by James Woolsey and Peter Pry
Congress must stop President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. The most important reason – Iran can threaten the existence of the United States by making an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack using a single nuclear weapon.
It may obtain one, relatively easily, by cheating in the use of the nuclear infrastructure permitted them under the agreement.
U.S. intelligence cannot meet the impossibly high standard of assuring that Iran cannot acquire a single nuclear weapon and, given the regime’s existing nuclear infrastructure, cannot with absolute certainty guarantee that Iran does not already have one.
Secretary of State John Kerry’s assertions on June 16 that the United States has perfect intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program are not credible: “We know what they did. We have no doubt. We have absolute knowledge … .”
Former CIA Director Michael Hayden is right to correct Mr. Kerry: “He’s pretending we have perfect knowledge about something that was an incredibly tough intelligence target while I was director, and I see nothing that has made it any easier.”
Mr. Kerry’s disregard of the limits of U.S. intelligence is reason enough to reject the deal – since just one nuclear warhead can threaten the existence of the United States.
A single nuclear weapon detonated at high altitude over the United States would generate an EMP that could black out the electric grid and other life-sustaining, critical infrastructures, such as communications, transportation, banking and finance, food and water. The Congressional EMP Commission estimated a nationwide blackout lasting one year could kill anywhere from two of every three Americans by a low estimate up to nine of 10 Americans by starvation and social disruption.
“Death to America” is more than merely an Iranian chant – Tehran’s military is planning to be able to make a nuclear EMP attack.
On July 21 at the annual meeting of the Electric Infrastructure Security Summit in Washington, Rep. Trent Franks quoted from an Iranian military textbook, recently translated by the Defense Intelligence Agency’s National Intelligence University. The textbook, ironically titled “Passive Defense” (2010), describes nuclear EMP effects in detail. It advocates in more than 20 passages an EMP attack to defeat decisively an adversary.
The official Iranian military textbook advocates a revolutionary new way of warfare that combines coordinated attacks by nuclear and non-nuclear EMP weapons, physical and cyber-attacks against electric grids to black out and collapse entire nations. Iranian military doctrine makes no distinction between nuclear EMP weapons, non-nuclear radio-frequency weapons and cyber-operations – it regards nuclear EMP attack as the ultimate cyber-weapon. EMP is most effective at blacking-out critical infrastructures, while it also does not directly damage the environment or harm human life, according to Iran’s “Passive Defense”:
“As a result of not having the other destructive effects that nuclear weapons possess, among them the loss of human life, weapons derived from electromagnetic pulses have attracted attention with regard to their use in future wars … . The superficiality of secondary damage sustained, as well as the avoidance of human casualties, serves as a motivation to transform this technology into an advanced and useful weapon in modern warfare.”
Because EMP destroys electronics directly, but people indirectly, it is regarded by some as Shariah-compliant use of a nuclear weapon. “Passive Defense” and other Iranian military writings are well aware that nuclear EMP attack is the most efficient way of killing people, through secondary effects, over the long run. The rationale appears to be that people starve to death, not because of EMP, but because they live in materialistic societies dependent upon modern technology.
For example, an Iranian article on nuclear EMP attack, “Electronics To Determine Fate Of Future Wars” (1998), concludes hopefully (from the Iranian author’s perspective):
“If the world’s industrial countries fail to devise effective ways to defend themselves against dangerous electronic assaults, then they will disintegrate within a few years … . American soldiers would not be able to find food to eat nor would they be able to fire a single shot.
Written 17 years ago, Iranian military doctrine has assessed nuclear EMP attack against the United States for now nearly two decades.
The Iranians have done more than just think about EMP attack.
The Congressional EMP Commission found that Iran has practiced launching missiles and fusing warheads for high-altitude EMP attack, including off a freighter. Iran has apparently practiced surprise EMP attacks, orbiting satellites on south polar trajectories to evade U.S. radars and missile defenses, at altitudes consistent with generating an EMP field covering all 48 contiguous United States. Iran launched its fourth satellite on such a trajectory as recently as February 2015.
A single nuclear weapon would complete the list of requirements.
Finally, because a nuclear EMP attack can be conducted by surprise and anonymously – deterrence may not work against EMP.
Deterrence depends upon knowing who attacked and being able to retaliate. Unlike a nuclear weapon used to blast a city, high-altitude EMP leaves no collectible bomb debris for forensic analysis to identify the aggressor.
EMP attack by missile or balloon launched off a freighter could be from many possible actors. Even Yemen’s Houthis have Scud missiles and know how to use them, having recently killed the chief of Saudi Arabia’s air force with a Scud strike on King Khalid Air Force Base.
Hundreds of satellites are in low earth orbit, unseen when approaching the United States from the south, that could help disguise the origins of an EMP attack. And the EMP could damage the means necessary to identify the attacker and U.S. retaliatory capabilities.
One Iranian nuclear weapon is one too many for an Iran ruled by theocratic totalitarian genocidal imperialists.
R. James Woolsey is a former director of Central Intelligence and is chairman of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Peter Vincent Pry is executive director of the EMP Task Force on National and Homeland Security and served in the Congressional EMP Commission, the House Armed Services Committee, and the CIA.