Op-Ed: Terrorists Blackout Yemen - A Warning?
For the first time in history, a terrorist attack on the electric power grid has blacked-out an entire nation. Media attention has been so focused on the terror group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), on their brutal conquest of northern Iraq and advance toward Baghdad, that the perhaps even more significant terrorist threat in Yemen has been ignored.
On June 9, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), used rocket propelled grenade launchers and mortars to destroy transmission towers, plunging the whole of Yemen into blackout. The AQAP blackout of Yemen's electric grid has gone largely unreported.
Yemen, a nation of 24 million, is an important U.S. ally in the war on terrorism and has been the scene of some of the most significant episodes of that war. AQAP, based in Yemen, is notorious for its aggressive and ingenious terror operations against the United States.
For example, on October 12, 2000, AQAP used plastic explosives to convert a motorized dinghy into a torpedo that blasted the USS Cole, killing and injuring 56 sailors, and nearly sinking the sophisticated guided missile destroyer, worth almost one billion dollars. The 9/11 Commission attributed U.S. failure to retaliate for Cole as the proximate cause for Al Qaeda's launch of the September 11, 2001 holocaust that killed 3,000 Americans.
AQAP has disguised bombs to look like soft drinks, underclothing, and printing cartridges in its persistent efforts to smuggle explosives aboard airliners bound for the United States.
Last year, the Obama Administration evacuated U.S. embassies across the Middle East in response to a plot led by AQAP, involving coordinated activity by terror groups throughout the region.
On August 2, 2013, Administration and intelligence community officials disclosed that just days earlier, the U.S. intercepted communications among senior leaders of Al Qaeda indicating a major and imminent threat to U.S. interests somewhere in the region of the Middle East and North Africa.
Consequently, the State Department announced it was executing an "orderly downsizing", in effect an evacuation, of some two dozen embassies and diplomatic missions. The unprecedented evacuation included facilities in Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Yemen.
According to the Obama Administration, last year's terrorist teleconference was attended by more than 20 leaders of Al Qaeda and affiliates participating from the Middle East and North Africa. Al Qaeda members in the conference included Nigeria's Boko Haram, Pakistani Taliban, Al Qaeda in Iraq, Al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb, Al Qaeda in Uzbekistan and others. One intelligence officer reportedly described the gathering as "a legion of doom".
During the terror conference, Al Qaeda leader al-Zawahiri promoted AQAP's leader Nasir al-Wuhayshi to "Ma'sul al-Amm"--roughly equivalent to "General Manager" of Al Qaeda.
The full objectives of last year's terror plot are unknown, but one goal included the takeover of Yemen. Teams of terrorists allegedly were already in position, many of them disguised as Yemeni military personnel, ready to attack and seize military bases throughout Yemen.
Why Yemen? Possibly because North Korea has provided to Yemen at least 15 Scud-B mobile missiles, capable of delivering nuclear, chemical, biological or high-explosive warheads weighing one ton to a range of 300 kilometers. Iran has demonstrated that Scud missiles can be ship-launched from a freighter.
The Obama Administration credited itself with thwarting last year's big terror plot by evacuating embassies and publicly warning allies, because nothing much happened. Some analysts, including myself, criticized the Administration for disclosing sources and methods, making it more likely that the U.S. and allies would be surprised the next time.
Is it possible that the big terror offensive now rolling across the Middle East is the unfolding of the plot planned last year? Media reporting acts as if the ISIS conquest of northern Iraq, Taliban attacks on nuclear-armed Pakistan, and the terror blackout in Yemen are unrelated. But all of these actors were plotting something together last year.
Worry most about the Yemen nationwide blackout--which tomorrow could be the United States.
A study by the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission found that attacks on just nine key transformer substations could blackout the entire nation for weeks or months. The Congressional Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Commission warned that a nuclear Scud missile launched from a freighter could blackout the U.S. for a year or more, killing up to 9 of 10 Americans by starvation and societal collapse.
Yemen is yet another warning to protect the U.S. electric grid.
Dr. Peter Vincent Pry is Executive Director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security, a Congressional Advisory Board, served in the Congressional EMP Commission, the Congressional Strategic Posture Commission, the House Armed Services Committee, the CIA and is author of the books Apocalypse Unknown and Electric Armageddon both available from CreateSpace.com and Amazon.com