Responsible for Equality And Liberty (R.E.A.L.) has been reporting on threats to human rights and security of people persecuted by the totalitarian North Korea government, as well as the world conflicts impacted by the North Korea security threats. A key issue that is not getting recognition, however, was a catastrophic terror threat by North Korea, which is threat not only to its people, the region, and the United States, but is also a catastrophic terror threat to the world. To those unfamiliar with R.E.A.L.’s mission, R.E.A.L. represents non-partisan, non-political, human rights activist volunteers with a focus on defending our shared universal human rights, including the human right of security. Among other topics, R.E.A.L. routinely has reported on terror threats to the shared human rights of our fellow human beings. While R.E.A.L continues to urge Communist North Korea to seek peace, North Korea’s terror threats must also be acknowledged and rejected by responsible nations and people of the world.
For decades, Communist North Korea has threatened its neighbors and the world from its isolated totalitarian state, which has been known largely for well-documented “crimes against humanity” against its own citizens. Much of the world got used to ignoring and dismissing such threats. But on September 3, 2017, the North Korea’s thermonuclear bomb test demonstrated substantially increased nuclear bomb capability, with estimations in the possible bomb yield ranging from 120 kilotons to 250 kilotons. It has greatly concerned many in the public and the world. As a result of that bomb testing, the world’s focus has mostly been on the ability of North Korea to use a thermonuclear bomb for a surface blast to kill many thousands of people in a concentrated area, with fallout affecting others based on the wind direction; it is a grave concern to those committed to global human rights and security.
Along with its expanded nuclear bomb capability on September 3, North Korea also gained another first – by announcing itself as the first nation threatening, capable, and likely willing to use a high altitude Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) bomb. As part of the September 3, North Korea state news (KCNA) report (screenshot) of its nuclear bomb test entitled “Kim Jong Un Gives Guidance to Nuclear Weaponization,” North Korea stated that it is willing to use its enhanced nuclear bomb capability to produce a high altitude Electromagnetic Pulse blast (EMP, also abbreviated as HEMP). North Korea used KCNA to state: “The H-bomb, the explosive power of which is adjustable from tens kiloton to hundreds kiloton, is a multi-functional thermonuclear nuke with great destructive power which can be detonated even a high altitude for super-powerful EMP attack according to strategic goals.”
North Korea’s high altitude “super-powerful” EMP threat is the same type of catastrophic, massive terror threat, as those threatening to poison food and water supplies, spread biological or chemical weapons, in areas which not only could go beyond cities, states, but even across borders. This is the main part of the security issue, which keeps getting buried in details on missiles, ships, timelines, and personalities. The September 3 North Korea boast of a “super-powerful” EMP threat was nothing less than a catastrophic terrorist threat against the world. We must recognize catastrophic terror threats as unacceptable threats against our shared universal human rights and security.
Can you imagine a nation-state proudly issuing a public press release about its new “super-powerful” ability to poison food and water supplies, to spread weaponized airborne versions of smallpox, plague, anthrax, or to release cyanide, ricin, chlorine chemical gas to poison many people? The sane world would rightfully condemn such a statement by any nation with horror and outrage. But North Korea’s terror threat statement of being willing to release a high altitude EMP weapon on the world was largely met with indifference by the world’s media, and politicians demanding that other nations be more understanding in respecting North Korea. Would pundits have made the same statements if the press release with EMP terror threat had been issued by ISIS, rather than North Korea? Would anyone really expect to be able to effectively negotiate with leaders that seek to boast about the ability to commit such mass terror attacks on the world?
The concept of a high altitude EMP blast would be to shoot a nuclear missile high up into the atmosphere and detonate it there; for this purpose, high altitude is defined as 40 to 500 kilometers (20 to 300 miles) above the Earth’s surface. The high altitude nuclear explosion would not have the physical destructive impact of a nuclear bomb surface blast, nor would it have any “fallout” (which comes from radioactive soil after a surface blast). But the high altitude nuclear explosion would send out a series of electromagnetic pulse broadband, high amplitude waves (invisible like radio waves) that would damage or destroy the electrical infrastructure, wiring, and electronic devices over a broad area. The EMP blast has three types of signals, as I will summarize based on a description by scientist Dr. Jack Liu. The first would be an E1 signal that is extremely fast, created by the nuclear blast’s gamma radiation ripping electrons out of the atmosphere, sending them down to Earth at nearly the speed of light, and impacted by the Earth’s magnetic field to create an electromagnetic pulse over a broad area. The second would be an E2 signal, created by gamma and neutron collisions, which would have an impact similar to lightning. The third would be an E3 signal lasting up to hundreds of seconds, creating impacts like a geomagnetic storm, that would impact major long line electrical conductors, and other electrical infrastructure.
A high altitude EMP bomb would likely destroy the electrical infrastructure used for the survival and lives by many, many millions of people, including crippling the infrastructure of a population not only in a local target area, but across a regional or national area, and even possibly across multiple national borders, depending on where it was launched. Many EMP analyses also believe that high altitude EMP pulses at the E1 level would also damage wiring and miniaturized Integrated Circuits (ICs). ICs are small square flat pieces of semiconductor material, typical silicon, on which thousand or millions tiny resistors, capacitors, and transistors are “integrated.” This technological innovation allowed massive change in the way the public lives and functions, as this miniaturization revolution allowed computer and electronics to become part of nearly every area of life. To provide context on such miniaturization, the original computer, ENIAC, was the size of three or four double decker buses and was thousands of times less powerful than a laptop computer today.
