Pearl Harbor: Not the Last Surprise Attack on the US
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December 7, Pearl Harbor Day, occurs every year. It’s a time to reflect on our history. It should also be a time for national security professionals to examine past surprise attacks, especially the horrendous attacks on 9/11 that killed some 3,000 innocent civilians.
In both of those events, the professional analysts were overconfident, certain that no small country or a group smaller than a platoon could wreak such havoc.
The 9/11 Commission Report
Following the September 11, 2001, deadly terrorist attacks on the U.S., the biggest question of all was “what’s to prevent a similar strike from happening again?”
Former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean, the chairman of the 9/11 Commission, acknowledged that the attackers “penetrated the defenses of the most powerful nation in the world. They inflicted unbearable trauma on our people, and at the same time they turned the international order upside down.”
The 9/11 Commission discussed the failure to imagine. Will that excuse ever be used again?
Following the release of the 9/11 Commission Report, Congress created the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration. Numerous existing agencies were brought under the DHS umbrella. Airplane cockpits were made secure and intelligence focused on threats to aircraft was great expanded.
Korea and Pearl Harbor Forgotten
The media seemed to forget history when it labeled 9/11 the worst surprise attack against America since Pearl Harbor. What was overlooked was the Korean War of the early 1950s.
On that date in 1950, North Korea surprised the world with an attack that swept U.S. and South Korean forces into the Pusan Perimeter and almost off the Korean peninsula altogether. The North’s aggression came only nine years after Pearl Harbor, when no one believed that the U.S. would ever experience another surprise attack.
The mistake was missing the buildup of Communist China’s support and the massive buildup of combat equipment in North Korea, obvious indicators of battle preparation that we can clearly see in hindsight. Because the U.S. overlooked these signs, North Korea’s invasion of the South led to a bloody civil war that has not yet officially ended.
Could we see a cyberattack on our electronic grid? Could whole cities lose power for a month or more? Think how impatient people are when the Internet goes down for a few hours. Now think about the power being off for a month or two. How well disciplined and prepared are the American people for that scenario?
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Nuclear EMP Surprise
Business Insider observed that a “lesser-known consequence of a nuclear explosion that can drastically expand its damage zone is an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP.” EMPs are rapid, invisible bursts of electromagnetic energy, the magazine explained. They occur in nature, most frequently during lightning strikes. “However, if a detonation is large enough and occurs high enough, nuclear EMPs can cover an entire continent and cripple tiny circuits inside modern electronics on a massive scale.”
Some people also worry about the development of non-nuclear EMPs; they too could cripple a wide area. An EMP can cause whole cities to lose power and other necessities, leaving hospitals and other critical institutions without medical or food supplies for a month or more.
Being Prepared with Smart Intelligence
Our intelligence analysts must think big and think smart to keep us safe. They must never proclaim “that cannot happen again. No country could surprise America.” Those are statements no one should want to be identified with in another Commission Report.
About the Author
James R. Lint retired as the (GG-15) civilian director for intelligence and security, G2, U.S. Army Communications Electronics Command. James has been involved in cyberespionage events from just after the turn of the century in Korea supporting 1st Signal Brigade to the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis as the first government cyber intelligence analyst. He has 38 years of experience in military intelligence with the U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Army, government contracting and civil service. Recently, he has been designated as the National Sector Chief for the Defense Industry Base by the InfraGard National Members Alliance.
Additionally, James started the Lint Center for National Security Studies, a nonprofit charity that recently awarded its 54th scholarship for national security students and professionals. He has also served in the Department of Energy’s S&S Security Office after his active military career in the Marine Corps for seven years and 14 years in the Army. His military assignments include South Korea, Germany and Cuba, in addition to numerous CONUS locations. James has authored a book published in 2016 “8 Eyes on Korea, A Travel Perspective of Seoul, Korea,” and a new book in 2017“Secrets to Getting a Federal Government Job.”
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