At his official presidential campaign kickoff two weeks ago, former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) said Americans face “threats of an electromagnetic pulse from an exploded device that could fry the entire electrical grid and take this country back to the Stone Age in a matter of minutes.”
On the campaign trail over the weekend, Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson said largely the same thing.
“The other thing that worries me significantly is EMP – electro-magnetic pulse…. [T]here have been mentions by North Korea, China, and Russia about using such techniques, so it’s not out of the question. And what could happen? Particularly with an electric grid that is outdated?”
The retired right-wing neurosurgeon did not, for the record, endorse President Obama’s call for infrastructure investments in improved, smart-grid technology. Maybe that’ll come later.
It’s often difficult to know which issues will be deemed important by Republican presidential candidates, but this EMP talk is a little unexpected. As we talked about after Huckabee’s reference, fears of weapons with electromagnetic pulses are often a very big deal in right-wing circles. WorldNetDaily, the fringe conspiracy-theory website, has published “dozens of articles over the years warning its readers of an impending attack on the U.S. – possibly by Iran, North Korea, or Cuba – with an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) weapon that could leave ‘9 out of 10 Americans dead.’”
Salon’s Simon Maloy had a good piece on this recently,:
The “exploded device” Huckabee mentioned is a nuclear weapon that some nefarious actor – Iran, North Korea, al-Qaida, ISIS, [insert other international villain] – has managed to detonate in the atmosphere high above the United States. The nuclear blast sends gamma rays flying in all directions, which produce high-energy electrons, which create an electromagnetic pulse that will damage electronic systems. According to the Federation of American Scientists, to create an EMP that would affect the entire country, the malefactor in question would have to detonate a “large device” some 400-500 kilometers over Wichita – roughly the altitude at which the International Space Station orbits earth.This isn’t what you’d call a “likely” event, but it’s nonetheless on Huckabee’s mind.
And, evidently, Ben Carson’s.
As Maloy’s piece added, the point isn’t that the U.S. power grid is invulnerable. On the contrary, its weaknesses have been well documented, and when the White House makes the case for infrastructure improvements, this is routinely part of the pitch congressional Republicans ignore.
But such an attack is “not likely to happen because getting a nuclear weapon into the atmosphere above the United States is an insanely complicated and sophisticated task with a low probability of success.”
It’s something to keep in mind as the presidential campaign proceeds.