Paul Singer’s EMP Fetish

by Eli Clifton

The 2016 GOP presidential hopefuls making the rounds of potential campaign moneymen are treating hedge-fund billionaire Paul Singer as a major kingmaker, along with his fellow Republican Jewish Coalition director, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. The New York Times reported over the weekend that Singer was holding dinners with aspiring candidates, while Buzzfeed reported that Marco Rubio was the featured guest at an event “attended by Republican foreign policy hawks” held at Singer’s New York residence on Monday. But some of Singer’s policy views put him at odds with not only the mainstream but many Republicans as well.

Singer has emerged as one of the GOP’s key donors, and he’s particularly generous with candidates and think tanks opposed to the P5+1’s diplomacy with Iran. On Tuesday, I wrote about Singer’s role in bankrolling Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), as well as his heavy investments in such hawkish, pro-Likud organizations as the American Enterprise Institute and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. (He also helped raise money for Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) who just promised that a military campaign against Iran’s nuclear facilities would only take “several days” of bombing.”)

Singer is clearly invested in promoting a hawkish Iran policy, but he’s less well-known for his advocacy of one of the far-right’s fringe issues: warning about the dangers of an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, which he regards as the greatest threat facing the world.

According to CNBC, Singer warned clients of his hedge fund, Elliott Management, in an investment letter update last year, that a natural EMP event

today would cause a massive disruption to the electric grid, possibly shutting it down entirely for months or longer, with unimaginable consequences. Only two years ago, the sun let loose with a Carrington-magnitude burst, but the position of the earth at the time prevented the burst from hitting it. The chances of additional events of such magnitude may be far greater than most people think.

And, like any good EMP-scaremonger, Singer stressed that a man-made EMP attack would be even worse:

It would not cause any blast or radiation damage, but such an attack would have consequences even more catastrophic than a severe solar storm. It could not only bring down the grid, but also lay down a very intense, very fast pulse across the continent, damaging or destroying electronic switches, devices, computers and transformers across America.

Singer called for greater protection of the power grid and electronic devices to combat the EMP threat.

But here’s the thing: the technological skillset to build an ICBM or mid-range missile capable of delivering a power-grid-paralyzing EMP nuclear detonation is far beyond the capabilities of most countries. It’s also a completely irrational and suicidal strategic choice by a hypothetical rogue nation. If deployed against the United States, even with our cars and microwaves presumably rendered inoperable, Washington would almost assuredly launch a devastating military retaliation. Arms-control specialist Jeffrey Lewis has described the cult of EMP as the “conservative fetish that just won’t die.”

Proponents of the EMP threat, including Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain, the Center for Security Policy (also a Singer beneficiary), James Woolsey, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and the Heritage Foundation, have used the science-fictionesque doomsday scenario as justification for expensive missile-defense systems, allocating federal money for “hardening” of the electrical power grid, and launching preemptive wars against suspected nuclear proliferators, notably Iran.

So why is Paul Singer, a man who, along with Adelson and the Koch Brothers, appears poised to play a critical role in choosing the GOP’s 2016 presidential candidate, pushing the threat?

CNBC tried to get to the bottom of that question last summer, but Elliott Management declined to comment.

Eli Clifton

Eli Clifton reports on money in politics and US foreign policy. He is a co-founder of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Eli previously reported for the American Independent News Network, ThinkProgress, and Inter Press Service.



  1. An EMP attack on the US, with its vulnerable, complex communications and power systems, is neither a far-right’s fringe issue nor the greatest threat facing the world. It has been a concern. In fact an EMP Commission studied the issue and issued a report in 2004.

    The Commission reported its assessment that “several potential adversaries have or can acquire the capability to attack the US with a high-altitude nuclear weapon-generated electronic pulse (EMP). A determined adversary can achieve an EMP attack capability without having a high level of sophistication. . .The current vulnerability of our critical infrastructures can both invite and reward attack is not corrected. Correction is feasible and well within the Nation’s means and resources to accomplish.”

  2. Regarding Cotton and his several days of bombing, one is reminded of Donald Rumsfeld’s inane comment in 2002, on Iraq: “Five days or five weeks or five months, but it certainly isn’t going to last any longer than that,” he said. It’s still going on with no signs of stoppage, thirteen years, a million lives and trillions of dollars later.

    And Iran is much, much tougher. Iran always strikes back, always, which doesn’t bode well for all those US ships and installations, plus 50,000 plus troops and dependents, around the Gulf, plus losing Tel Aviv — the list goes on.

  3. These people may be rich in $$$$, but they should be made to be the first in line, on the line, if any sort of war with Iran pursued. They could name it Netanyahoo’s commandos. The smug looks on their faces when designing others involvement/casualties. Of course, they will all beg off due to having more important things to do than putting their lives on the line to back up their rhetoric.

  4. The MSM (TIME, Bloomberg) is hot on the new US bunker-buster, and Charlie Cotton must be impressed.
    Apr 8, 2015 — U.S. B-2 Unit Has Use of Largest Precision Bomb: Air Force
    By Tony Capaccio
    (Bloomberg) — “There’s a capability to use the Massive Ordnance Penetrator” by the 509th Bomb Wing that flies B-2 stealth bomber, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh tells reporters today…..//

    Reports are that this new weapon, six times more powerful than the current 5,000 lb. bunker buster, developed with millions of dollars of hard-to-get “defense” dollars, will penetrate sixty feet of concrete. Wow.
    Except Fordow is under NINETY METERS OF SOLID ROCK, so …go fish. The Persians merely smile at this phony scare-talk publicity.
    If the US were stupid enough to plan an air attack on Iran, first they would have to get the IAEA inspectors out, as in Iraq. Then the US and France aircraft carriers and other ships would have to exit the Gulf, because they are easy targets, ducks on a pond for cruise missiles. Then how about all the US installations on the western Gulf shore? Ditto, but they can’t move. So the Persians merely smile at Charlie Cotton and his large precision bomb. Is that your best shot?

  5. Views like that of Mr.Cotton and the like are naive, non-specialist and dangerous. Why sould anyone think of encountering any country that would stand up aginst the U.S. ,logically or not, with destructive military might ? Would talking be too humbling for the all powerful,almighty ,rich and well equipped US of A ?? That is a very dangerous attitude and must change. Human societies are changing fast and along side with the growth of demands on individual right the claim for equal rights by small and weak countries is growing too. This is healthy and in the long run makes them more responsible and more in line with policies beneficiary to humanity as a whole.

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