This IC revolution allowed most of the technology changes that are not only part of modern society, but more importantly, modern society has become dependent on to effectively function. People are dependent on ICs every day, but since they rarely actually see them inside their electronics, television, radio, automobiles, telephones, banking systems, even many public toilets and sinks, they never think about them, but simply take for granted that they will work. A high altitude EMP blast, as proudly threatened by North Korea, would change that. ICs are ubiquitously used in mobile telephones, computers, and many other forms of electronics. But electrical infrastructure and personal electronics are the tip of the iceberg in the extensive use of ICs throughout society in the 21st century. Such electronics and ICs are widely integrated within every aspect of society: medicine, banks and financial institutions, farms and food stores, retail services, utilities, public transportation, emergency services, law enforcement, sanitation. The vast use of ICs as part of modernization in the 21st century comes with one very specific weak spot, such electronics and ICs are particularly vulnerable to high altitude EMP blasts.
Numerous studies and Congressional testimony has been provided on the such EMP threats to the U.S. Government over the past 30+ years. Many of the early studies were done using data gathered from 1950s, 1960s nuclear bomb tests in secluded or ocean areas, during a time when electronic and communication systems did not have the ICs in widespread use, as they are today. (The first patent for an IC was not granted until 1961.) So much of the “EMP testing” that we have is either based on world electrical and electronic environments that were significantly different, or in controlled laboratory environments that can only simulate a very finite range of possibilities. So we have different scientists that have come up with a range of testimony and findings on high altitude EMP attacks and the impact on society. There is a good deal of classified research on this topic, which unfortunately is not available to the public; R.E.A.L. urges the U.S. government to reconsider the impact of such level of classification and the need to inform the public on such catastrophic threats. However, I have collected the unclassified, public source testimony and studies presented on this topic. They are gathered at:
Consistently, most scientists believe that a high altitude nuclear blast in the atmosphere would release damaging EMP pulse waves that would impact and destroy wiring, electrical infrastructure, and many “personal electronic” devices. There is some debate over whether and to what extent, an EMP blast would impact automobiles, airplanes, and vehicles, and whether their electronics have enough “shielding” to prevent EMP pulse waves damaging them. Most scientists I have read believe there will be impact of a high altitude nuclear blast on transportation electronic systems. But should a high altitude EMP blast affect transportation systems, we can be certain there will be significant public disruption and conflict.
Given the difficulty in seeking to “replicate” such a dangerous threat to society, with a high altitude nuclear bomb with gamma rays ripping electrons out of the atmosphere and impacted by the magnetic field of the Earth, there is only so much testing (and so much “proof”) that can actually be done to completely understand the full affects. The extreme danger of such atmospheric testing is some of the EMP scientific analyses has to be done by scientific modeling. We have results of an actual 1962 high altitutde nuclear blast atmospheric test (Starfish Prime test) that discovered it could create EMP impacts as far as over 800 miles away in that test, with an impact that “drove much of the instrumentation off scale.” But even in 1962, at the early days of the IC technology just receiving a patent, a high altitude EMP test over the middle of the ocean impacted electrical systems, telecommunication systems, aircraft radios, and utilities over 800 miles away. Lowell Wood, a physicist and expert on EMP at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, told Congress in 1999 (October 7, 1999: “EMP Threats to the U.S. Military and Civilian Infrastructure”) that: “Most fortunately, these tests took place over Johnston Island in the mid-Pacific rather than the Nevada Test Site, or the electromagnetic pulse would still be indelibly imprinted in the minds of the citizenry of the western U.S., as well as in the history books.” “As it was, significant damage was done to both civilian and military electrical systems throughout the Hawaiian Islands, over 800 miles away from ground zero.”
A high altitude EMP blast is very different from a low altitude, microwave-based EMP attacks. In 2008, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) reported on both High Altitude EMP (HEMP) attacks, and what were considered to be more “likely,” terrorists using surface level, low altitude microwave based devices to create a localized EMP affect. The low altitude microwave-based EMP attack is to create a local disruption, and vehicles are not likely to be affected by such EMP attacks, and the power and strength of a High Power Microwave (HPM) EMP attack is not as powerful as a high altitude EMP (HEMP) attack. In terms of this specific threat from North Korea, unfortunately, most of the limited preparedness efforts have been focused on recovering from a ground level microwave attack, rather than a high altitude EMP blast affecting a wide area.
The affected area of a high altitude EMP blast differs among scientists, and as previously stated, most of the research on this is classified, so there is only a limited amount of public information available as unclassified for the public. According to a 1983 study done by D. Hafemeister (California Polytechnic University), as referenced by MIT’s Dr. Jack Liu in May 2017, the larger the nuclear explosion, the greater the affected area. Dr. Liu then estimated that a high altitude EMP blast at an “optimum height” would result in a correlation of blast yield to area covered, with a 250 kiloton blast covering a radius of 250 km (155 miles) and 1 megaton blast (currently not demonstrated as being part of North Korea’s capabilities) covering a radius of 1,000 km (621 miles). This would likely be the most “conservative” estimate. Based on my review of Hafemeister’s study, I believe he intended the optimum height to be 300 miles/500 km.
