Skip to comments.electromagnetic bombs could throw civilization back 200 years. And terrorists can build them for$400
Posted on 12/17/2001 9:27:32 AM PST by Maxpowers
The next Pearl Harbor will not announce itself with a searing flash of nuclear light or with the plaintive wails of those dying of Ebola or its genetically engineered twin. You will hear a sharp crack in the distance. By the time you mistakenly identify this sound as an innocent clap of thunder, the civilized world will have become unhinged. Fluorescent lights and television sets will glow eerily bright, despite being turned off. The aroma of ozone mixed with smoldering plastic will seep from outlet covers as electric wires arc and telephone lines melt. Your Palm Pilot and MP3 player will feel warm to the touch, their batteries overloaded. Your computer, and every bit of data on it, will be toast. And then you will notice that the world sounds different too. The background music of civilization, the whirl of internal-combustion engines, will have stopped. Save a few diesels, engines will never start again. You, however, will remain unharmed, as you find yourself thrust backward 200 years, to a time when electricity meant a lightning bolt fracturing the night sky. This is not a hypothetical, son-of-Y2K scenario. It is a realistic assessment of the damage the Pentagon believes could be inflicted by a new generation of weapons--E-bombs.
The first major test of an American electromagnetic bomb is scheduled for next year. Ultimately, the Army hopes to use E-bomb technology to explode artillery shells in midflight. The Navy wants to use the E-bomb's high-power microwave pulses to neutralize antiship missiles. And, the Air Force plans to equip its bombers, strike fighters, cruise missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles with E-bomb capabilities. When fielded, these will be among the most technologically sophisticated weapons the U.S. military establishment has ever built.
There is, however, another part to the E-bomb story, one that military planners are reluctant to discuss. While American versions of these weapons are based on advanced technologies, terrorists could use a less expensive, low-tech approach to create the same destructive power. "Any nation with even a 1940s technology base could make them," says Carlo Kopp, an Australian-based expert on high-tech warfare. "The threat of E-bomb proliferation is very real." POPULAR MECHANICS estimates a basic weapon could be built for $400.
An Old Idea Made New The theory behind the E-bomb was proposed in 1925 by physicist Arthur H. Compton--not to build weapons, but to study atoms. Compton demonstrated that firing a stream of highly energetic photons into atoms that have a low atomic number causes them to eject a stream of electrons. Physics students know this phenomenon as the Compton Effect. It became a key tool in unlocking the secrets of the atom.
Ironically, this nuclear research led to an unexpected demonstration of the power of the Compton Effect, and spawned a new type of weapon. In 1958, nuclear weapons designers ignited hydrogen bombs high over the Pacific Ocean. The detonations created bursts of gamma rays that, upon striking the oxygen and nitrogen in the atmosphere, released a tsunami of electrons that spread for hundreds of miles. Street lights were blown out in Hawaii and radio navigation was disrupted for 18 hours, as far away as Australia. The United States set out to learn how to "harden" electronics against this electromagnetic pulse (EMP) and develop EMP weapons.
America has remained at the forefront of EMP weapons development. Although much of this work is classified, it's believed that current efforts are based on using high-temperature superconductors to create intense magnetic fields. What worries terrorism experts is an idea the United States studied but discarded--the Flux Compression Generator (FCG).
A Poor Man's E-Bomb An FCG is an astoundingly simple weapon. It consists of an explosives-packed tube placed inside a slightly larger copper coil, as shown below. The instant before the chemical explosive is detonated, the coil is energized by a bank of capacitors, creating a magnetic field. The explosive charge detonates from the rear forward. As the tube flares outward it touches the edge of the coil, thereby creating a moving short circuit. "The propagating short has the effect of compressing the magnetic field while reducing the inductance of the stator [coil]," says Kopp. "The result is that FCGs will produce a ramping current pulse, which breaks before the final disintegration of the device. Published results suggest ramp times of tens of hundreds of microseconds and peak currents of tens of millions of amps." The pulse that emerges makes a lightning bolt seem like a flashbulb by comparison.
