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- Center for Security Policy: Former Member, National Security Advisory Council
- National Institute for Public Policy: Member, Board of Advisers
- Independent Working Group on Missile Defense, the Space Relationship, and the 21st Century: Adviser
- RAND Corporation: Member, Physics Department (1965-1971)
- Southwest Missouri State University: Former Adjunct Professor of Defense and Strategic Studies
- State Department: Former Member, Arms Control, and Nonproliferation Advisory Board
- EMP Commission: Chairman (2001-2008)
- Rumsfeld Space Commission: Member (1999-2001)
- Rumsfeld Missile Commission: Member (1998-1999)
- Department of Defense: Member of Task Force on Theater Ballistic Missile Defense: (1994-1997); Member of Defense Science Board (1990-1993); Chairman, Strategic Defense Initiative Advisory Committee (Reagan administration)
- Office of the President: Science Adviser to the President; Director of White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; Chairman of the Federal Coordinating Committee on Science, Technology, and Engineering; Chairman of the U.S. Joint Telecommunications Resources Board (1986-1989)
- U.S.-China Council on Cooperation in Science and Technology: Co-Chairman (1986-1989)
- NASA: Deputy Administrator (1985-1986)
- General Advisory Committee on Arms Control and Disarmament: Chairman (1982-1985)
- Air Force Weapons Laboratory: Project Officer (1962-1965)
- National Security Research, Inc.: Former President and Chairman of the Board
- Swales Aerospace: Member, Board of Directors
- Defense Group Inc.: Senior Vice President (1994-1997)
- R & D Associates: Founder and Director of Computing Operations (1971-1985)
- Jaycor: Member, Board of Directors; Senior Vice President for Business Development (1989-1991)
- Xsirius, Inc.: Chairman, Board of Directors
- Advanced Phoenix, Inc.: Chairman, Board of Directors
- Xsirius Super-Conductivity, Inc.: Chairman, Board of Directors
- Electrosource, Inc.: Member, Board of Directors
- Watkins-Johnson, Inc.: Member, Board of Directors
- C-COR Electronic, Inc.: Member, Board of Directors; President
- California Institute of Technology: B.S. in physics
- Stanford University: M.S. in engineering science, Ph.D. in electrical engineering
William R. Graham has been a key member of the missile defense lobby for over three decades. A veteran of several government advisory panels, Graham has long advocated a robust U.S. "missile defense" posture, issued alarmist warnings about the threat of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack, and accused Iran and other states of plotting a nuclear attack against the United States. He has been an executive at a host of defense contractors and served on advisory boards at both the neoconservative Center for Security Policy and the hawkish National Institute for Public Policy.
In 2013, Graham signed an open letter to President Barack Obama calling on the president to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal. It criticized the president’s stated goal of “ridding the world of nuclear weapons,” an aspiration the letter claimed would “result in the unilateral disarmament of the U.S. nuclear deterrent.” The letter insisted that North Korea was “amassing” nuclear weapons know-how “together with other nations hostile to us and our allies—notably, Iran,” which “raises the possibility that the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons technologies will soon metastasize around the globe.”
Published by the Center for Security Policy, the letter’s signatories included a host of neoconservative pundits and right-wing policy wonks, like Frank Gaffney, Thomas McInerney, James Woolsey, John Bolton, Douglas Feith, Kathleen Bailey, Paul Vallely, and Henry “Hank” Cooper. Despite the letter's assertions, little is knownabout whether North Korea and Iran have collaborated on nuclear weapons technology, and the U.S. intelligence community has insisted since 2007 that Iran is not currently developing a nuclear weapon.
Graham started his career as an Air Force officer and has degrees in physics and electrical engineering. He joined the government in 1980 as a member of Ronald Reagan's transition team and went on to hold a series of posts in the Reagan administration, including as a NASA administrator, chairman of the general advisory committee at the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, director of the Office of Science and Technology, and as a science adviser to the president. Under President George H.W. Bush, Graham was a member of the Defense Science Board and chaired the committee on the Strategic Defense Initiative—a Reagan-era missile defense project known to its critics as "Star Wars" for its exorbitant cost and fanciful ambitions.