If you look at the details of D. Hafemeister’s 1983 EMP study, however, Hafemeister also estimated that a high altitude EMP blast at 310 miles (500 km) in the atmosphere over the United States would affect the entire nation, and at 155 miles (250 km) in the atmosphere would affect half of the U.S. As with much of the unclassified reports on such EMP research, the public is provided the minimum detail; based on this, it appear that Hafemeister estimated this based on use of a 1 megaton nuclear blast. Dr. Liu does not mention this part of D. Hafemeister’s study in his analysis of potential EMP threat.
The March 26, 2008 Congressional Research Service (CRS) study (Order Code RL32544) on High Altitude EMP blast impacts has a more dire prediction in terms of a footprint of a high altitude EMP blast. On page 6, Figure 1 of this 2008 CRS study “Estimated Area Affected by High-Altitude EMP,” it provides an impact map from a 1997 Congressional EMP study stating that a blast at 30 miles in the atmosphere would affect a radius of 480 miles, at 120 miles in the atmosphere would affect a radius of 1,000 miles, and at 300 miles (500 kilometers) in the atmosphere would affect a radius of 1,470 miles. This CRS figure refers to 1997 Congressional public, unclassified testimony provided by Dr. Gary L. Smith, Director, Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), Johns Hopkins University, on the topic “Threat Posed by Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) to U.S. Military Systems and Civil Infrastructure.” Based on Dr. Smith’s analysis, high altitude EMP blasts in the center of the U.S., could not only affect an extended part of the U.S., and concluded in his 1997 testimony on EMP “that a burst on the order of 500 kilometers [310 miles] in altitude can cover the entire continental United States.” Notably, Dr. Smith also testified that the EMP threat was “not terribly burst-strength dependent.” Dr. George W. Ullrich, Deputy Director, Defense Special Weapons Agency, provided similar views in his 1997 testimony on EMP threats: ” For example, if a megaton class weapon were to be detonated 400 kilometers [248 miles] above Omaha, nearly the entire contiguous 48 States would be affected with potentially damaging EMP experience from Boston to Los Angeles, from Chicago to New Orleans.” In terms of EMP blast yield, to the extent it may be found to be consistent with nuclear blast “yield” (scientists do not agree on this), it is notable that current nuclear bomb test studies indicate that North Korea “only” has achieved nuclear bomb capability of 120 kiloton to the latest estimate of 250 kiltons, not yet 1 megaton (MT) thus far. (However, new intelligence relayed to the public in October 2017 indicates that such estimates may be underestimating the EMP threat, due to new “Super-EMP warheads.”)
As shown in the impact study graphic included in the 2008 CRS study using Dr. Smith’s 1997 testimony, such a high altitude EMP blast could also impact most of Canada and Mexico as well as the United States, with the maximum coverage in that analysis being 1,470 miles (2365 kilometers). Based on this study and scientific analysis, such a blast over Nebraska, U.S., with a coverage range of 1,470 miles, could reach from Mexico City, Mexico into the Canadian Northwest Territories.
United Kingdom-based London Center for Public Policy Research and other researchers have published similar dramatic 1,470 mile high altitude EMP impact assessments. If Dr. Smith, Dr. Ulhrich, and others assessing potential distance of a high altitude EMP blast impact are correct, what would be the impact of a 1,470 mile (2365 kilometers) coverage area be around the world? The world media frequently forgets the large geographic size of the United States; the analysis of 1,470 mile potential coverage of a high altitude EMP blast is more than a regional or national threat, but represents a global terror threat.
While many write about such studies and their impact on the United States, such a global threat would similarly impact any other part of the world. To provide context of such a global threat, I have provided impact, using the 1,470 (2365 km) coverage estimate described by numerous scientists of a high-altitude EMP burst at 300 mile above the Earth. Based on such a 1,470 mile EMP impact area assessment, such a high altitude EMP blast coverage centered above Berlin, Germany would impact ALL of Western Europe, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Poland, Germany, Austria, Belarus, Ukraine, Romaina, France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Turkey, Spain, Portugal, including the United Kingdom and Ireland, all the way to Iceland, and across the Mediterranean Sea into Africa (Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco). Such a 1,470 mile high altitude EMP blast coverage centered above Karchi, Pakistan would impact from Bangladesh to most of Saudi Arabia and Iraq, the Arabian Sea, from Kazakhstan to Sri Lanka. Such a 1,470 mile high altitude EMP blast coverage centered above Beijing, China, would impact much of Asia, from parts of Russia to Myanmar, Taiwan, North and South Korea, and Japan. Such a 1,470 mile high altitude EMP blast coverage centered above Moscow, Russia, would impact Russia and much of Eastern Europe, Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Modova, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and most of Europe including, the northern regions of Norway, Sweden to the southern parts of Greece and Italy, reaching France and the border of the United Kingdom, and south beyond Turkey into Syria. Similar results would be found with a blast over Bangkok impacting much of Asia, reaching from China to Jakarta, Indonesia, and with a blast over Niger, Africa, impacting much of North Africa from Gabon, Congo, Sudan, reaching north into the Mediterranean Sea all the way to Malta, and from Egypt through most of the Western Sahara.