An Air Force spokesman, who describes this effect as similar to a lightning strike, points out that electronics systems can be protected by placing them in metal enclosures called Faraday Cages that divert any impinging electromagnetic energy directly to the ground. Foreign military analysts say this reassuring explanation is incomplete.
The India Connection The Indian military has studied FCG devices in detail because it fears that Pakistan, with which it has ongoing conflicts, might use E-bombs against the city of Bangalore, a sort of Indian Silicon Valley. An Indian Institute for Defense Studies and Analysis study of E-bombs points to two problems that have been largely overlooked by the West. The first is that very-high-frequency pulses, in the microwave range, can worm their way around vents in Faraday Cages. The second concern is known as the "late-time EMP effect," and may be the most worrisome aspect of FCG devices. It occurs in the 15 minutes after detonation. During this period, the EMP that surged through electrical systems creates localized magnetic fields. When these magnetic fields collapse, they cause electric surges to travel through the power and telecommunication infrastructure. This string-of-firecrackers effect means that terrorists would not have to drop their homemade E-bombs directly on the targets they wish to destroy. Heavily guarded sites, such as telephone switching centers and electronic funds-transfer exchanges, could be attacked through their electric and telecommunication connections.
Knock out electric power, computers and telecommunication and you've destroyed the foundation of modern society. In the age of Third World-sponsored terrorism, the E-bomb is the great equalizer.
The editor of The Crypt, a contrarian publication on Information Warfare, describes these weapons as "The Chupacabras of IW." They are widely rumored, but never actually seen.
I found the kit. Right next to the advertisement for these.
Just a thought.
Better yet....why go online and post it?
This is something that calls for a little competence. I am fully persuaded that not a single terrorist or wanna-be terrorist lurk in this website but even still what is the motive?
PM needs to exercise commonsense. I dont care if we can all go online and figure this stuff out...that isnt an excuse for writing and printing a piece on the technology and possibly planting seeds into desperate/idiotic/broke terrorist minds.
Anybody really want to wager that this issue wont find its way to some middle eastern safehouse?
C'mon PM get it together.
Is that like the Flux Capacitor, which makes time travel possible?
The article should continue
...until you realize that only your immediate area has been affected and that the rest of the world is functioning normally.
Speaking of which, if you're into Illuminati and other tin-foil-hat lore, check out Tomb Raider on video.
Dang, you beat me to it! But here's part of Crypt Newsletter's take on EMP weapons:
See the rest here.
From the Josef K Guide to Tech terminology:
EMP gun: n. Always suspected but never seen, the EMP -- electromagnetic pulse -- weapon is the chupacabra of cyberspace. Accordingly, it is said to be responsible for much nettlesome corporate computer and bank failure, almost always in countries where such things cannot be verified.
Usage: Pelham was amused when the overly gullible newspaper reporter published his frank lies about Russian computer programmers knocking over international banks with emp guns made from stolen Radio Shack equipment.
One of the most persistent fairy tales propagated in information warfare circles is the urban legend of the electromagnetic pulse gun. When it shows up in the mainstream media, courtesy of Reuters or the Associated Press, it looks something like this:
"Dateline BRUSSELS -- Criminals can use the Internet to create powerful electromagnetic weapons that threaten society with chaos and destruction, a Latverian military officer warned Friday.
"Underground sites on the Internet contain instructions on how to put together dangerous weapons that use electromagnetic or high-energy pulses that cripple computer systems, telephone systems and alarms, according to Victor von Doom, chief engineer at the Defense Materials division of the Latverian armed forces' electronic systems division.
"High-tech goods found everywhere in the world can be used to create powerful weapons using recipes found on the Internet," said von Doom at a meeting of the International Association Of Quack Computer Consultants in Europe.
"The problem is spreading from Russia, von Doom said."
Pretty scary. But sensationalistic garbage that was actually published by one of the wire news services. Crypt News only changed the names of the parties involved.
[For a more recent example from the newsmedia, consider 20/20's coverage of radio frequency weapons in the "Postscript."]
Crypt News took the time to talk to some scientists at Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque. Neal Singer pronounced it an interesting urban legend. Sandia, of course, is one of the national laboratories responsible for weaponization of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. The lab has also done extensive research into shielding against and generation of electromagnetic pulse effects.
