Trent Franks and the EMP Threat to the Electrical Grid

At a House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing for Department of Homeland Security today, Trent Franks implored DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson to consider the threat of electromagnetic pulse or geomagnetic disturbance to the electrical grid because “we have additional information that seems to indicate the threat is more significant than we have been aware of.”

Franks also submitted an amendment to the Intelligence Authorization requiring the Director of National Intelligence to report on the threat EMPs pose to the US through 2025.

I have no idea whether this is credible or not. Franks is not one of the Members of Congress I consider to be the most reliable (and our resident desert rat has even less complimentary things to say).

But golly. Franks sure seems worried about the EMP threat of late.


18 replies
  1. bloopie2 says:

    Where I live, there are many, many power plants and substations that are wide open and accessible from public roadways that run right past them. Any group with the right weaponry (old-fashioned projectile launchers, not death rays) could easily take them out en masse. I assume the rest of the country is like this. Are there any authorizations sought in the Intel bill for erecting impregnable 100-foot walls (right in our own backyards!) around all these things? Or for domes over them, so as to prevent home-made drones from carrying incendiary devices into them? I’d think that would be more of a threat. But maybe it’s too simple and old-fashioned to consider, these days.

  2. masaccio says:

    Actually, I think you bury them. That works out economically too, because you pay people to dig holes and other people to fill them up, and presto, you help solve the unemployment problem at the same time.

  3. bloopie2 says:

    So now Trent Franks has told the terrorists that we know that they are considering using EMP weapons against us. Thanks for tipping them off, guy. And tell us, why shouldn’t you be prosecuted for disclosing information that aids and abets them?

    • bloopie2 says:

      Bad sun! Bad sun! Watch out, we’re going to sic Bruce Willis on you in a bad TV movie. You’ll regret ever having those flares.

    • P J Evans says:

      It’s certainly a possibility – whether that’s what Franks is worried about or not.
      (Anyone who is curious: google ‘Carrington event’ and then think about what it could do now.)

  4. bloopie2 says:

    “But golly. Franks sure seems worried about the EMP threat of late.” Ohhh, how very naive you are! Don’t you realize that we’re ALL under attack? What about those Corvette devices that zap our brains as we drive down the street, and those plate readers that laser us? I mean, think of it. At any one instant in time whenever and wherever you are, the signals from thousands of nearby cell phone calls, and the signals from all the local radio stations, and the signals from all the local broadcast TV stations, are passing through your brain. Plus all those good old-fashioned X-rays and gamma rays and the RFID card readers and the scanners at Costco and the aliens-from-outer-space-rays. Literally thousands and thousands of electronic signals flowing into your gray matter every second! You think that doesn’t have an effect after a while? And then there’s … well, I forget my point, but there it is anyway. “Huh” (as Virgil Flowers would say).

  5. Bitter Angry Drunk says:

    “Since the beginning of time, man has yearned to destroy the sun…”

    — C. Montgomery Burns

  6. Cujo359 says:

    I don’t know what in particular Rep. Franks is worried about, but as orionATL notes, there’s plenty of reason to believe that a day will come when a solar event takes out large portions of our electrical grid. What’s more, because there is little in the way of replacement parts for some of the components that will be burned out, the large portions of the grid will stay down for months, possibly years.

    Disaster preparedness is something we never seem to do until after the fact, even when that disaster is eminently predictable. The only surprising thing here is that it’s a Republican who is raising the concern. Maybe it really is only about terrorism…

  7. scribe says:

    As a couple of commenters note upthread, the non-negligible possibility that a solar flare would – not “could” – take out large portions of the electrical grid is something the government should be worried about. It’s not just the possibility some knucklehead with something that creates EMP would be able to take out the grid in part or all of a large city, though that’s the possibility sexiest to the cop-lovers and terrist torturers. That possibility just gives them something to stroke themselves over.

    Rather the long transmission lines we have today, running many hundreds of miles in some instances act as antennas of a sort for solar radiation and flare disturbances. E.g., the high-tension lines running from Quebec hydro plants south to the populated part of Canada and the Northeast both act as antennas and run through exactly the part of the globe most susceptible to getting overwhelmed by a big solar flare. That’s a function of those lines being the complex of power lines nearest to the North Magnetic Pole, where the earth’s magnetic field’s lines run in a direction (at the center of the earth rather than perpendicular to the surface of the earth) that facilitates the flare energy making it to the ground with the largest portion of its energy remaining to hit the power lines. This is a matter of relative distance – not of the power lines being directly under a hole in the magnetic field. But it’s the point on the earth’s surface simultaneously most vulnerable to a flare and where one would do the greatest damage. NYC is one of the great nodes of both the electronic and financial systems, susceptible to going absolutely apeshit when the lights go off and taking the rest of us with them.

    That’s not to say the Rethugs are particularly interested in disaster preparedness. Their approach is best described as fuck the proles, let Evil New York burn, make sure there’s enough ammo to keep the mobs out and give the cops free rein to shoot to kill because it feels good to kill. That they trotted out Franks merely gives them a way of subtextually commenting that preparedness is something only wackos care about.

    • scribe says:

      And, as to taking out a substation, I recall some 60s-70s caper film (some Brits stealing a gold shipment in Italy, IIRC) wherein knocking out the power was a key part of their scheme. In the movie, one of the crooks tossed a bicycle into a substation and shorted it out. Boom.

    • jerryy says:

      The attack approach is only a consideration because a prolonged hot summer is just as — if not more — likely to take out the electrical grid as anything else.

  8. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Perhaps Mr. Franks finally rented the DVDs for the Soderbergh, Clooney, Pitt, Damon films. If so, he probably also believes that what goes on in Vegas stays in Vegas.

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