These calculations and assessment by Dr. Smith, Dr. Ulhrich, and others, are part of a range of scientific assessments. Yet even the most “conservative” assessments, such as Dr. Jack Liu’s interpretation of D. Hafemeister’s 1983 EMP study, also would demonstrate a catastrophic impact at any part of the world targeted by such a high altitude EMP blast. Based on Dr. Liu’s assessment, a 250 kiloton high altitude nuclear blast would have an EMP affect over 250 kilometers, or 155 miles. This too shows an international impact of high altitude EMP blasts, while not as far reaching in sheer miles, still impacting many millions of people across cities, states, and even across borders of different nations.
Based on such a 155 mile EMP (250 km) impact area assessment, such a high altitude EMP blast coverage centered above Dunkirk, France would impact most of France, Belgium, Netherlands, and a significant part of the United Kingdom across the English Channel, including major cities of Paris, London, Brussels, Antwerp, Rotterdam, The Hague, and Amsterdam affecting a combined population of over 28.9 million people. Such a 155 mile high altitude EMP blast coverage centered above Reading, Pennsylvania (USA) would impact Washington DC, New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, MD, Atlantic City, NJ, Connecticut, and Delaware, all the way north to Ithaca, New York, affecting a combined population of over 32 million people. Such a 155 mile high altitude EMP blast coverage centered above slightly east of Beijing, China would impact major Chinese population centers, including Beijing, Shijiazhuang, Langfang, Tianjin, Cangzhou, Baoding, Hengshui, affecting a combined population of over 73.9 million people. Any one of these single EMP attacks would affect more than the entire population of North Korea (25 million).
Regardless of the scientific study, analysis, or modeling used, the basic conclusions of a high altitude EMP blast, as boasted by North Korea on September 3, 2017, remains the same: the resulting impact would be a catastrophic terror attack on our fellow human beings – anywhere in the world. The world must denounce the terror threat and contempt for human life shown by North Korea in its threat against humanity.
North Korea’s September 3, 2017 high altitude EMP blast terror threat is not simply a threat to its regional neighbors or the United States – it is a catastrophic terror threat against the WORLD.
The concept of state-based, transborder, truly “catastrophic terror” threats remains an ongoing struggle to understand and appreciate in security, military, and human rights organizations and the public. The public hears little discussion or education on such challenges, and the concept of “catastrophic terror” is not part of most of public’s consideration of geopolitical, security, and human rights issues. The public is used to relatively contained terror threats that are bound to very limited areas, certainly no larger than a city or cities (with multiple attacks) at the worst. The concept of catastrophic terror threats, impacting multiple cities, large widespread areas, are typically the worst-case views of Chemical, Biological, Nuclear, and Radiological (CBRN) analysts, seeking to plan for ways to prevent, stop, or contain airborne threats for a regional area, which thus far, the world has seen few examples of truly catastrophic terror. The primary concern thus far in such planning has been for biological and radiological (e.g., “dirty bomb”) weapons.
What these CBRN security planners have to address catastrophic terror threats in these circumstances that you typically would not have in a high altitude EMP catastrophic terror attack is TIME. With radiological weapons, radiation sensors would detect changes in atmosphere and allow alerts for the public to go inside within minutes and find areas of protection. With biological weapons, spreading sickness provides a physical alert of time, and biological detection devices again provide the public with a margin of safety for containment and control.
High altitude EMP blast waves travel at nearly the speed of LIGHT. A missile can reach from North Korea even to the remote United States within 30 minutes (or less). By the time, it is understood that it is an EMP blast, it will be too late, the EMP damage will be done nearly instantly, as the EMP waves travel at the nearly the speed of light and would affect the targeted area almost immediately. The luxury of TIME that is provided with most other catastrophic terror attacks is readily not provided in an EMP attack, and the nature of an EMP attack is such that it would shut down and prevent methods for any communication or warning nearly instantly after the EMP blast. It is a uniquely difficult catastrophic terror threat to manage, and its global threat anywhere in the world must not underestimated.
In his 1997 testimony, APL Director Dr. Smith stated: “The EMP threat is unique in two respects. First, its peak field amplitude and rise rate are high. These quantities depend upon the rate of rise and the energy of the gamma ray output of the weapon. These features of EMP will induce potentially damaging voltages and currents in unprotected electronic circuits and components. Second, the area covered by an EMP signal can be immense. As a consequence, large portions of extended power and communications networks, for example, can simultaneously be put at risk. Such far-reaching effects are peculiar to EMP. Neither natural phenomena nor any other nuclear weapon effects are so widespread.” Dr. Smith also estimated that the EMP blast’s electric field would be “on the order of 50 kilovolts per meter with a rise time on the order of 10 nanoseconds and a decay time to half maximum of about 200 nanoseconds” (50,000 volts per meter) which is double the 25,000 volts per meter in D. Hafemeister’s 1983 study, referenced by Dr. Jack Liu and others.
