Friday, November 26, 2010

The electromagnetic pulse threat

A single nuclear warhead could disrupt the entire country in an EMP attack.

One afternoon last summer, an afternoon thunderstorm moved through my hometown of Villa Rica.  Lightning from the storm knocked out power in most of the town.  Without power, all commerce stopped.  We had intended to order a pizza, but the restaurant employees told us that they couldn’t cook anything electricity.  Even if they had food to sell, we wouldn’t have been able to buy it since they couldn’t use the cash register.  Across the street, grocery store customers with full carts of food found that they couldn’t buy anything either.  Police had their hands full directing traffic since all of the traffic lights in town were out.

Now imagine that the blackout is not confined to one town, but is spread across the whole country.  It also is not confined to the electrical grid.  Nothing electrical is working.  Your car engine might die.  Your cell phone is dead.  Even the battery in your watch is dead.  Instead of a thunderstorm, you have likely experienced an electromagnetic pulse attack.

An electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack is a specific type of attack with a nuclear weapon.  Rather than leveling a city, the object of an EMP attack is to destroy a developed nation’s economy by destroying its electrical infrastructure.  The attack would also sever the command and control links between the government and military units making it difficult or impossible to fight back or coordinate relief efforts.

The effects of EMP after a nuclear airburst detonation were first observed after tests in the 1960s.  In one test, codenamed Starfish, a 1.4 megaton nuclear warhead exploded at 250 miles (400 km) over the South Pacific and damaged electrical and telecommunications systems almost 900 miles (1400 km) away in Hawaii.  Street lights failed, circuit breakers popped, burglar alarms were set off.

The EMP is a spike in gamma radiation following a nuclear detonation.  The first energy pulse is sent out within a few billionths of a second that damages electronics over a wide (hundreds of miles) area.  A second component that is similar to lightning follows next over the same area.  Finally, a third component is a slower, longer lasting pulse that can cause disruptive currents in electric transmission lines.  The third component is of a more limited range than the first two.  The three different components each cause separate damage.  Further, damage from later components builds upon the damage caused earlier.

An EMP attack would be carried out by exploding a large nuclear weapon at a high altitude above the target country.  The explosion of a large (at least one megaton) weapon several hundred miles above the United States between Chicago and Kansas would destroy or disrupt a majority of the US electrical capacity.  The extent of the damage would depend on the altitude and yield of the weapon.

Because the weapon would have to be boosted hundreds of miles above the earth, terrorist groups like al-Qaeda would not be able to mount an EMP attack.  On the other hand, there are indications that terrorist regimes in Iran and North Korea are working to develop EMP technology.  The Iranians have already test fired their missiles in a profile that is consistent with an EMP airburst.  Both nations have Scud missiles that could launch a lower-altitude EMP attack, but the Iranians also possess Shahab-3 medium range missiles that could detonate a warhead in space for maximum effectiveness.

Additionally, the Iranians have demonstrated the ability to launch Scud missiles from cargo ships.  This could be used to launch a surprise attack on US cities.  A freighter approaching port cities such as New York, Los Angeles, or Savannah could, without warning, launch strikes into the US heartland.  Depending on the version of the missile, a freighter hundreds of miles off the coast of Savannah could easily strike Atlanta with either a conventional nuclear warhead or an EMP airburst.  The jihadis on board could then sink the ship, leaving no clues as to the origin of the attack.  For maximum effectiveness, simultaneous attacks on several ports or seaboard cities could be coordinated.

Depending on the altitude of the airburst, there might be little or no physical damage or immediate loss of life.  After the explosion, the energy pulse would travel at the speed of light and simultaneously fry electronics within the effective radius of the weapon.  Commercial computer equipment, from traffic lights to telecommunications equipment would be affected.  Power surges from overloaded electric lines would short out computers and appliances.  Cars and trucks with electric ignition systems would shut off causing accidents and traffic jams. 