Awareness of electromagnetic pulse effects happened in 1962 when a 1.4 megaton nuclear weapon was detonated in Test Shot Starfish. The Starfish shot was conducted 400 kilometers high above the mid-Pacific and the electromagnetic pulse from it destroyed satellite equipment and blocked high frequency radio communications across the Pacific for 30 minutes. "Strings of street lights in Oahu went out and hundreds of burglar alarms set off when the pulses overloaded their circuits," wrote William Arkin in "S.I.O.P.: The Strategic U.S. Plan for Nuclear War." A scientist at Lawrence Livermore, Nicholas Christofilos, had predicted this effect earlier in the rear, calculating that high energy particles from a nuclear burst high in the atmosphere would become trapped in the Earth's magnetic field, producing a series of lightning-like pulses.
Since then, the idea of using electromagnetic effects as a death ray, of sorts, produced without a messy 1.4 megaton nuclear explosion, has become increasingly interesting to fans of the weird quack-science of non-lethality and, for some reason, computer security experts and teenage hackers. For example, Crypt Newsletter frequently receives poorly spelled advertisements put together by teenagers advertising schematics for electromagnetic computer death rays for about $5.00 cash U.S. These, along with instructions for turning the telephone handset into an electric chair, software for melting the circuitry in a PC, and recipes for poisoning enemies with arsenicals -- come dirt cheap on pink photocopying paper or cheesy-looking pamphlets sold at "Survival Books" in north Hollywood.
Interestingly, Winn Schwartau did much to embed the myth of the emp weapon in the mainstream imagination with his 1994 book "Information Warfare." In it, Schwartau wrote of secret U.S. missiles used against Iraq in the Gulf War to short circuit communications through bursts of microwaves. It was an interesting mistake based on a more prosaic reality having nothing to do with emp weapons. In the Gulf War, the Navy used a few Tomahawks containing spools of carbon filament. The filament was deployed across Iraq's power lines and stations by the Tomahawks, causing black-outs by short circuit around Baghdad.
Since 1992 the tale of the emp gun has been seized upon by hackers rather too eager to sell gullible journalists on a pseudo-reality of imposing feats of technical legerdemain. (For example, mention of it as a hacker tool contaminates Alvin and Heidi Toffler's "War and Anti-War," published in 1993. The EMP gun appearances are also cyclical, many times attached every year to Winn Schwartau, Inc.'s information warfare conventions in Washington, DC. Journalists attend these types of things and report that the EMP gun has just been invented. Almost like clockwork -- appearances in the media, be it 1997, 1998, 1999, even mere months apart, such reporters have almost no memory on subject -- and the EMP gun is "invented" anew, rising from its own ashes, another phoenix of mystifying electronic danger that puts us all at risk. However, what is usually "invented" is little more than a glorified stun baton that can make a television screen blink or a radio speaker emit static at about ten paces.)
In another such story, "Hack Attack," published as a cover feature in a 1996 issue of Forbes ASAP magazine, a number of "dangerous ex-hackers" played the game, "Let's lie to the journalist." The emp-weapon-used-against-Iraq myth was deployed:
Forbes writer: Have you ever heard of a device that directs magnetic signals at hard disks and can scramble the data?
Dangerous ex-hackers, in unison: Yes! A HERF [high energy radio frequency] gun.
Dangerous ex-hacker A: This is my nightmare. $300: a rucksack full of car batteries, a microcapacitor and a directional antenna and I could point it at Oracle . . .
Dangerous ex-hacker B: We could cook the fourth floor.
Dangerous ex-hacker A: . . . You could park it in a car and walk away. It's a $300 poor man's nuke . . .
Dangerous ex-hacker A, on a roll: They were talking about giving these guns to border patrol guards so they can zap Mexican cars as they drive across the border and fry their fuel injection . . .
Dangerous ex-hacker A, really piling it on: There are only three or four people who know how to build them, and they're really tight lipped . . . We used these in the Persian Gulf. We cooked the radar installation.