On October 12, 2017, the U.S. Congress received new unclassified testimony that indicated that North Korea had obtained “Super-EMP” nuclear warheads with the capability with four times the EMP blast’s electric field as estimated by California Polytech’s D. Hafemeister, and double the EMP blast’s electric field as estimated by APL’s Dr. Smith, with the capability of an EMP blast electric field of 100,000 volts per meter. Such new intelligence publicly provided to the U.S. Congress in October 2017, indicates that North Korea has obtained so-called “Super-EMP” nuclear warheads, designed to maximize a high level of gamma rays to generate EMP E1 pulses which would arrive over a target area at nearly the speed of light. This breakthrough may make previous EMP threat studies obsolete, as they were based on studies of nuclear EMP affects many decades ago, not the current EMP capabilities, that we now know that North Korea has today. According to such new intelligence, the North Korea “Super-EMP” nuclear warheads have EMP capabilities of “over 100,000 volts per meter.”
On October 12, 2017, Dr. Peter Vincent Pry, former Chief of Staff of the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) [aka “EMP Commission”], described a different threat challenge altogether. According to Dr. Pry, U.S. intelligence had learned that North Korea had obtained “Super-EMP warhead[s], capable of generating high intensity EMP fields over 100,000 volts per meter.” According to Dr. Pry’s October 12, 2017 testimony, “In 2004, two Russian generals, both EMP experts, warned the EMP Commission that the design for Russia’s Super-EMP warhead, capable of generating high intensity EMP fields over 100,000 volts per meter, was ‘accidentally’ transferred to North Korea. They also said that due to ‘brain drain,’ Russian scientists were in North Korea, as were Chinese and Pakistani scientists according to the Russians, helping with the North’s missile and nuclear weapon programs. In 2009, South Korean military intelligence told their press that Russian scientists are in North Korea helping develop an EMP nuclear weapon. In 2013, a Chinese military commentator stated North Korea has Super-EMP nuclear weapons.” “Super-EMP weapons are low-yield and designed to produce not a big kinetic explosion, but rather a high level of gamma rays, which generates the high-frequency E1 EMP that is most damaging to the broadest range of electronics. North Korean nuclear tests, including the first in 2006, whose occurrence was predicted to the EMP Commission two years in advance by the two Russian EMP experts, mostly have yields consistent with the size of a Super-EMP weapon. The Russian generals’ accurate prediction about when North Korea would perform its first nuclear test, and of a yield consistent with a Super-EMP weapon, indicates their warning about a North Korean Super-EMP weapon should be taken very seriously.”
One of the challenges in effective reporting on this terrorist threat remains the minimization of such a risk, based on years of counterterrorism thinking on this from a low altitude, microwaved-based EMP threat, or the years of “Cold War” era dismissal of this from the U.S.S.R., based on an agreed upon policy of mature government command and control resources on why we would reject “mutually assured destruction.”
So the terrorist threat of a high altitude EMP blast from a “rogue” nuclear nation has not really been taken very seriously, as the potential actors who might perform such an attack either did not have anything close the capability of this, or had a mature enough military infrastructure to respect the consequences.
So the high altitude EMP blast threat has not been taken seriously until now with the isolated, totalitarian nation of North Korea. Yet even today, a number of factors prevents the public from fully appreciating the terror threat that North Korea represents not only to the region and to the U.S., but to the world.
Thus far, the inability for the public to take this North Korea terror threat seriously is compounded by a number of factors: (1) an unwarranted belief that North Korea does not have significant missile launch capability, (2) an overconfidence that we can consistently eliminate missile threats from North Korea and that North Korea’s ability to target specific cities with a nuclear missile is limited, (3) political partisan personalities viewed as the “real threat” rather than the North Korea years of determination to develop weapons capabilities across many U.S. administrations, (4) the failure to understand that North Korea plans to not only survive a nuclear exchange but win it, (5) the denial that there is “no proof” that an EMP blast will affect electric infrastructure and electronics, and (6) the failure to understand that North Korea’s threat, especially its EMP terror threat is not only a threat to the U.S., but to the world.
Underestimation of North Korea Weapons Capability. The belief that North Korea does not have significant missile launch capability is grounded in Western arrogance and largely disrespect for the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, as well as some degree of unstated racist views towards North Koreans as “backwards.” Such denial of North Korea weapons capability has increasingly been shown to ignore or be behind publicly demonstrated facts, and a high altitude EMP blast 300 miles in the atmosphere doesn’t sound so impossible when one considers that North Korea launched a missile 2,300 miles into the atmosphere just three months ago. On July 28, 2017, North Korea fired an ICBM missile (Hwasong-14) at an elevated trajectory of 3,700 kilometers (2,300 miles) high and for a distance of 1,000 kilometers (621 miles). On a flatter, standard trajectory, this missile would have traveled along a significantly broader distance, up to 10,400 kilometers (6,500 miles), and some analysts believe North Korea is currently building capability for missile strike of 11,700 kilometers (7,250 miles). Based on a standard trajectory of such a distance, this would have given North Korea the capability to hit deep within the mainland U.S. For context, from a fixed launch made within the North Korea soil, a launch of a missile reaching 6,500 miles could target Chicago, while a missile reaching 7,250 miles could readily target anywhere on the East Coast, including Washington DC (6,850 mi), NYC (6,750 mi), and Boston (6,700 mi). The July launch basically provided evidence that North Korea was only about 200-300 miles away in terms of missile technology of a direct strike on the United States East Coast. It should be noted than on May 2017, two months before the July missile launch, there was still a widely believed perception that North Korea’s missile capability could only reach to a distance of 3,000 miles. Furthermore, also as of May 2017, experts on North Korea were still reporting that North Korea’s nuclear bomb capability was only 20 kilotons and assessing threats based on this dramatically outdated intelligence, but by September 3, this was re-assessed as 120 kilotons and shortly thereafter as 250 kilotons. The North Korea experts have repeatedly underestimated North Korea’s weapons capabilities.
