Former CIA Director: We're Not Doing Nearly Enough To Protect Against The EMP Threat

On Monday we covered the release of an open letter written to President Obama, issued by a committee of notable political, security and defense experts  -- which includes past and present members of Congress, ambassadors, CIA directors, and others -- on the country's concerning level of vulnerability to a natural or man-made Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP).

An EMP has very real potential for crippling much of our electrical grid instantaneously. Not only would that immediately throw the social order into chaos, but the timeline to repair and restart the grid in most estimated scenarios would take months to a year or more. Those curious on learning exactly how devastating an EMP can be can read our report on the topic from last summer.

This week, we've been fortunate enough to get several of the authors of that open letter to join us and explain in depth what they conclude needs to be done to protect against the EMP risk: former CIA Director and current Ambassador James Woolsey, Executive Director of the EMP Task Force Dr Peter Pry, and security industry entrepreneur Jen Bawden.

What's frightening in this story is not just the carnage an EMP could wreak, but the apparent rabid intransigence with which the electrical power lobby is fighting any responsibility for defending against one:

Chris Martenson:   Now, we’ve had a commission to assess the threat to the United States from an EMP attack, which delivered a report back in 2008. In fact, I found no less than two congressional commissions, a National Academy of Science report, other U.S. government sponsored studies, including your own. All have raised heightened concerns about this issue. All have found, all of them, that the EMP threat poses a significant and existential threat to the United States, and yet here we are still talking about this. Why is that?

Dr. Pry:   Well, the short answer to that is it’s called the North American Electric Reliability Corporation. They used to be a trade association or a lobby for the 3,000 electric utilities that exist in this country. And, their relationship with the federal government, with the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, is a 19th century-type relationship. There is no part of the U.S. government that has the legal powers to order them to protect the grid. This is unusual, because in the case of every other critical infrastructure, there’s an agency in the U.S. government that can require them to take actions for public safety. For example, the Food & Drug Administration can order certain medicines kept off shelves to protect the public safety. The Federal Aviation Administration can ground aircraft and require protective devices, put locks on aircraft doors, for example, to protect people from having the aircrafts hijacked by terrorists.The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission doesn’t have those legal powers or authorities.

And, the NERC, which owns half of K Street and has got very deep pockets, has been successful in lobbying against legislation like the Grid Act and the SHIELD Act, both bipartisan bills supported almost unanimously by Democrats and Republicans. They’ve been able to stall for years and keep these bills held up. One time when we got a bill passed: the Grid Act actually, in 2010, unanimously passed the House. Everybody supported it. But Washington is so broken, one senator put a hold on a bill—if they know which senator to buy, they can buy that one senator and the person can put a hold on the bill so it can’t come to the floor for a vote and they can do it anonymously. The senator doesn’t have to identify themselves. So, you never know who stopped the bill.

And, that’s been the problem in Washington. We’ve been trying to overcome resistance by the electric power lobby to try to protect the grid. 

They’ve basically been successful in stymying efforts at the federal level. Now, we’ve got another bill, Critical Infrastructure Protection Act, that we’re hoping will pass this year. Again, we’ve got a lot of support, but it’s already under attack by the utilities. And, they’re trying to change the language of the bill to basically gut the bill.

Ambassador Woolsey:  And, when NERC is studying a problem, it doesn’t exactly operate at breakneck speed. After the ’03 outage in Cleveland that started with a tree branch touching a power line and took out the electricity for several days of Eastern Canada and much of the northeastern United States, NERC was finally prevailed upon to do a study. And, they did one and focused entirely on how to cut tree branches so that they won’t interfere with electric power lines. And, that tree branch study took them three years and eight months. What’s interesting about that lapse of time is three years and eight months is exactly the amount of time the United States was engaged in World War II, from beginning to end. So, one wonders how many wars worth of time it would take NERC to deal with a more complicated problem such as say, squirrels.

Chris Martenson:  I understand that NERC is against this and they think this is overbearing regulation and they don’t want to be more highly regulated. I think possibly understandable concerns from any industry, but in this case, what kind of money are we talking about here? How much would it take to really begin to remedy this issue and how much time would it take? What is NERC fighting here?

