites could not accomplish this kind of a hack because of the “air gap” to the internet, but an internal operative could probably install the malware.  (Router hacks might become more destructive in the future, especially given the “smart home.”) The main states capable of such hacks would be Iran, North Korea (as we know from the Sony hack) and Russia, and probably China.   Some of this material was covered in Ted Koppel’s book “Light’s Out” (2015).

IMG30027

The film had been shown at AFIDocs.  It’s possible that it’s release helped prompt the warning from Sinclair Media  (near Baltimore) about cyber attacks and possibly EMP on the power grid.

Wikipedia attribution link for Natanz nuclear facility in Iran, by Hamed Saber, under CCSA 2.0.

(Published, Friday, July 8, 2016 at 11:15 PM EDT)