On October 20, 2017, the CIA Director Mike Pompeo warned that North Korea is on the cusp of being able to hit the U.S. with a nuclear missile. He stated “They are close enough now in their capabilities that from a U.S. policy perspective we ought to behave as if we are on the cusp of them achieving.” “We are not out of time… But we are running out of time.” NK News reported that he remarked “U.S. intelligence on the progress of Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile development was imprecise, he stipulated, saying that ‘when you’re now talking about months, our capacity to understand that at a detailed level is in some sense irrelevant’.” North Korea has demonstrated the ability to have missile launches at high altitudes over land masses; the North Korea September 15, 2017 missile launch over the Japanese island of Hokkaido, was reported as 475 miles in the atmosphere (770 kilometers) over Japan at the apogee of its flight path. Another limitation that the U.S. has on the missile challenge is the belief that North Korea’s mobile missile launching capability is only limited to launches from its mainland, when it has been continuing to improve and test on Submarine Based Launch Missiles (SBLM) for a long time, with a fleet of a reported 60 submarines. Too many in the U.S. are overconfident that only land-launched North Korea missiles can be easily targeted by U.S. missile intercept defenses, with the assumption that North Korea can only launch high altitude missiles over Guam towards the U.S., and that our intercept defenses can be sufficient to deal with a cluster of missiles that could be launched with a nuclear and/or nuclear EMP missile within a missile cluster. Individuals interviewed in defense roles continue to state that they believe the North Korea still has a significant amount of development yet to complete in missile guidance and re-entry capability. This confidence does not take into consideration that for a high-altitude EMP missile, re-entry and missile guidance for pinpoint surface attacks are not a necessity.
Missile Defense and Complex, Catastrophic Terror Threat. Given the vast expenditures in missile defense systems, Americans certainly do seek to have confidence in their effectiveness in stopping missiles launched at the United States. However, that confidence should also be based on an understanding of what such defense systems actually do. Shipboard Aegis systems are designed to target specific types of missiles, and are designed to defend thousands of square kilometers. However, to be able to shoot down a missile such as the one launched by North Korea on September 15, 2017 over Japan with an apogee of 475 miles in the atmosphere, a U.S. ship with a Aegis missile defense would need to be virtually in North Korea waters and would have to be ready to strike nearly instantly with the short 1-to-2 minute timeframe to “chase” such a missile in the air at such altitudes. THAAD and Patriot missile defenses are designed for missiles coming down, in the post-mid-course or terminal phases. So essentially other than planning to have perfect readiness and success with Aegis, the U.S. missile defense is largely dependent on the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) interceptors based in Alaska and California. In July 2017, the Washington Post reported that Pentagon’s leading weapons tester, the Directorate of Operational Test and Evaluation, found that in staged tests, the GMD system took out test missile in 10 out of 17 tests, and a recent CBS “60 minutes” interview suggested that the GMD interceptor system was showing a “55 percent success rate” in terms of its defensive capabilities. Most importantly, to understand in the case of the North Korea EMP threat, the missile needs only to explode in the atmosphere. It does not have to have “re-entry” capability like other nuclear surface missiles, nor does it need to have a precision “targeting” system to hit a specific targeted city.
Politics and the Actual North Korea Threat. We know from history that terrorist violence against the public impacts people from every political viewpoint, which is why it is essential that terror threats be impartially assessed based on public safety issues, not political concerns or partisan views. In the politically charged atmosphere of the United States, political partisans (and particularly the U.S. political media) are more focused on U.S. President Trump than on the ongoing North Korea terrorist threat situation. The reality is that the North Korea terror threat will exist no matter who is in public office in the U.S., and it is a threat that has been building for many decades across multiple administrations controlled by different political parties. There are those who are more interested in proving President Trump is “wrong” on anything as their real priority, rather than objectively assessing the situation that has been developing for a long time with North Korea, including a nuclear bomb and missile tests during President Obama’s administration. On November 4, 2017, New York Times writer Nicholas Kristof wrote: “Trump didn’t create the problem, and it’s real: We should fear North Korea’s gaining the capacity to destroy U.S. cities. Eerily, on my last visit, North Koreans repeatedly said that a nuclear war with the U.S. was not only survivable but winnable.” Mr. Kristof is neither a fan of President Trump, nor is he “conservative.” But in a charged political world, there is reality that some facts actually exist as facts, regardless of one’s political viewpoints. North Korea has been working to develop such aggressive weapons capabilities for a long-time, including working with Pakistan nuclear physicist Abdul Qadeer Khan, which Mr. Khan admitted to in 2004, and which began as early as 1993. North Korea did not simply begin its nuclear bomb ambitions in 2017 after President Trump took office, but has been actively involved in seeking to develop nuclear bombs for decades. These historical facts are conveniently forgotten by the U.S. political media when reporting on the North Korea’s nuclear bomb and ICBM breakthroughs in 2017, as if these are “sudden” advancements, rather than the achievements of decades of work, testing, and determination by North Korea. The idea that North Korea could threaten not only nuclear bomb attacks, but also a high altitude EMP threat, which could impact a much larger segment of the world, and the focus remains primarily on the U.S. administration, demonstrates how significantly the U.S. media is failing to recognize the very real and serious security and human rights threat that North Korea presents to the world.
