Sunday, April 5, 2009

Junk (?) stories

The 'Good stories?' entry of January 20th, 2009 looked at and criticized a number of 'news' stories (re terrorist anthrax, cyber-attack, & insect-based biological attacks) for poor logic, sloppy science, sensationalism, and other issues... Over the last couple of weeks there has been a spate of EMP-related news stories (for some general background on EMP see the Wikipedia article), some of which exhibit some of the same tendencies...

First, allegedly it is fairly easy to build an EMP device that could bring down an airliner, since, it is claimed, that descriptions of what to do and components are readily available online, and it is also "... technologically unchallenging to build..." such a device. Come on, EMP is real and in the future this technology may increasingly come within the reach of bad actors, but if it currently was as easy as it is alleged to be this would have been tried by now...

Aircraft could be brought down by DIY 'E-bombs'
'Terrorists could bring down jumbo jet using microwave cannon built over internet'

However, perhaps we don't need to worry about terrorists using an EMP device to bring down an airliner, since the entire planet could be thrown into the pre-industrial age by a solar coronal ejection that could wipe out all power generation!

Space storm alert: 90 seconds from catastrophe

Next, Newt Gingrich is out beating the drum re the risks of a rogue government throwing the U.S. back into the pre-industrial age via a single extra-atmospheric nuclear blast.... or perhaps make that three devices... Newt does seem a tad confused re what to do to counter this imminent threat. After arguing that the leaders of these rogue states are not rational (say compared to the leaders of the erstwhile Soviet Union) he seems to think that a) a promise to shoot down missiles aimed at the United States (is this something we aren't prepared to do now? do we really have to "announce" this?), and, b) a "... modern and credible traditional nuclear deterrent..." will do the trick! OK, so are they deterable or not?

A call for some level of EMP defense funding is OK, but he seems to assume that this means spending money on a missile defense program, rather than on other responses e.g. 'hardening' of the system, etc. This latter would have the added benefit of protecting against the 'easily made' internet-inspired EMP devices!!

Iran launch could mean EMP weapon
Newt Gingrich: A Single Nuke Could Destroy America
Gingrich calls for preemptive attack on NK missile using lasers (video)

P.S. Ever the multi-tasker, Newt Gingrich is combining what he feels are good policy prescriptions along with plugs for a friend's novel about an EMP attack!

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