Dr. Pry:  Sure. Interesting question, because there are different numbers, depending upon how much security you want to buy. One of my colleagues on the, who served on the EMP Commission, had a plan that would cost $200 million. That’s not billions, but millions with an ‘m’. Now, that would be a very minimalist plan, and it would just protect the extra high voltage transformers that service the major metropolitan areas. It would by no means—we would still be at a very high level of risk, but it would at least give us something like a fighting chance to save all those people in the big cities, in the hundred largest big cities from starving to death, if you just invested $200 million. 

At this point, as I recently testified to Congress, I think the U.S. FERC is so broken and untrustworthy that we probably need to scrap the regulatory system we’ve got now and go to something completely different. I think what you’ve got is a situation of what’s called regulatory capture. You’ve got a rotating door between FERC and NERC and these guys are basically in cahoots with the electric power industry .

Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with Dr. Peter Pry, Jen Bawden, and Ambassador James Woolsey (48m:35s)

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Just $200 million to protect the major cities, only $2 billion to provide  basic protection for the whole country and we can't be bothered? The 'last remaining super power', the 'world's richest country' and we can't harden our electric grid but both China and Russia have already done so? What is left of the US econo-government system is so  shortsighted it can't see its own navel. I grow more ashamed of my county's foolishness day by day.

Here’s an interesting scenario and dramatization of a large power outage’s effects,
makes the statistics personal, but mostly cheap thrills, and a sudden happy ending and no addressing of the difficult questions - like what if the power didn't come back - one thing is a power failure due to cyber attack - ie the  power fails, but most electrical devices are OK - just no power - fixable in fact - but with an EMP the electronics get fried - so even with backup power, things  just don't work. So no TV, no internet, no cell phones, no fuel pumps or GPS etc.and the blown transformers are custom items to build, so it'd take years to get the grid working again. Also all the cooling pools for all the spent atomic reactor fuel that need constant power would be a "nice" complication
So, unexpected and serious effects – from stuck express elevators - no doors to pry open, to fried electronics in all air traffic, to farming – no irrigation pumps, to no cars, no ATMs, to no food distribution, to widespread meltdowns – as the old GE Mk1 atomic reactor blows up without constant cooling, to all the spent fuel storage facilities burning up. Check the location of these things in the US - scary!
Talk about unsymmetrical warfare – one EMP from N Korea and bye bye USA – a glaring, glaring vulnerability.

Check out the Book "One Second After"
It's an fictional account of year in the life of a small-town that experiences EMP pulse that knocks out the power grid.

Correction to the website address given in the podcast.  Visit:
Thanks for another important and informative interview, Chris!

An analogous situation exists in Australia, not regarding EMP but transport fuel stocks. If either system breaks in either of our countries and havoc will ensue.
In The Land of the Long Weekend a succession of federal governments on both sides of the political fence (or to be more accurate, both wings of the Central Party) has refused to attend to our national transport fuel reserves. As it stand now all we need is for two tankers to arrive in a row with contaminated cargoes (surprisingly easy to contaminate a cargo) and rationing would ensue. We are letting our domestic refining capacity run down to nil. We can't re-refine a contaminated shipment. It has to go back to Singapore or wherever.

Here I see the same wilful blindness, the same complacency, the same belief that The Market will sort everything out, the same pious hope that we don't have to think or plan or spend money on something that doesn't immediately enrich a corporation, the same foolishness at high levels of power and in the corporate sector.

I have not heard of anything being done here to mitigate against an EMP. Almost too scared to investigate…

I too am baffled at what is happening — or not happening. Sometimes I wonder if our western civilisation has a death wish. Or has gone totally mad. Or both.

If anyone wants to see the areas of risk if the grid goes down and all of the US reactors have Fukushima meltdowns, there is a nice interactive map here. Rather sobering.


I too am baffled at what is happening — or not happening. Sometimes I wonder if our western civilisation has a death wish. Or has gone totally mad. Or both.
Given how paranoid the US is, and how much we spend on frisking little old ladies in wheelchairs, one wonders why $200 million is too much for our defense establishment to spend?

Your question got me to thinking: is it possible that we are being left vulnerable for a reason?  Does Mr. Global want the US to continue having this particular weak spot?

Next question: why?  It certainly would deal with the whole "unfunded liabilities" issue, now wouldn't it?  And the population issue too.  And quickly.