North Korea Confidence in Winning Nuclear Exchange. Multiple U.S. media figures have interviewed North Korea government leaders with astonishment over the North Korea lack of concern, even confidence, in a nuclear war with the United States. The message that Americans are failing to understand is that there are leaders in North Korea that not only expect to “survive” a nuclear war exchange with the United States, but also to be victorious in such a war. Such report have come from Nicholas Kristoff (New York Times)and Evan Osnos (New Yorker). The NYT’s Nicholas Kristof wrote that North Korea governments leaders view “nuclear war is imminent but survivable.” “This military mobilization is accompanied by the ubiquitous assumption that North Korea could not only survive a nuclear conflict, but also win it.” In addition, according to Kristof, the North Korea people also believe this: “Ryang Song-chol, a 41-year-old factory worker, looked surprised when I asked if his country could survive a war with America. ‘We would certainly win,’ he said.” Kristof has also appeared on NBC television sharing this report.
The New Yorker’s Evan Osnos reported a similar discussion with North Korea government representatives, including North Korea Foreign Ministry’s Pak Song Il, who told Osnos “‘A few thousand would survive,’ Pak said. ‘And the military would say, ‘Who cares? As long as the United States is destroyed, then we are all starting for the same line again.’ He added, ‘A lot of people would die. But not everyone would die.” Osnos also wrote: “In the event of a nuclear war, American strategists assume that North Korea would first launch a nuclear or chemical weapon at an American military base in Japan or Guam, in the belief that the U.S. would then hold its fire, rather than risk a strike on its mainland. I mentioned that to Pak, but he countered with a different view. ‘The point of nuclear war is to give total destruction to another party,’ he said. ‘There are no moves, no maneuvers. That’s a conventional war.’ ”
Like other extremists, the North Korea state-based terror views global threats using nuclear and EMP devices to further the cause of their goals in Korean unification as well as mass violence and destruction towards any that oppose their ambitions. North Korea does not need nuclear weapons or EMP blasts for “deterrence” in preserving its regime, any more than it has needed such weapons of mass destruction over the past 64 years since the armistice (July 27, 1953) in the Korea War to preserve the North Korea regime. North Korea has had deterrence for all of these decades by its armed proximity to U.S. ally nations, which it has regularly threatened to use its existing weapons against such area U.S. ally nations, as methods of North Korea world policy. The claims that it now needs such advanced weapons to ensure “deterrence” are based on those unfamiliar with history.
False Claims of Lack of “Proof” of EMP Threats. Despite the magnitude of a nuclear dictatorship threatening to use a high altitude EMP weapon against the world, there are those who find a receptive U.S. media in claiming there is no real “proof” that EMP weapons are a threat. On November 1, 2017, Wired Magazine’s Brian Barrett provided a voice to such dismissal of EMP threats in an article entitled “North Korea’s Plenty Scary Without an Overhyped EMP Threat.” Wired Magazine used to be focused on technology issues, but in recent years, has migrated to focus on cultural and political topics. Brian Barrett focuses his explanation on how EMP is an “overhyped threat,” by referencing to a 91-year old former Maryland Congressman Roscoe Bartlett, who Brian Barrett believes has exaggerated the EMP threat. (Mr. Bartlett lives in a remote location, not dependent on electronic technology.)
Wired writer Brian Barrett has ready access to all of the scientific testimony, is aware of the 1962 Starfish Prime testing, and is aware of documented studies and testimony from physicists and scientists, so there is no lack of information in this case. It is simply Wired writer Brian Barrett’s choice to believes the way to “prove” that EMP is “overhyped” is by targeting a retired politician. This is the challenge with an increasing political focus of U.S. media on virtually every topic. But when it comes to catastrophic terror threats, such political tunnel vision is more than short-sighted, but it is openly dangerous in public policy discussions. Wired writer Brian Barrett also interviews Dr. Peter Pry, but Barrett seeks to reject Dr. Pry’s views because the EMP Commission that Dr. Pry was leading did not get funds for continuing in FY 2018.
