In her article "The Boogeyman Bomb," Sharon Weinberger makes several allegations about the threat of electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapons, and a congressional commission set up to investigate it, that require correction.
By way of background, a nuclear weapon detonated at high altitude will produce an electromagnetic pulse that can damage and destroy electronic systems over vast regions of the Earth's surface. A single nuclear weapon detonated at an altitude of 400 kilometers over the United States would project an EMP field over the entire country, as well as parts of Canada and Mexico. Mother Nature can also pose an EMP threat by means of a solar flare that causes a geomagnetic storm.
EMP is not just a threat to computers and electronic gadgets, but to all the critical infrastructures that depend on electronics and electricity -- communications, transportation, banking and finance, food and water -- and that sustain modern civilization and the lives of the American people.
In 2008, the congressionally mandated Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse Attack delivered its final report to Congress, the Defense Department, and the Department of Homeland Security. The commission concluded that terrorist groups, rogue states, China, and Russia are theoretically capable of launching a catastrophic EMP attack against the United States and either had contingency plans to do so or were actively pursuing the ability. Iran, North Korea, China, and Russia have scientific and military research programs dedicated to or supportive of EMP capability, and their military doctrinal writings explicitly describe EMP attacks against the United States.
Based on eight years of research and analysis, 50 years of data from nuclear tests and EMP simulators, and never-before-attempted EMP tests, the commission found that any nuclear weapon, even a low-yield one, could potentially pose a catastrophic EMP threat to the United States, mainly because of the great fragility of the electric grid. One scenario of particular concern is a nuclear-armed Iran transferring a short- or medium-range nuclear missile to terrorist groups that could perform a ship-launched "anonymous" EMP attack against the United States. Iranian military strategists have written about EMP attacks against the United States, and Iran has successfully practiced launching a ballistic missile off a ship and flight-tested its Shahab-3 medium-range missile to detonate at high altitude, as if practicing an EMP attack.