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March 28, 2019
Notes from the Pentagon

Trump orders feds to prep for EMP attack
President Trump has ordered federal government agencies to harden the nation’s infrastructure against potentially devastating attacks by a nuclear-bomb-produced electromagnetic pulse, or EMP.

“The federal government must foster sustainable, efficient, and cost-effective approaches to improving the nation’s resilience to the effects of EMPs,” Mr. Trump stated in an executive order signed Tuesday.

EMP is produced from nuclear blasts, special electronic weapons or solar storms and can damage or disrupt critical infrastructure.

The order notes that a high-altitude EMP can be set off by a nuclear detonation at about 24 miles above Earth or higher. Another danger is an EMP caused by a natural sun-caused geomagnetic storm. Both can affect electronics over large geographic areas.

The directive sets U.S. policy to prepare for the EMP incidents through governmentwide efforts and encouraging the private sector, which owns much of the electrical infrastructure, to adopt protective measures. The three U.S. electric grids are owned by private utilities that to date have been reluctant to spend the money on the necessary investments to shield electric transformers and other components.

The order states that the federal government must provide warning of an impending EMP attack or geostorm and to protect, respond and recover from those incidents. The government is now expected over the next months to begin planning and researching the needs of critical infrastructure owners to deal with EMP threats. The U.S. intelligence community will also conduct threat assessments on foreign states’ efforts to develop EMP weapons.

A report by a congressional commission on EMP made public in January found that several nations, including China and Russia, are working on nuclear weapons designed to produce super-EMP waves capable of destroying electronics — from computers to electric grids — over areas of hundreds of miles.

“Nuclear EMP attack is part of the military doctrines, plans and exercises of Russia, China, North Korea and Iran for a revolutionary new way of warfare against military forces and civilian critical infrastructures by cyber, sabotage and EMP,” the report stated.

The nuclear-powered electronic warfare has been called “Blackout War” because of its effects on electronic devices. A high-altitude EMP strike could be conducted without producing any blast effects.

“Potential adversaries understand that millions could die from the long-term collateral effects of EMP and cyberattacks that cause protracted black-out of national electric grids and other life-sustaining critical infrastructures,” the report said.

Federal agencies under the presidential order will collaborate on information-sharing with the private sector.

For the Pentagon, the defense secretary is charged with developing warning systems for EMP attacks that will affect weapon systems, military operations and the national defense.

“EMPs pose a potential threat to our nation’s critical infrastructure, and this executive order will advance our national goal of increased resilience across all infrastructure sectors,” said Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

A former vice minister of public security who was the first Chinese national to head the international police organization Interpol has been expelled from the ruling Communist Party.

The action against Meng Hongwei, who disappeared during a visit to China in September, was announced in state-run media on Wednesday in a terse, one-paragraph report. The report stated he was expelled for unspecified “serious disciplinary violations and suspected graft crimes” — boilerplate used in the past in China to describe officials fated for political purge under President Xi Jinping.

Mr. Meng dropped out of sight in September after traveling to Beijing from France, where he headed Interpol. His last communication with his wife, Grace Meng, in France was a cryptic text message of an emoji of a large knife. China later announced he had resigned from the presidency of Interpol.

Human rights groups had voiced opposition to Mr. Meng’s appointment to the Interpol post amid concerns he would use the organization against China’s political enemies.

Mrs. Meng and her two children sought political asylum in France, where she is under police protection. “I fear they will kidnap me,” she told France Inter radio in January. “I’ve received strange phone calls. Even my car was damaged. Two Chinese — a man and woman — followed me to the hotel,” she added.

The former Interpol chief joins a long list of Chinese officials and business leaders who have disappeared or were found dead under the Xi regime.

Speculation on the reason behind Mr. Meng’s purge centers on his unsuccessful use of Interpol “red notice” warrants to force the repatriation to China of exiled billionaire Guo Wengui, a regime opponent who has spoken out against high-level corruption.

Mr. Meng’s disappearance also followed the suspicious death three months earlier of Wang Jian, head of the Chinese conglomerate HNA Group.

Wang died in southern France under mysterious circumstances July 4. The death was ruled an accident by French police, but other investigations revealed Wang may have committed suicide or was killed. Two Chinese government-supplied security guards were with the executive when he fell from a rock wall on July 4, according to private investigators.

Retired Adm. Mike Rogers, former director of the National Security Agency, recently commented on the compromises to NSA operations caused by renegade contractor Edward Snowden, who has defected to Russia, warning that both government and industry need to monitor malicious insider activities.

Mr. Snowden stole an estimated 1.7 million classified NSA documents that disclosed many of the agency’s secret operations to gather intelligence electronically around the world.

He is considered a hero by NSA critics and a villain by government and intelligence officials who say his activities exposed and compromises legal NSA activities.

“No. 1: Who has access to what data; what [access do they] need? That’s very important,” Mr. Rogers told the cybersecurity website Dark Reading.

“And No. 2, understanding your population. For us in the government — at the NSA — it was uniformed military, [civilians], and contractors. We had to build a strategy for three distinct populations in the workforce that sometimes operate with slightly different rules, slightly different responsibilities. What works for one doesn’t necessarily work for the other.”

Adm. Rogers said another lesson from the Snowden defection is that it is not simply a matter of limiting access to information by contractors. The problem, he said, covers “every demographic.”

The key to dealing with insider threats is understanding computer users’ behavior on and off networks. Criminal activity or other problems are signs of risks of disclosing or mishandling data.

“We need to get better at predicting behavior,” Adm. Rogers said.

Signs of potential problematic behavior include an employee who looks over another person’s shoulder to spy on logins or passwords. “These are all things I’ve actually seen happen, but no one said anything” at the time, he said.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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