Cult of EMP Crazy: Beaten by science

Posted in Crazy Weapons at 9:11 am by George Smith

Two days ago, Secrecy blog published a report by the JASONs, a group of eminent scientists regularly tasked with providing analysis and conclusion on potential threats for the US government.

According to Secrecy blog:

The U.S. electric power grid is vulnerable to damage from severe electromagnetic solar storms and remedial measures should be taken to reduce that vulnerability, a new study (large pdf) from the JASON scientific advisory panel concluded.

On the other hand, the JASONs said, catastrophic worst-case scenarios advanced by some are not plausible, and they should not serve as a basis for policy making.

The JASON study put a stake through the heart of some nuisances in the Cult of Electromagnetic Pulse Crazy, although some readers might not have guessed it.

In 2010, the electromagnetic pulse doom lobby was able to get the Department of Energy to issue a report authored by one of the small businesses that comprise it.

At the time, posted here at DD blog, I explained it:

Common sense would seem to dictate that leaders of corporations ought not to be empowered by the US government to provide threat assessments which stand to directly enrich their interests.

But that’s how the US conducts business. From top to bottom, people read of agencies subverted by the businesses they are supposed to regulate.

And sometimes people then come to the conclusion that the US government is only a tool for the accelerated transfer of taxpayer dollars into the coffers of such mentioned businesses.

Which is a pity.

The latest example, a smaller one than the national Minerals Management Service, comes to you courtesty of the Department of Energy and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (or NERC).

Reads the New York Times, courtesy of Matthew Wald:

A report just issued by the Energy Department and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, known as Nerc, an industry group that polices the power grid, lists three categories of threats to the grid: coordinated cyber- and physical attacks, pandemic disease and electromagnetic damage.

What Wald does not mention, or perhaps has failed to notice, is the “report??? has essentially been written by the small interests which make up the Cult of EMP Crazy, with government workers as their staff.

Three of the report’s authors are part of the bomb Iran/ballistic missile defense lobby. (Follow the link.)

These include John Kappenman — billed as being part of something called Storm Analysis for the report, William Radasky of Metatech and Michael Frankel of Roscoe Bartlett’s old EMP Commission.

The JASON study dealt with the threat scenario posited by the electromagnetic pulse lobby, specifically one posited and fashioned by John Kappenman and Metatech, a small business that provides analysis on a variety of alleged electromagnetically pulsing menaces (allegedly used by criminals wielding electromagnetic pulse suitcases of doom — follow the links in the old DD post to see these).

While the JASON report does not deal in the slightest with the notional threats posed by alleged criminal misuse of electromagnetic pulses, it does dispassionately discuss the real hazards associated with the impact of severe space weather on the Earth’s magnetosphere.

In does this in an erudite manner, unadorned by conflicts of interest.

Summing it up, Steve Aftergood of Secrecy Bulletin writes:

“We agree that the U.S. electric grid remains vulnerable,??? the JASONs concluded. “Mitigation should be undertaken as soon as possible to reduce the vulnerability of the U.S. grid. The cost appears modest compared to just the economic impact of a single storm,??? they added.

But the panel declined to endorse a worst-case scenario proposed in 2010 by J. Kappenman (large pdf), who envisioned “the possibility of catastrophic damage to the U.S. electric grid, leaving millions without power for months to years.???

“We are not convinced that the worst case scenario… is plausible. Nor is the analysis it is based on, using proprietary algorithms, suitable for deciding national policy,??? the JASON report said.

It appears the work of the JASON group became necessary when the electromagnetic pulse lobby was able to successfully get its apocalyptic report on solar weather passed through the Department of Energy in 2010.

Seemingly vetted by government agency, it was used to generate two stories in the New York Times, one in 2010 and one earlier this year, pieces suggesting the US government wasn’t paying attention to threats to the infrastructure described by its own people.

Except, in this case, it wasn’t done by independent scientists on the government payroll. The study was furnished by a business in the electromagnetic pulse lobby.

More on the issue, as it happened earlier this year, was discussed here on DD blog.

Briefly, it would seem the powers that be in the Department of Energy realized they’d done something that would be used to haunt them in distributing the Metatech report, a report that was merely part of a workshop the department had sponsored on electromagnetic pulse effects in 2009.

“And so it made a tactical error when it originally allowed the EMP lobby to author a report, one then given weight by publication on its website,” reads the original post here at DD blog..

“Now it legitimately wishes to correct the matter … Brushing the kooks off once again is eminently doable.”

And here, as 2011 draws to a close, the JASONs, a group of independent scientists commissioned by the US government through the MITRE Corporation, have politely but authoritatively done just that.

“The Cult of EMP Crazy must be so disappointed,” commented one government man to DD blog.


  1. Chuck said,

    December 22, 2011 at 11:51 am

    I’ve always wondered why all the money was spent on this crazy idea and yet nobody siad “Okay, before we spend one more nickel on this looney idea, let’s see a demonstration”. You know, sent off an EMP device (whatever that may be–nukes not allowed, since there are other more serious things to worry about there) in the middle of the desert and demonstrate what happens over, oh, say, a one-square mile area.

    Better to contemplate one’s navel and spend other people’s money, I guess.

    Sometimes I think that humanity loves to have whacky ideas (like the Apocalypse) rather than deal with reality.

  2. George Smith said,

    December 22, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    The US military built a number of testing platforms many years ago. I presume it still uses them. Various sizes for irradiating military equipment with big
    electromagnetic discharges to see how or if the shielded things fail. A smaller one used to be shown on cable shows like Futureweapons, regularly. It was just a big capacitor hung over a testing pad. In Futureweapons, they drove a newish car under it and hit the switch to show that it would crash the chip that controlled the carburetor, or something. In another test they flew one of those 50 buck remote controlled toy helicopters under it and watched it crash when the thing went off. They’re probably on YouTube.

    These things pretty much demonstrated the limitations such things. The effects are trivial and very range limited.

    Every year I get hate mail from people who take it just the opposite, or lonely engineers who worked on them angry that their patents aren’t in more widespread use. Been like that for well over a decade, it seems.