Ignoring most of the other physicists, scientists from John Hopkins’ Applied Physics Laboratory, California Polytechnic University, and MIT associated with EMP studies, Wired writer Brian Barrett also interviews two other individuals, Philip Coyle and Sharon Burke. Philip Coyle is a senior science fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, and is not an expert in EMP studies, but this is primary “expert” that Wired journalist uses to try to discredit EMP threats (which we know for a fact since 1962 exist). Barrett concludes simply that Coyle is “skeptical as to the true impact of the type of nuclear-based attack outlined by the EMP Commission.” Barrett quotes Coyle as stating “I don’t know how the proponents of EMP get such huge results. I just don’t follow their logic.” Wired writer Brian Barrett does not state what “huge results” that Philip Coyle doubts or what “logic” he is questioning, he just simply provides such a vague quote as his type of “proof” that “people” question EMP threats and moves on. Wired writer also quotes Sharon Burke with the New America Foundation, who states “There’s still not proof that it would destroy a wide area of electrical equipment today,” ignoring the actual test results seen in the 1962 high altitude Starfish Prime nuclear test, and repeated documented testimony from Dr. Gary L. Smith, Director, Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), Johns Hopkins University, Dr. George W. Ullrich, Deputy Director, Defense Special Weapons Agency, and others who actually had direct knowledge of such tests and EMP impacts.
One of the repeated recommendation of EMP scientists and physicists was that the Defense Department improve its protection and readiness for electrical equipment from an EMP blast. Reportedly efforts to do so have been scaled back or halted in recent years. New America Foundation’s Sharon Burke, quoted by Wired writer Brian Barrett, as claiming there is “no proof” of the EMP threat, also previously served in the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy in the Obama administration. In her statements of the lack of “proof” by high altitude EMP nuclear blasts, Sharon Burke (and Wired writer Brian Barrett) conveniently neglect to mention that meaningful tests would be prohibited under the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, signed by the United States in 1996.
As to the issue of “proof” of consequences of a high altitude EMP nuclear blast, the only true scientific “proof” would be to have more high altitude nuclear EMP blasts (which we cannot do under the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty.) We also haven’t done such tests, due to a lack of interest or unwillingness to gather information, but for the obvious reason that the tests done thus far demonstrated a significant danger and risk to public safety and electrical infrastructure, that full scale public “testing” would be a threat to the public to repeat. Like other terror threats, we do not need to do full scale public testing of every threat to recognize the danger. We do not regularly conduct public radiological “dirty bomb” tests. We do not regularly conduct weaponized smallpox or anthrax tests on the public, or conduct cyanide or ricin chemical weapon tests in public conditions to ensure that we have absolute “proof” that they will “work.” As high altitude EMP blasts actually interact with the Earth’s atmosphere and magnetic fields, the idea that without more “proof” in the field, we can’t really believe it is a threat is reckless. Scientists conduct laboratory tests to mimic conditions to the extent possible, but the argument that with “field tests” of any terror threats, we don’t have “proof” of the threat is not rational.
Failure to Grasp EMP as a Global Threat. The idea that a high altitude EMP blast is an American problem is as illogical and irresponsible as suggesting that any other type of terror threat, natural disaster, and threat to our shared human rights of security is limited only to one geographic area or region. The reality is that a terror threat or any type of natural disaster can endanger the public in any part of the world, and our shared human rights of security should gain the focus of human rights activists on the lives and safety of people anywhere in the world threatened by weapons and acts of terror. As R.E.A.L. has pointed out such high altitude EMP blasts, even with the most conservative estimates, can impact not only millions in diverse cities, states, and regions, but also in multiple countries with a single high altitude EMP blast. High altitude EMP weapons represent a global terror threat to all of the world. Among other nations of the world facing catastrophic terror from such weapons, R.E.A.L. points to Communist China to reconsider even the most conservative EMP terror weapon would have over the Beijing area, and the likely 73 million impacted by such an attack. It is troubling to see the failure of security analysts to bring such an obvious incentive to China’s attention in dealing with the North Korea threat to world peace and security.
The concept that a high altitude EMP blast is a “military weapon” is as misguided and reckless as the idea that weaponized anthrax, ricin, cyanide, or other banned weapons are acceptable as anything less than weapons of terror in the 21st century. We have international conventions which explicitly ban the use and stockpiling of such weapons by responsible nations for military purposes, but we have yet to ban the use of high altitude EMP weapons. We recognize other banned weapons as used by those supporting acts of terror, and it is time to recognize high altitude EMP weapons as the same type of banned weapon, as biological and chemical weapons, only to be used by terrorist actors.
R.E.A.L. has not sought to provide this description of the North Korea call for a catastrophic terror threat using high altitude EMP blast as anything more than to recognize that this is a terror threat, and moreover, it is a global terror threat, not just a terror threat to the United States of America. With that basis, there is enough serious threat information on high altitude EMP blasts that those supporting our shared human rights and security need to take such a catastrophic terror threat seriously. Terror attacks rarely target individuals of only one political or identity group, despite the intent of terrorist actors. We know all too well the painful lessons of failing to take terror threats seriously, and the U.S. and the world has paid the price in suffering and the loss of innocents lives repeatedly.
We can learn our lessons from the past. We can work as nations to have better infrastructure and individual preparedness against such threats. The nations of the world can also unite in their determination that those individual terrorist actors, or state sponsors of terror such as North Korea, know that the world will not accept and will not stand by as threats or acts of catastrophic terror are made against our fellow human beings.
To North Korea and its leaders, as R.E.A.L. has repeatedly stated and implored in your language to you, we urge to stop your path of threats of catastrophic terror and nuclear bomb violence against the world, and renounce such unnecessary and suicidal weapons of mass destruction that will bring no peace to your nation, the region, or the world.