The long term effects would be disastrous.  There be no electricity until power lines and transformers could be replaced.  This might take years.  In the meantime, commerce would grind to a halt.  Food would quickly disappear from store shelves.  Produce would rot in warehouses since refrigeration systems would not work.  Cars that still worked could not be refueled since the electric pumps at gas stations would not work.    Telephone, internet, radio, and other methods of communication would all be down.  The economy would screech to a halt.

People would be isolated and stranded, unable to communicate, and running out of food.  This would inevitably lead to civil unrest.  There would likely be a societal breakdown similar to that seen after Hurricane Katrina, only this time the scale might well be national.  Law enforcement and relief agencies would be quickly overwhelmed.  Starvation, disease, and violence would run rampant.  The death toll could be in the millions.

In 2001, Congress formed the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United State from Electromagnetic Pulse Attack.  The commission has published several reports and studies on the EMP threat.  They have also issued recommendations for preventing and minimizing the EMP threat.  The most important recommendation is to prevent attacks from occurring in the first place.  This means preventing rogue nations from obtaining the technology to launch an attack.  Unfortunately, the nuclear cat is already out of the bag in North Korea and soon will be in Iran.

Second, commercial electric systems such as generators, turbines and transformers should be shielded and configured to minimize the damage from sudden shutdown or attempted restart after an attack.  Many military systems are already somewhat shielded as a legacy of the Cold War, but civilian electrical systems are completely vulnerable.

An additional solution is to implement an effective antimissile system.  The US already has a limited anti-ballistic missile capability in the form of ground-based interceptors in Alaska and US Navy Aegis cruisers armed with SM-3 missiles.  Other programs are currently under development.  The missile threat from rogue nations is different from the Cold War threat posed by the Soviets.  The terrorists would be able to launch far fewer missiles, but they might come from a shorter range, similar to a launch by a Soviet submarine.  Our current capabilities should be expanded and shorter range anti-missile defenses should be added to defend America’s coastal cities.

Even if an attack never occurs, many of these preparations would also help to minimize the damage from traditional blackouts and power failures.  The effects of a solar super storm, in which the sun ejects massive solar flares, would be similar to an EMP attack on a global scale.

Additionally, individuals should also prepare.  Whether we are faced with an EMP attack or some other disaster, individual Americans need to be able to fend for themselves for a time until relief agencies can help them.  In a burglary or home invasion, that might mean fending off an intruder for long minutes until police can arrive.  In a hurricane, tornado, or earthquake, help might take days to arrive.  In the case of electromagnetic pulse attack, there might be no help for weeks or months.  To learn how to begin preparing your home for an emergency, click here.

In the midst of a Great Recession and with the federal debt at record levels, it is difficult to think about more government spending to protect our electrical grids.  Nevertheless, as radical and homicidal extremists like Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and North Korea’s Kim Jong Il gain, and share, the nuclear and missile technology to launch EMP attacks that could literally destroy our economy and bring the US back into the stone age, we must ask ourselves whether we can afford to tempt fate and do nothing.  History has shown that both Iran and North Korea are more than willing to strike first if they believe that they can get away with it.

For more information:

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Are Muslim women exempt from TSA screening? (and other myths)

Muslim woman in a hijab (Steve Evans)

Today I once again don my tinfoil hat to tackle a series of internet rumors about the new TSA screening procedures.   These procedures include body scanners and random pad-downs (what most people would probably being frisked).  I am actually taking an airline flight from Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport today.  While riding in from the parking lot, I had the rare opportunity to talk to a TSA officer on an informal basis about the new procedures.  While many of his answers are incorporated into this article, I will respect his anonymity. 

Are Muslim women wearing burkas exempt from screening?  One rumor making the rounds is that Muslim women wearing hijabs (scarves that cover the head and face) or burkas (loose garments that cover the entire body, leaving an opening for the eyes) would be exempt from TSA screening due to religious reasons.  This rumor seems to stem from a press release by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) that notes that Muslim scholars say that full body scans are a violation of Islamic law.  The press release gives a list of recommendations that include the suggestion that they ask to pat themselves down, but does not claim that they be exempt from screening.