And there would be lots of newly-vacated land too.  Although ecological damage from the uncooled-reactor meltdowns would probably make a good amount of the land less-than-desirable for centuries to come.

As I said, your comment just got me to thinking.  Normally I'd ascribe it all to incompetence, but this level of stupidity for this long, alongside the number of smart former insiders who are complaining about it, really does seem to be over the top.

Perhaps it should be recognized that the current regime in charge of the USA has such an aggressive foreign policy towards countries like Russia, China and Iran that they bear some responsibility for the heightened threat of an EMP event. US politicians like to present themselves as goodness personified while Russians and Iranians are an evil threat. Surely if this were the case they would already have carried out such an attack. I would note that the US is the only country in the world to have actually  used atomic weapons in warfare.I can imagine this conversation occurring in Russia or China with their experts citing America as the source of an EMP threat
Saying  that protection of the grid is a "no brainer." 

God must be having a little laugh at the corporate lobbying system of politics in the USA.  

This is another very enlightening interview that illustrates how so many of the people in today's society simply stare into the headlights of an oncoming disaster, just as a deer or rabbit will do at night on an open road, and they will not move out of danger. It is sad, and it is frightening. Sad, because they very possibly will be subjected in time to a disaster; frightening because their inaction threatens my life and well-being. 
The Carrington event was a direct hit of a solar-generated EMP, and it destroyed some portion of the very primitive electronics of the time: the telegraph that connected batteries through a coding key to an electrical line stretching across the country-side. The electrostatic disturbances lasted more than a day, and the most obvious effects were the aurora borealis shining around the world. A few years ago the earth missed an equivalent event by just a couple of days of orbit, only now our entire society depends on electronics that fries when subjected to the kind of EM fields that will enter our grids when such as event does occur.

12% chance in the next decade is a huge risk. And yet enough of those in power are happy to just stare into the headlights and block proaction in protecting one of the key components of today's civilization.

Back in the early 70s I had some association with the oil patch. I watched as several stupid decisions were made, and the word back then was, "just let the bastards freeze in the dark." Today I am simply frightened because inaction of TPTB threatens my life and well-being.

Thanks, Chris, for shining a light on this problem. Keep it up.

is it possible that we are being left vulnerable for a reason?
We the people are known for some monumental stupidity, but this 
does seem to be over the top.
Combine this with the fact that the military is preparing even more than before, and insiders/authority figures are warning us about EMP's (and the ones currently in power aren't doing anything about it) is setting them up to save the military so they can continue world domination after the EMP and be able to say "We tried to warn you, but you wouldn't listen."  I suppose we already know who will be blamed and the very clear retaliation we are going to take (to further our world domination).


…if the ubiquitous surveillance apparatus has been EMP hardened. Wouldn't make much sense to put all that up and then EMP it all away. So if the grid goes down but the cameras stay up, well, there's your sign…

I suppose this could simply be utilities milking a cash cow until things go sideways (like tree trunks landing on power lines). In the event of a dire emergency, the govt would move in and order costly fixes or new grids, whatever it takes. I imagine it would play out much like demand turned command economies, during major wars.  In exchange for immediate compliance from utilities, government foots the bill, or subsidizes cost.  Taxpayer is on the hook.  
Sweet deal if you can get it. 


is it possible that we are being left vulnerable for a reason?
This comment set me thinking. I don't want to start erecting conspiracy theories — that way lies madness — but I can't avoid concluding that something like this is indeed going on.

A bit of recent Australian history. In the 1970s the Whitlam (federal) government started a policy to "buy back the farm", a scheme to curtail foreign ownership of mining assets. They pursued an ill-advised funding scheme and later it led to what some see as our only coup d'état, with the government being sacked by the Governor-General. It helped the coup that the US government of the day was very unhappy with Australian policies towards Vietnam.

At the time Australia was one of the few countries in the world woth the potential for autarky, to be (almost) completely self-sufficient. The only resources we lacked then were natural rubber and heavy crude, both of which lacks could have been dealt with. Today our ability to provide our own transport and other fuels is (deliberately?) curtailed. Our indigenous motor vehicle manufacturing industry has been destroyed. Our economy is being reduced to that of a fossil fuel and bulk resource dispensary.

So I reckon that it's simply not on for any country to move or stay outside of the World System. Something big is being erected (TTP - TISA - TTIP ?) and all countries are to be compulsory participants. BRICS are being very naughty and irritating by so far staying outside the System.

