The New Generation of Security Threats

In Newt Gingrich's latest book, To Save America, he reflects on the five potentially catastrophic threats to the United States. Gingrich lists the threats as "Terrorists with nuclear weapons, Electromagnetic pulse attack, Cyber warfare, Biological warfare, and the potential gap between Chinese and American capabilities." Gingrich stated to American Thinker that "there is a definite need to understand your opponent. We cannot greatly under estimate the enemy, who can be very smart and very dangerous."  

Newt Gingrich commented that "Henry Kissinger once said to me that when he was Secretary of State, he got up in the morning and worried about Beijing and Moscow and occasionally worried about the Middle East. Now we live in a multi-polar world where there are different issues happening simultaneously." Former CIA Director Michael Hayden noted that "[m]y priorities as director were counter-terrorism, counter-proliferation (nuclear, biological, and chemical), and the rest of the world, which would be China."

Gingrich hammers the point home that an old adversary, China, is an emerging threat because of its climbing status as a superpower. It was recently reported that China has emerged as having the second-largest world economy. However, China is still dependent on its exports to the American market. Logically, there is no reason for the U.S. and China to be enemies. There should be many areas for potential cooperation between these two countries. Peter Brookes, a senior fellow for national security affairs at the Heritage Foundation, commented that "the relationship between China and the U.S. is interdependent and complex."

Yet China's recent policies have been disturbing to those such as Joint Chief Admiral Mullen. His concern is that a huge gap seems to be forming between China's stated intent and its military program. Lately, China has acted more like an adversary than a friendly competitor: China resisted hard sanctions against Iran, they did not want Secretary of Defense Gates to visit, and they have become economically aggressive.

It appears that China is challenging America's position of being number one by modernizing its military, developing an economy that could become the largest in the world, and wanting to prevail politically. The U.S. has partisan gridlock and many political hurdles to overcome, and we are becoming a nation that provides services more than products.

The Chinese, along with Russia, Iran, and possibly North Korea, threaten America's national security by developing electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapons. Frances Townsend, former Bush Homeland Security Advisor, felt that electromagnetic pulse weapons are "a big deal and we are solely unprepared for it. I think Gingrich is right." A nuclear warhead, detonated at a certain atmosphere above the earth (25 to 400 miles) can release an EMP. This weapon can deliver the greatest blow with the least amount of investment. It destroys electrical circuits through large voltages by overloading (frying) them.

Currently we can try to prevent this threat, but there is no way to defend against it because society is so interconnected, particularly in the delivery of food, water, and medicine. It appears that this is a threat that falls under the radar, with little time or energy spent on solutions. The death toll would climb in unexpected ways. Clare Lopez, a former CIA official who is currently a senior fellow at the Center for Security Policy, told of a scary scenario where people would "no longer be able to buy groceries or gasoline. You would no longer have electricity to power anything in your home. You are unable to count on hospitals, banks, and the financial systems because their systems are wiped out as well. You can't communicate by phone or computer. Disease becomes rampant. Over a period of years, eighty to ninety percent of the population would be wiped out or affected. Everyday life for ordinary people would go back to Little House on the Prairie Days."

One way to protect electronic systems is to "harden" them through metallic shielding. A more practical response, according to Brookes, is the development of a robust space missile defense program, since EMP is most effective if it is launched high into the atmosphere. Gingrich told American Thinker that "missile defense is vital because of the dangers posed by a nuclear Iran and Korea, including the threat of EMP, in which a single weapon could have catastrophic consequences."

Gingrich feels the government must invest highly in cyber-capabilities. A government expert felt that cyber-attacks could cause massive casualties and cripple our economy. Computer systems control electrical power grids, dams, and the financial network. This July, more than 460 computers were infected, including those at the White House. The threat is multifaceted and includes nation-states such as China, Korea, and Russia, as well as terrorist and organized criminal groups. The threats range from intelligence collection to the theft of personal information.

Townsend sees "Russia and China as the most aggressive adversaries in the cyber arena. They have tremendous capability and probe our systems both in government and commercially. China is using their intelligence capabilities to ping our cyber systems to steal commercial information, and we don't call them on that, either." Americans should look no further than the recent cyber-attacks against Google, which underscore Townsend's point. Google threatened to pull out of China after it learned of a "sophisticated and targeted" cyber-attack that would have gained access to the e-mail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. The Chinese officials kept pushing Google to conform to their will. They wanted only favorable news and the names of Google users who searched for unapproved topics. Yet, the most outrageous demand was to be allowed to spy on Google's American customers, after which they attempted to hack into hundreds of American corporations. The cyber-Cold War espionage waged by China shows the dangers and the need for an ongoing solution.

A lot of the capabilities and resources in solving this problem are with the private sector. There must be a partnership between the government and industry where they share information capabilities. Since every six months, the cyber industry is evolving, with the infrastructure quickly becoming obsolete, solutions must evolve as well. A government homeland security official pointed out that unfortunately, "there is no such thing as a 100% pure solution, so we will always be behind the ball. Remember, it takes only one. If I stop 99 out of 100 things, but fail to stop that one, it could be potentially devastating."

Gingrich has it correct when he comments that there are new threats to America's national security, EMP and cyber, but there is a need not to forget the threats from the different forms of weapons of mass destruction: nuclear, biological, and chemical. Within each form, there are different threat potentials. It is obvious that a terrorist group who obtains a nuclear weapon will use it against the United States. A terrorist will not hesitate to use a dirty bomb passed off from an Iranian proxy, Hezb'allah or al-Qaeda. It would not cause a lot of casualties outside the immediate area of dispersal; yet the contaminated area would be completely shut down, closed off for decades, and would be uninhabitable. Although the areas with possible enriched uranium are more secure, there is a need to continue to be diligent through intelligence-gathering mechanisms. Terrorism and the WMD potential constitute a potential nightmare. 

There is also concern not that al-Qaeda terrorists will become biologists, but that the biologists of Iran, Syria, and Pakistan will become terrorists. These countries, as well as North Korea, are working on synthetic biological weapons. Unfortunately an antidote does not exist because the synthetic composition is unknown. A former high-ranking CIA official felt this is a very serious problem. He gave an example of being able to mount a sprayer on the back of a truck by which the biological pathogen could be spread through a mist. 

A way to combat this threat is by expanding the national biosurveillance integration center, established in 2008. This center integrates clinical data, regular intelligence information, and Biowatch data so that decision-makers have an early, immediate, and comprehensive picture of the dangerous pathogens. Since in the U.S. alone, there are approximately four hundred research facilities with 15,000 people approved for working in these labs, there has to be more regulatory oversight. There is ongoing research on microbiological forensics, in which a pathogen can be traced to the user. Some government officials argue that this could be used as a form of deterrence.

The experts agree with Gingrich that the five threats he explores are a serious danger to America's national security. Gingrich told American Thinker that "on the issue of our nation's security, our elites have clearly retreated to a pre-9/11 mindset." To communicate this point, he and others are planning on making the documentary America at Risk. Gingrich is correct in emphasizing that "[w]e do not get to pick and choose which threat we will meet and which we will ignore. Any threat we ignore will potentially destroy us, so we must develop a national and homeland security system that meets all the dangers."