According to the officer I spoke with, the only instance in which self-pat-downs are allowed is in the case of turbans.  The wearer still must go through screening, including the body scan, but is allowed to pat down the turban himself.  The TSA screener then conducts a chemical test of the wearer’s hands to ensure that no explosives are present.  This exception is due to the religious significance of the turban to Sikhs and is consistent with CAIR’s recommendations.

Note that CAIR does not claim that Muslims are exempt from either body scans or pat-downs.  The press release notes that “if you opt out of the full-image body scanner, you have the right to request that the manual search be conducted in private.”  This is a tacit acceptance of the fact that Muslims do have to abide by the law and undergo body scans, pat-downs, or in some cases both. 

Afghan woman in a burka (Steve Evans)
Further, the TSA website notes that travelers who wear baggy clothing or head coverings could be subjected to additional screening, rather than being exempted.  A claim that President Obama exempted the Muslim women from screening appears to be ungrounded in any sort of reality.

Can the TSA search me if I decide to leave the airport and not fly?   According to my source, it depends on where you are in the line when you decide to leave.  If you are simply standing in the queue, you are free to leave without being searched.  However, if you have placed your personal items on the conveyor for screening, you have committed to being searched.  If you attempt to leave the line after placing your items on the conveyor, the TSA considers you to possibly be dangerous.

Is there a radiation hazard from the body scanners?  Officially, the TSA says that it would take 1,000 scans to approach the maximum allowable radiation dose.  Unofficially, my source confirmed this, saying that it would take several scans to equal the radiation from a normal medical x-ray.  Thinking logically, a medical x-ray must penetrate the body, while a TSA x-ray need only penetrate clothing.  Considering this, even flight crews and frequent flyers should have nothing to worry about.

Additionally, only about half of airport scanners use x-rays.  The remainder use millimeter-wave technology that poses no known health risk.  If you are still concerned about the risk of radiation, however, you have a right to request a pat-down.

Are travelers subject to strip searches?  One viral video that generated a lot of anger and angst showed the TSA screening a shirtless toddler.  In another case, a man stripped down to his briefs after refusing the body scan.  In both cases, the travelers themselves took the initiative to remove their clothing.  The toddler’s shirt was reportedly removed by his father (who remained with him).  The man who stripped to his briefs was arrested on unspecified charges (public nudity?). 

The TSA does not have the right to strip search travelers in public.  They do have to right to subject you to additional screening if they cannot determine that your clothing is free of threatening items.  You have the right to request that the additional screening take place in a private room.  The additional screening will be performed by a TSA officer of the traveler’s gender and does not include being stripped.

Can airlines opt out of TSA screening and hire private security firms?  This is partially true.  Airports, not airlines, are responsible for security screening.  The airport authority does have the right to contract with private security firms for screening rather than using the TSA.  If the airport elects to use private security, travelers are still subject to the same regulations and searches as at TSA-served airports.

A pat-down by a Customs-Border Patrol officer
Is Opt-out Day a good idea?  Some critics of the TSA plan to hold a National Opt-Out Day on November 24, 2010.  The idea is to protest the use of body-imaging screeners by asking all travelers to ask for pat-downs.  Theoretically this would punish the TSA by overwhelming screeners because pat-downs take longer and require more officers than use of the screening machines.

This is not a good idea.  The threat is real.  It has been less than a year since Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab tried to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight on Christmas Day 2009 with a bomb in his underwear.  Prior to that there was the liquid-gel explosive threat of 2006 and Richard Reid’s shoe bomb attack in December 2001.  There are plenty of terrorists who want to kill Americans and if disgruntled passengers choose to cause problems for the TSA, resources will be wasted and the chances of a real terrorist getting through are increased.

Additionally, travelers who try to overwhelm the TSA are also causing problems for their fellow travelers.  By trying to slow down screenings on one of the busiest travel days of the year, they are going to cause innocent travelers to be delayed, miss their flights, and possibly miss Thanksgiving celebrations with their family as well.  Further, if you elect to opt –out of body screening, you will be subjected to a pat-down (groping) by TSA officers yourself.  Most people do not consider this a pleasant experience.  Opt-out Day is a dumb idea.  Don’t do it.

