News / USA

US Defenseless Against North Korean EMP Threat

This composite image made available by NASA and assembled by data acquired from the Suomi NPP satellite in April and October 2012 uses the satellite’s Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS), to show the U.S's lights at night.
This composite image made available by NASA and assembled by data acquired from the Suomi NPP satellite in April and October 2012 uses the satellite’s Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS), to show the U.S's lights at night.

The electric grid in the United States remains largely unprotected, according to a longtime adviser to Congress on national security issues.

Peter Vincent Pry told VOA he believes North Korea is ready to attempt a strike on the U.S. electric grid using an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP). Pry said North Korea practiced an EMP strike against the U.S. last year when it orbited a satellite at the optimal altitude and trajectory to carry out such an attack.

Pry is in the northern city of Minneapolis to brief the National Council of State Legislatures this week on the EMP threat. He told VOA that three U.S. states - Arizona, Maine and Virginia - have passed legislation trying to guard against a lengthy power outage following an EMP.

Pry was a member of the former Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse Attack (2001-2008). He also is executive director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security, a congressional advisory board dedicated to achieving protection of the United States from electromagnetic pulse and other threats.

An electromagnetic pulse (or disturbance) is a short burst of electromagnetic energy that can be natural or man-made. EMP interference generated by lightning, for example, can damage electronic equipment. At very high energy levels, an EMP can damage physical objects such as trees, buildings and aircraft.

Pry said the North Korean test last year took place over the South Pole, which he called a strategic move.

“We are blind from the south. We don’t have the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System or interceptors to protect us from the south,” said Pry.

The congressional analyst said this was done after North Korea’s third illegal nuclear test in February 2013 and after the country's leader, Kim Jong Un, threatened to strike the United States and its allies with a nuclear missile.

Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) said, “I cannot speak to the motives of the North Korean satellite experiment, but... we need to move with all deliberate speed to shore up our infrastructure.”

A couple months later, a North Korean freighter, the Chong Chon Gang, was caught attempting to move through the Panama Canal with a cargo of nuclear capable missiles on their launchers. They were hidden under thousands of bags of sugar.

This was no mistake on the part of the North Koreans, Pry told VOA. He said he believes Pyongyang was testing the United States to find out if it could traffic nuclear weapons through the Gulf of Mexico and the Panama Canal without detection. He said had the North Koreans gone the long way around South America, the U.S. never would have known what North Korea was shipping.

He said it was just by chance they were caught because no one was looking for nuclear missiles.

“We inspected the freighter not because anyone thought there were nuclear capable missiles onboard, but because this freighter is notorious for doing trade with drug cartels and terrorists, and so we were looking for illicit drugs that the freighter might be smuggling, and they found the nuclear capable missiles," said Pry.

Clarke, who is the ranking member on the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emerging Threats, Cybersecurity, Science and Technology, said “again, I cannot say whether it is a deliberate attempt by the North Koreans to test out or test run the capabilities of approaching the U.S." with nuclear capable missiles, but “they are looking for ways to approach the United States, and I am sure it is not for the sake of friendly trade, but to do our nation harm.”

Clarke, together with Rep. Trent Franks (R-A.Z.), tried to address the EMP threat in June 2013 when they introduced the Shield Act, which has stalled in the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

According to Pry, near the end of the Cold War, the Russians developed the technology for a super EMP. This is a class of nuclear weapon with a special design to produce a particularly powerful EMP field.  He says that in 2004 a delegation of Russian generals, including two of their top EMP experts, met with the EMP commission.

“They told us proactively, ‘we have bad news. We developed this super EMP weapon, and during the post-Cold War brain drain, some of our scientists went to North Korea,'" he said.

At the time, Pry said, the Russian generals thought that within a few years, North Korea could develop a super EMP weapon.

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs