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Disputations: The Real Threat of EMP

To The Editor:

I was shocked to read Michael Crowley’s “The Newt Bomb” (June 3). It is a disservice to TNR readers and unworthy of its reputation for political commentary based upon solid journalism.

TNR readers should wonder as I do why Mr. Crowley failed to report that “The United States is highly vulnerable to attack with weapons designed to produce electromagnetic pulse [EMP] effects” according to a key finding in the final report, “America’s Strategic Posture,” by the bipartisan Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States chaired by William J. Perry, President Clinton’s secretary of defense. Quoting from both the report and its executive summary, the commissioners wrote, “We note also that the United States has done little to reduce its vulnerability to attack with electromagnetic pulse weapons and recommend that current investments in modernizing the national power grid take account of this risk.”

In addition, this report noted, “Prior commissions have investigated U.S. vulnerabilities and found little activity under way to address them.” And furthermore, “EMP vulnerabilities have not yet been addressed effectively by the Department of Homeland Security. Doing so could take several years.”

Lastly, the report warned of the potential for wasting $11 billion in taxpayers’ money allocated to SMART Grid investments under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus bill. Specifically, “Unless such improvements in the electric grid are focused in part on reducing EMP vulnerabilities, vulnerability might well increase.”

The reporter was aware, but failed to inform TNR readers, that the Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, Congressman Bennie Thompson (D-MS), has been actively working to incorporate prevention and mitigation against EMP damage by the Department of Homeland Security.

As a scientist and engineer with 20 patents now serving my 18th year on the House Armed Services Committee, I have reviewed the threat from EMP with America’s leading scientists, defense officials, and military officers. Members of Congress from both parties have been working together responding to years of documented efforts and discussions about how to develop and employ EMP by potential adversaries, including Iran, China, and North Korea.

It’s a pity that TNR readers were diverted with bread and circuses rather than informed about a serious national security threat.

Roscoe G. Bartlett

Roscoe G. Bartlett is a Republican member of the United States House of Representatives, representing the 6th district of Maryland since 1993.


Michael Crowley Responds:

My article did not dismiss the potential for a serious EMP attack. Indeed, I cited experts recommending prudent steps to protect the national infrastructure. But I found few mainstream analysts who think a massive EMP attack is an imminently likely scenario. And despite the apparently good-faith warnings of people like Congressman Bartlett, the issue has clearly been hijacked and exaggerated by people advancing pre-existing agendas like missile defense and pre-emptive military action. Bartlett's unhappiness is better directed at those opportunists, not at TNR.

By Roscoe G. Bartlett