In other parts of the article the "dangerous ex-hackers" discuss the ease of building what purports to be a $300 death ray out of Radio Shack parts and car batteries. In a rare moment of intellectual honesty and self-scrutiny the "dangerous ex-hackers" admit there are a lot of "snake oil salesmen" in the computer security business.
The sticking point of the legend, according to Sandia's Singer and others Crypt News interviewed, is the generation of militarily interesting amounts of electromagnetic pulse. To generate the effects ascribed to the notional weapon requires power fluxes that would kill everyone triggering the device and everyone in the vicinity of the detonation and target. Far easier to use Tim McVeigh's fuel oil-soaked fertilizer truck bomb.
John Pike, director of the Federation of American Scientists' Space Policy Project puckishly commented, "[This] is sorta like Dr. Strangelove saying that a Doomsday Machine 'would not be dificult'! It is easily within the reach of even the smallest . . . nuclear power."
Nevertheless, the myth of electromagnetic pulse weapons remains powerful, gaining lodgment in the damndest places. Indeed, in Crypt Newsletter 42 one article discussed how a U.S. Army course on information warfare in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, was instructing about them in its sub-lecture devoted to weaponry.
Now, Crypt News provides a thumbnail list of the myth's characteristic hearsay.
1. The EMP gun is always seen in remote places, as in "Boris Badenov, a computer security consultant, said criminal hooligans had destroyed a bank network in Dvinsk with an emp gun and escaped with 8 millions rubles in blackmail money."
2. The EMP gun is always developed by adjunct professors, fringe military reservists, or hackers. For example: "Glip Popple, an adjunct professor of information warfare at the Technical University of Gobble-Wallah in Australia, said he had built a working emp gun for $2,000," or "Uber-Fiend, a hacker for a group calling itself Karn Evil 9, told Reuters correspondents he had built a 12 gigaJoule electromagnetic pulse projector."
3. EMP guns are always secret, protected by classification, as in, "W. E. van Azathoth, a computer scientist genius working for the northern Virginia company Nefari US Electronics, had written a working paper on constructing emp weapons from four bags of sour cream and onion potato chips, a roll of aluminum foil and a positronic hammer -- it was immediately seized and classified by the National Security Agency.
4. Sometimes only unnamed "experts" talk about EMP guns, as in: "Experts have revealed to Associated Press reporters that U.S. banks lost $90 billion due to electromagnetic pulse attacks in 1996 -- the assaults untraceable, the perpetrators -- unknown."
5. Illicit EMP gun blueprints are on the Internet. Usage: "This reporter was told by a very highly placed Pentagon consultant that plans for EMP guns were on the Internet and that teen hooligans and criminal gangsters had obtained them."
6. Infrequently, an "EMP gun" -- more accurately, anything that can emulate the electromagnetic emissions of a large, unshielded electric motor -- will be demonstrated on assorted pieces of electronic equipment at conversational range. Results will be trivial or unremarkable and the demonstrator, often someone with a cargo cult-like devotion to the memory and work of Nikola Tesla, will dress them up as quite the opposite. Invariably, the demonstrations are conducted by people or agencies who just "coincidentally" happen to offer consulting services to defend against EMP guns.
Indeed, it must be considered that in a country where a googly-eyed eunuch can persuade a large group of educated adults to poison themselves in preparation for hitching a ride on a flying saucer and a significant portion of the citizenry cannot be convinced that aliens didn't land at Roswell, the EMP gun must be a lead pipe cinch to sell.
Postscript: Interestingly, an EMP gun inventor, David Schriner, showed up on ABC's 20/20 in mid-February 1999 to demonstrate the effects of it for an overawed Diane Sawyer. After donning fancy protective suits and unusual-looking copper mesh headgear, Schriner tested his weapon on Sawyer's corvette and a white limousine. At a range of about 5-10 feet and with the weapon pointed directly into the automobiles' open engine compartment, Schriner's electromagnetic pulse gun made Sawyer's idling corvette . . . run roughly. [Crypt News notes it can make any car's engine stop permanently, not just hesitate, at a range of five feet with a sledgehammer aimed directly into an open engine compartment.] Once, said Sawyer, the electric locks in her car's doors went up and down, too. While Sawyer stood well away from her car, farther away from it than Schriner's contraption, electronic videocameras inside the car continued to work during the firing of the "weapon."