During the Clinton administration, Graham served on two congressionally appointed panels chaired by Donald Rumsfeld. One, the Rumsfeld Missile Commission, warned that "rogue states" could attack the United States with ballistic missiles in as little as five years. The other, the Rumsfeld Space Commission, famously cautioned that the United States could face a "Space Pearl Harbor" if it did not take precautions to avoid it. Echoing the "Team B" exercise of the 1970s, both panels—which were strongly backed by neoconservative think tanks like the Center for Security Policy and congressional hawks like Jon Kyl and Curt Weldon—were considerably more alarmist in their conclusions than comparable studies by U.S. intelligence agencies.
In the George W. Bush administration, Graham joined a passel of other nuclear weapons hawks—including Keith Payne, Kathleen Bailey, James Schlesinger, and William Van Cleave—on the State Department's Arms Control and Nonproliferation Advisory Board.
Graham's best-known role during this period was as chairman of the congressionally appointed Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse Attack—often known simply as the "EMP Commission." Set up in 2001 by House Republicans, the EMP Commission concluded in a 2004 report to Congress that a nuclear-generated EMP—a hypothetical massive electronic failure triggered by a nuclear attack—is "one of a small number of threats that has the potential to hold our society seriously at risk and might result in the defeat of our military forces." The commission warned that an EMP attack "has the capability to produce significant damage to critical infrastructures and thus to the very fabric of U.S. society," and would obstruct the ability of "the United States and Western nations to project influence and military power." The panel's subsequent publications elaborated upon these threats, with a 2008 report warning that "anarchy and starvation" could follow an EMP attack.
Other experts have concluded that an EMP attack is more hype than threat, with a writer for Foreign Policy magazine dismissing the scenario in 2013 as a fantasy peddled by "a crowd of cranks and threat inflators." Critics have charged that such warnings serve chiefly to gin up business for security contractors. "The EMP Commission is a case study in the revolving door between industry, pro-industry nonprofits, and the Pentagon," wrote Nick Schwellenbach, an investigator at the Project on Government Oversight. Schwellenbach pointed out that Graham himself had been president and CEO of National Security Research, Inc.—a company that had received part of a $250-million federal contract "to protect the nation's critical infrastructure against physical and cyber attack"—since 1997, but had told a congressional panel in 1999 that he had no conflicts of interest concerning his testimony about the purported EMP threat.
Despite such criticism, Graham continued to speak out about the EMP threat, in some cases making even more alarmist claims than the commission itself. In 2008 testimony before the House Arms Services Committee, he claimed that "the Iranians are figuring out how to launch a missile from a ship and get it up to altitude and then detonate it," insisting that Iranian military journals "explicitly discuss a nuclear EMP attack that would gravely harm the United States." Asked by the right-wing writer Kenneth Timmerman about the potential impact of such an attack, Graham claimed that the vast majority of the U.S. population would perish. "I’d have to say that 70 to 90 percent of the population would not be sustainable after this kind of attack,” he said, adding that the United States "would quickly revert to an early 19th century type of country."
Graham also served as an adviser to the Independent Working Group on Missile Defense, the Space Relationship, and the 21st Century, a Bush-era advisory panel sponsored by a number of right-wing policy outfits, including High Frontier, the Heritage Foundation, the Claremont Institute, the American Foreign Policy Council, and the Department of Defense and Strategic Studies at Missouri State University. The panel aimed to build on Reagan's dreams of a "Star Wars" missile defense system. According to Claremont Institute's MissileThreat.com, "The Independent Working Group recommends building on the legacy of technologies developed under the Strategic Defense Initiative of the Reagan and first Bush administrations. Sea- and space-based assets should constitute the backbone of a robust, layered missile defense shield, which ground-based systems should support. Such a shield should be capable of protecting the United States against the threat of hostile missile attacks from any quarter. The report also calls on the United States to restore and sustain the necessary scientific and technological base to assure primacy in space and missile defense in the coming decades."