Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Be Very Afraid

POGO reports that the far right is once again overstating the threat of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack. In an article in the Washington Times, Bill Gertz coaxes this typically outlandish quote from Frank Gaffney Jr.:

"This is the single most serious national-security challenge and certainly the least known," said Frank J. Gaffney Jr. of the Center for Security Policy, a former Pentagon official....
This is an especially generous serving of delirious nonsense from a man whose career stands in many respects as a monument to dishonesty and poor judgment. Gaffney inaugurated his career of evil by joining the staff of Washington state senator Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson (aka the "Senator from Boeing") in the mid-1970s. With his chums Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, he labored mightily to scuttle arms-control talks and derail detente.

Ever since those halcyon days, overstating fanciful threats has been his method, and ineducable zealotry his madness. He still believes that Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11 (as well as the Oklahoma City bombing and the first WTC bombing). He also claims that John Kerry is more responsible for the chaos in Iraq than George W. Bush, despite the fact that in the run-up to the invasion, he said that Bush would have to "[assume] all the risks such an action entails."

The only thing I've ever known Gaffney to be even tangentially correct about is his think-tank's suggestion that President George H.W. Bush was guilty of criminal wrongdoing in regards to arming Saddam. (As usual, George W. Bush seems to embrace people who detest his father. Odd, that.)

Anyway, POGO demolishes Gaffney and his fellow nude EMPerors:
If terrorists did manage to build a nuclear weapon it is highly improbable that they could produce an efficient EMP-producing nuclear weapon, according to nuclear physicist Richard Garwin, who also published one of the first theoretical papers on EMP. Philip Coyle, former Pentagon director of operational test and evaluation, emailed Global Security Newswire that even "the U.S. military does not know how to [create thermonuclear-scale EMP from a Hiroshima-sized weapon] today, and has no way of demonstrating the capability in the future without returning to nuclear testing." When the United States does not have this ability, needless to say, it's unlikely that terrorist or "rogue" states could easily accomplish such a technological feat.
One goal of EMP fearmongering is surely the production of public hysteria and belligerence. The real attraction, though, is the staggering amount of money that could be squandered on "defending America" against an EMP attack. I addressed some of the financial issues in an earlier post on this subject:
The Trestle EMP simulator at Kirtland AFB in New Mexico cost taxpayers almost $60 million in the late 1970s. Its purpose was to guide the design of effective EMP shielding (same with many aerial nuke tests in the late 1960s, if memory serves). If EMP still threatens us with annihilation, almost thirty years later, perhaps we ought to get at least a partial refund.

Apropos of which, we might want to revisit the findings of the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Cost Study Project. According to their figures, the United States spent $13.2 trillion (in 1996 dollars) on national defense between 1940 and 1996. And it spent a further $5.5 trillion on nuclear programs, including missile defense (and therefore, including failed projects like the $25 billion Safeguard system, which was put out of its misery in 1976 by none other than Donald Rumsfeld).
POGO claims that the EMP crowd is estimating the cost of EMP protection at somewhere between 20 billion and 200 billion dollars. Nice work if you can get it!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Let us not forget "Star Wars" anti-ICBM project (It was abandoned about 1961 when the more alert realized that regardless of all the fancy tech that could be thrown at the proposal, physics remained an insurmountable obstacle to BOMARC mission success. You note nothing has changed today.)