Can’t we just screen Muslims since only Muslims are blowing up airplanes?  No.  Aside from legal and constitutional restrictions on racial profiling, this is not a practical idea since Muslims are a religious group, not a racial one.  First, not all Arabs or Middle Easterners are Muslims; they can be Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, etc. 

Second, Muslims can be average white or black Americans.  There are a growing number of western converts to Islam.  John Walker Lindh is a white American who was captured in Afghanistan while fighting for the Taliban in November 2001 after converting to Islam.  John Allen Muhammad, the DC Sniper, was a black US Army veteran who converted to Islam before launching his 2002 jihad.  Another white Muslim convert, Washington National Guardsman Ryan Anderson, was convicted of spying for al Qaeda in 2004.  Additionally, Muslims from countries such as Bosnia, Chechnya, and Azerbaijan are also Caucasians.  Further, Arab Muslims have reportedly disguised themselves as Hispanics as well.

Profiling is needed, but it should not be racial profiling.  Instead, as Robert Poole of the Reason Foundation suggests, profiling should be used to screen out travelers who are not a threat.  For example, screening flight crews, young children, military personnel (Nidal Hasan notwithstanding) and the elderly is a waste of TSA resources.  Remaining travelers should be placed into high or normal risk categories.  If a traveler is high-risk, such as travelers from countries such as Yemen or Pakistan, if there is specific intelligence about the traveler, or if traveler is on a TSA watch list, then the traveler should be subjected to rigorous screening.  Medium-risk travelers should be subjected to normal screening and random pat-downs.

Are all the horror stories blown out of proportion?  Probably not.  There are cases where the TSA agents were almost certainly excessive in their actions.  Two examples are the man, whose urostomy bag was ruptured during a pat-down, soaking him in urine, and the flight attendant who was forced to remove her prosthetic breast.  TSA agents should be better trained to deal with situations like these.

Additionally, the TSA announced today that it would change its procedures for searching small children.  In one case, a cell phone video showed a child screaming after a pat-down triggered by her teddy bear.  I am not aware of any cases in which terrorists have attempted to use children or their toys to commit a bombing, but given their lack of respect for human life, particularly the lives of infidels, such a plot is not out of the question.

As you go to the airport, check the TSA website for tips on how to make your screening fast and trouble free.  Respect the TSA officers and your fellow passengers.  Remember that the TSA is on your side.  The sole reason for the agency’s existence is to protect airline flights from terror attacks.  Through a combination of intelligence coups and good luck, they have been successful in the years since the September 11 attacks.  Reserve your anger for the terrorists who make the whole ordeal necessary.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Should Ga. Dems secede from national party? asks Governor candidate

Carl Camon (courtesy of Carl Camon)
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Carl Camon has previously been critical of the Democratic Party for its platform planks on moral issues.  Mr. Camon is a devoted Christian and Democrat, who finds it hard to support the Democratic Party’s anything-goes stance on social issues and thinks that it might be necessary for the Georgia Democratic Party to disassociate itself with the national Democrats in order to refocus.

I agree with him that Democrats have lost their way morally.  I can remember the days when Republican candidates could not get elected in most of Georgia.  This year we came full circle with a Republican sweep of statewide offices.  I have to believe that part of the desertion of Democrats over the years is due to the national Democratic positions on issues such as abortion, where public opinion has been trending pro-life, and gay marriage, which has never been legalized democratically in the US.

Even though social issues did not play a prominent role in this year’s election, I also agree with Mr. Camon that the Republicans do not have a monopoly on morality.  Too often Republicans have talked one way and walked another.  The escapades of Mark Foley, David Vitter, and Larry Craig are only dim memories.  More recently, the Tea Parties and the Contract from America largely ignored social issues.

It is time for social conservatives, defenders of traditional marriage, pro-lifers, and those who seek ethical and honest behavior from our elected representatives to demand respect from both parties.  This is an area where the Religious Right and the Religious Left can agree.

Now, reprinted below in its entirety, is Mr. Carl Camon’s article, “Seceding to Preserve Morality.”

