By John David Dyche
U. S. Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona recently introduced H.R. 2417 known as the SHIELD Act. The acronym stands for Secure High-voltage Infrastructure for Electricity from Lethal Damage.
Franks has 19 cosponsors, including Democrat Yvette Clarke of New York, the Ranking Member on the House Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection, and Security Technologies.
The SHIELD Act seeks "to protect the bulk-power system and electric infrastructure critical to the defense and well-begin of the United States against natural and manmade electromagnetic pulse ("EMP") threats and vulnerabilities."
What is EMP? In recent testimony to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, James Woolsey, director of the CIA under Bill Clinton, described it.
"A nuclear weapon detonated at high-altitude, above 30 kilometers, will generate an electromagnetic pulse that can be likened to a super-energetic radio wave, more powerful than lightning, that can destroy and disrupt electronics across a broad geographic area."
Woolsey says, "An EMP attack would collapse the electric grid and other infrastructure that depends on it – communications, transportation, banking and finance, food and water – necessary to sustain modern civilization and the lives of 300 million Americans."
A congressionally-created commission reported that "unprecedented cascading failures of our major infrastructures could result" from an EMP and be "catastrophic to the Nation." Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich says, "This could be the kind of catastrophe that ends civilization – and that's not an exaggeration."
Woolsey warns that Iran has the capability to launch an EMP attack from a vessel at sea. He also says North Korea could deliver a warhead from a meteorological balloon, satellite, or missile, which would "pose an existential threat to the U. S."
Woolsey is especially worried about an attack coming at America from the south. "The United States has no Ballistic Missile Early Warning radars or missile interceptors facing south," the former top spy says. "We might not even see the attack coming."
Some therefore urge serious consideration of a preemptive strike against North Korea's nuclear capacity. But a space weather event, like a solar storm, could also produce an EMP. So improved infrastructure protection makes sense regardless.
The SHIELD Act seeks federal support for installing surge protectors to protect the grid and expensive transformers critical to it from any kind of EMP. But some, including Robert Farley, an assistant professor at the University of Kentucky's Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce, are suspicious of the SHIELD Act.
Farley is a liberal academic who regularly ridicules Republicans and conservative foreign policy positions. National Journal quotes him as calling concerns about Iran or North Korea carrying out an EMP attack as "overblown" and "an incredibly unlikely scenario."
In a blog post for a progressive think tank linking "peace, justice, and the environment," Farley dismissed preparedness efforts like the SHIELD Act as "quixotic threat-mongering." He posits that the ulterior motive of "the EMP awareness movement appears to be advancement of the cause of missile defense."
Whom should we trust? A leftist junior professor confident that Tehran's religious zealots and Pyongyang's bizarre tyrants would not do anything rash toward America? Or a bipartisan group of experienced, fact-based American political leaders whose top priority is protecting the homeland from potential catastrophe?
No Kentucky congressman is currently among the SHIELD Act's sponsors. All of them should be. Consider letting them know … before it is too late.
John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and political commentator for WDRB.com. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.