Am I mad?

Meh, not scary enough, this is much better -

"Plasma hitting the surface of Earth could heat and fuse rock, incinerate flammable materials, melt ice caps, vaporize shallow bodies of water creating an extended deluge of rain, and send the climate into a warming spell. The release of pressure that follows the melting of thousands-of-meters-thick ice sheets can induce earthquakes and even cause hot rock under pressure to melt and erupt to the surface as volcanoes. The world was in chaos, and this is the event recorded by petroglyphs and the rongorongo texts.

The plasma event of 9700 B.C. eradicated advanced civilizations and high cultures of the time, and the radiation emanating from the plasma may have affected mental and psychical abilities. This could be the basis for the nearly universal myth of a Golden Age, a time when beings on Earth had mental abilities far surpassing those of later times. The 9700 B.C. event may be the original basis for the Atlantis legends; the timeframe fits well with Plato's account."

You'd need some strong sunblock for that, eh ?

The New World Order - A Faustian Bargain
by Jeff Thomas via Doug Casey's International Man blog

The argument over the existence of an Elite, who plan to control the entire world under a New World Order ... has been around for a long time. ...[E]events created by world leaders of all stripes in recent years give rise to an increasing belief in the likelihood of the existence of such an effort.

There are two great dangers in attempting to describe this perceived secret endeavour, and they are at opposite ends of the spectrum:

a) being so naive as to assume that no collusion exists amongst various groups of leaders to further their respective ends, and

b) over-simplifying such alliances to suggest that there is an Elite Master Plan that all members implicitly agree upon and follow in every respect.

He believes that there IS coordination towards a global empire:
There can be no doubt that a New World Order is being sought by some—this ... is an open secret. As stated by David Rockefeller in his memoirs:

Some even believe we are a part of a secret cabal working against the best interests of the United States, characterizing my family and me as ‘internationalists’ and of conspiring with others around the world to build a more integrated global political and economic structure—one world, if you will. If that’s the charge, I stand guilty and I am proud of it.

But those who hunger for power are many and, in the final act, each wants to ultimately be THE BIG KAHUNA.  Like in the TV game show, Survivor, alliances for mutual advantage are formed and hold for a while, then the contestants turn on their former allies in deception and conquest.  Cooperation fails as each reaches for the prize of being the single winner.

Thomas' Summary:

First, that there most assuredly are extremely domineering forces (regardless of how closely associated they might be), which, in the near future, will do immense damage to the cause of freedom in the world, particularly in those countries where they are most dominant, or will become most dominant. Second, the situation does appear to be reaching a head.

The two greatest uncertainties will be how much damage will be done before the dust has settled, and how protracted the period of destruction and struggle for dominance might be.

And here we are, living through this time.

of the psycho puppets themselves!

Sand Puppy,


it appears to me to be an obvious policy rather than a conspiracy. Even if people discount the 911 coup d'état, it's still evident that the Anglo American axis has always been angling for total world domination. It appears to me that geo strategically, oil flows have been crucial to maintaining a stranglehold on compliant nations.  How long that can be maintained, is a question. Much rides on what happens in the Ukraine.


It should also be obvious that those who control the most information, have disproportionate political control and can use the political drives of organized systems (Anglo American axis) to further their own ends.  The covert letter agencies, funded by govt but unaccountable to elected reps, working together, are likely the ultimate controllers and working for corporate oligarchs.  

You can imagine that before Glasnost, the covert agencies on BOTH sides were working together both before and after, through Yeltsin. It's only since Putin cracked down on subversion of his own people  by Russian oligarchs, that there is so much animosity between Russia and Western elites and Western puppet media.  

The electrical grid problem appears to me to be an easy way to get govt to fund a new grid after a catastrophe of epic proportion, through deficit spending. I don't see it as a way to usher in a police state.  That is already in place and the population is by and large fairly complacent. Angry, fed up but no danger to the system.  The most efficient way to accomplish their goals of greater profits, is just to sit back and do nothing, for the time being. 


I thought the point of this website was that there won't be any electricity going down the grid in the future, and that if there was it would mean planetary destruction anyway ? Woolsey must be optimistic about the US energy and consumer future. Or he's got investments lined up.