Seceding To Preserve Morality

The thought of the State of Georgia seceding from the Union undermines the strength of the Union itself. However, the thought of the State of Georgia's Democratic Party seceding from the National Democratic Party might strengthen our party and our state. Instead of the National Democratic Party defining what its mission is, it has been defined by its association with characters and ideals of immorality, that has subsequently led to its ineffectiveness and decline. The Democratic Party has seeming become the "poster child" for do what you want to do, it's alright, rather than standing up for moral principles; the very ones that this country was founded upon. President George Washington said, "Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle." That great patriotic and noble General knew what would happen if our country strayed away from morality.

I am not insinuating that the Democratic Party is the only party that has all but denounced morality, but I am making it very clear that it has not held up the torch for it. As a result of this direction, the party has lost and continues to lose its base of support. As an Educator, I have learned that any time you get rid of an undesirable behavior, you are to replace it with a desirable one. Our party's undesirable behavior has led some to sever their affiliation with the Democratic Party all together, therefore leading them to defect to other parties; those that are more aligned with their values and beliefs. The key words here are "more aligned", because no one party has a monopoly on religion, morality or values, however, some take pride in being more aligned and have the commonsense and respect to at least acknowledge that those tried and true elements are crucial to our state and our nation's successful existence.

There are grassroots movements such as the Tea Party, which in the past few years have taken a stand against big government and the degradation of the moral principles by those elected officials who are sworn to uphold them. Their solution seems to be packaged in the form of preserving "States Rights". I support the idea of States Rights, when viewed in the scope of morality and applied without prejudice to all Americans. It's hard to do, but I am even willing to partially dismiss the notion that the sudden rise in the Tea Party's popularity is due to the election of President Barack Obama, but is rather attributed to the culmination of many years of political corruption and failure to adhere to the wishes of the people. I hope and pray that this is their true motive.

The Republican Party is not comprised of all ballerinas and altar boys either, but even in the midst of the infighting they have somehow managed to sway voters because of their stand on religious principles. This doesn't necessarily mean that they are all religious, but I commend the party for taking a stand. Until the Democratic Party concedes and admits the errors of its ways, we will continue to experience this great falling away of once diehard supporters. Many democrats may disagree with me and that's perfectly okay, but they can't deny the fact that I am a democrat talking about the Democratic Party, not a Republican talking about the Democratic Party. They can, as we say in South Georgia, "pitch a fit", if they want to, but they were not the only ones who stood in frigid cold weather for hours, in Washington D.C., as President Obama was sworn in. I was there, just a few hundred feet away. I have served on the local, state, and national levels in various capacities, and have worn the democratic badge proudly, so I think I should be able to voice my opinions, even if they seem to be critical. I have served my country in the United States Military to preserve these very freedoms and I will not rest until the beliefs that our country was founded upon are restored. I can only hope and pray that President Barack Obama has the audacity to refocus his efforts on shoring up our country's moral principles, and not allow Gay Rights Groups, Pro-Abortion Groups, and acts Greed manifested in the form of Corporate Interests, to define his Presidency. If the head of our country is distracted by these issues, what kind of message are we sending to the rest of the world? These restoration efforts need to come quickly, especially if I am expected to cast my vote for him in 2012. We can no longer be bound by party descriptions, but we have to be led by our own moral convictions.

We can't rely on ourselves to make it happen, because we are too busy fighting each other. We have to become that nation that was once known as the "In God We Trust" nation. We even have that phrase printed on our money, but it's sad that many no longer have that trust. If we don't hurry up and find it, we'll end up fulfilling just what President George Washington said, "Mankind, when left to themselves, are unfit for their own government." My message is first to the Democratic Party of Georgia, and that is, if our party has to secede from the National Democratic Party to preserve our morality and restore our rightful place in our state, then so be it. Secondly, my message to all parties is, it's time that we ensure that the voices of all the people are heard at the highest level of government, and that government be brought back home to the people, where it belongs.

By Carl Camon, Ed.S

Former Democratic Primary Candidate for Governor of Georgia - 2010