On July 22, 2011, the Washington Times published a report on information from a classified assessment from 2005 in which the National Ground Intelligence Center suggested that China may have electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapons that could be used in future conflicts. This was not news. For years, China, Taiwan and others have joined the U.S. and Russia and several European states in assessing the viability of high altitude and non nuclear EMP (HEMP and NNEMP, respectively) as a means of crippling computers, communication systems and infrastructure. Like the Pakistani submarine capabilities developed using French and U.S. technology, the Chinese unmanned undersea vehicle programs which use seabed magnetism and topography for undetectable navigation and countless other systems, this ‘breaking news’ is neither breaking nor news.
In 1962 and in the subsequent years, projects like Operations Fishbowl, Starfish and others successfully tested EMP and HEMP devices with devastating effects to power grids and communication systems in Hawaii. The ability to detonate a nuclear device – and other impulse generators – and, in so doing, create blankets of electromagnetic disruption has been well known. The Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack issued its Critical National Infrastructures Report in 2008. The report details the nature of the threats and provides numerous indicators to individuals and institutions whose work is well documented. And, in recent years, Congress and the White House have publicly (if you actually pay attention) expanded budgets for shielding of Department of Defense Infrastructure.
So I was intrigued by the release, in the past week, of several reports about the Asian ‘threat’ of EMP and HEMP attacks. And I wondered whether these trickling leaks may have more to do with Leon Panetta’s June 9, 2011 confirmation hearing testimony than first meets the eye. While exceptionally well documented since the mid-2000s when the EMP commissions were organized, we’ve known about capabilities held by our nation and potential threats across the globe. However, as we’ve been nearing our unraveling fiscal crisis of confidence and accountability, the Secretary of Defense (the same man who had ample access to classified intelligence briefings of foreign and domestic capabilities at the CIA) decided to float the notion that an electromagnetic attack or cyber attack would enter military doctrine as a means to justify hostile reprisals on perpetrator states.
After taking a quick look at the GAO reports (from 2001 forward) about the infrastructure risks associated with the data centers that keep track of U.S. Treasury, Federal Reserve, and taxation records of the United States, I began to wonder if we may be building a narrative to explain one path to catastrophic resolution of our economic challenges.
Let’s take a step back. Facing a collapsing economic confidence in tandem with mounting costs of the Vietnam War, the U.S. balance of payments and trade deficits were undermining confidence in dollar investors. As foreign investors lost confidence in policies that failed to control domestic financial recklessness, many began demanding to redeem gold notes for gold. Switzerland, in July of 1971 demanded redemption of $50 million in gold. France, with considerably greater proportional exposure, decided to pursue redemption of nearly $200 million. With Congress recommending dollar devaluation during the summer and during acrimonious ‘debates’ between Democrats and Republicans, France decided to amp up their demand for the government to honor its commitment. And then, on a sultry weekend in August (really, we can’t even be creative with the dates when we choose to be dishonorable?) President Nixon closed the gold window sticking it to all of the Bretton Woods investors. Having defaulted in August 1971, Nixon began looking for a new interest who would be willing to invest in the U.S. and, lo and behold, he found an unlikely buyer – China.
Part of France’s incentive to support the dollar was the U.S. commitment to fight the war of liberation and democracy in French Indochina. When it was clear that neither the war nor our alliance with France was going to prove to be a winning strategy, we decided to target them to bear the brunt our accountability collapse and stuck them with the closed gold window. Now, in a world of digital and electronic records of trillions of dollars of Treasuries and in the face of a collapsing resolve from China to support our forty year excesses, we are beginning to condition the public to believe that China may ‘attack’ us with an EMP device. Is there a chance that we’re actually contemplating our own doomsday closure of the ‘Treasury Window’ by detonating, or inviting an erasure of the record of our obligations with, a giant EMP blast which, according to GAO reports, would wipe out considerable evidence of domestic and international financial transactions and obligations?
And wouldn’t it be convenient if, in the “I told you so record” (analogous to our post facto awareness about our terror enemies) we could show that Defense Secretaries and Directors of the CIA had been testifying that Iran, North Korea, China, or others were developing and testing EMP devices? You see, at 400 kilometers above the Earth’s surface, it’s hard to find the “Made in China” label on the side of the missile. All you see is what looks a bit like the sun. And then the power goes out, computers stop working, communications shut down, and the only thing left to work is propaganda. The whodunit story would be only told by the perpetrators / victims and the public would never know the truth. Best of all, we would have an opportunity to simply ‘forget’ that which we never intended to honor.
Measuring intent is a delicate and dangerous proposition. But, one thing’s for sure. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist (though it might be helpful if you were) to see that the recent co-emergence of default talks and the flurry of ‘news’ regarding information that was known for over a decade seem to make strange bedfellows. Having disclosed the EMP technology in patents issued to the U.S. Navy and U.S. defense contractors going back to 1969, our sudden concern seems to be responsive to some new, emerging narrative. And with the evidence of our obligations to the world’s investors all sitting in digital archives in centralized centers, and given our past willingness to default on those who assisted our economic growth, I sure hope someone’s watching the horizon a few minutes before a second sunrise over New Jersey, Virginia or Texas because following that contrail will help us figure out who erased our memory.
And if it never happens, it sure would make one killer Hollywood blockbuster…