During the segment, Sawyer claimed "results" of testing of electromagnetic pulse on a Cobra helicopter at Junction Ranch in China Lake were "classified." Curiously, Crypt Newsletter covered the results of this test which were published on the Web over a year ago by the government. [Found in the attached links at the end of this story.] Crypt News must now assume posting a paper on the World Wide Web constitutes "classification."
Besides David Schriner's demonstration of a short range microwave's ability to occasionally stall an idling, parked car at extremely close range, Sawyer's story -- like all Crypt News has seen on the subject, relied a great deal upon hearsay.
Now, here comes the tricky part.
Sawyer also claimed on 20/20: "Russian criminals have used an RF weapon, we're told, to disarm security and rob a bank."
Crypt Newsletter repeats from the top of the story:
"Pelham was amused when the overly gullible newspaper reporter published his frank lies about Russian computer programmers knocking over international banks with emp guns made from stolen Radio Shack equipment."
"Boris Badenov, a computer security consultant, said criminal hooligans had destroyed a bank network in Dvinsk with an emp gun and escaped with 8 millions rubles in blackmail money."
Read carefully: Crypt Newsletter made these statements up in 1997 as humorous examples -- jokes -- to be used as material for this article. In the context of this piece, they are amusing fictions.
Apparently, Crypt Newsletter's jokes about EMP guns have travelled sufficiently far away from their original source to wind up gulling Diane Sawyer on 20/20 in 1999.
This seems hard to believe given that lightning strikes only have peak currents to 30,000 amps. What kind of explosives can produce so much energy and still be portable?
Ah, Popular Mechanics. IIRC, everything which has appeared on the cover has never succeeded.
Uh...why not just say "milliseconds"?
A bullet costs $0.10, body armor costs $1000.
A mine costs $1, locating & disarming it costs $5000.
A boxcutter costs $0.50, a metal detector costs $2500.
See a pattern here?
Yes, it is called a surge suppressor and a metal box. We get hit these 'weapons' all the time, we call it lightning locally, what do you call it in your area?
EMP pulse generated by nuclear air bursts will do the same sort of thing. So will sunspots charging up the upper atmosphere, damaging satellites and disrupting communications systems.
Ever seen the lightning come out of a volcano erruption?
OLD NEWS, like 30 years.
Bwa ha ha ha. I guess this is a hoax, then?
Just because it didn't work doesn't mean it's not classified.
The local electric company is hard at work on preparing my neighborhood as to the potential effects of this fine project by dropping service at intermittent intervals during the day and night.
< /sarcasm off>
I saw a thing on Discovery a while back that the cops were testing to try to stop fleeing cars - it was a little cart about the size of a skateboard that shot out from the front of the police car, propelled by a small rocket motor. Anyway, this thing was connected to the patrol car via a pair of wires, and had two little antennae sticking up from it. The things shot out, ran under the test car, and stopped it cold.
The thing is, though, it stopped it by applying a high-voltage, low-amperage current to the subject car in order to fry its electronics, not by some sort of EMP-type effect - it had to make contact with the car to have any effect at all.
(OTOH, IIRC, it worked by frying the computer that controlled the engine, which makes me wonder if it would have any effect at all on an older, carbureted car, made before there was a computer running the whole show. Sure, that thing might cause it to misfire and stall, but I'd bet money I could pop the clutch and start it right back up again.)
Anyway - yes, a nuclear airburst does put out a hell of an EMP, but the notion of EMP "guns" is wildly overblown, from everything I've ever seen. And if it's a nuclear explosion causing an EMP effect, my computer getting fried and the ATM system going out of service are really going to be pretty low on my list of worries. ;)
Must be one hell of a rucksack.
My guess is that a *very* well-made frame pack might handle *four*.
Maybe someday in the future, this will actually work, but if they could REALLY be built for $400, then they'd already would've been used by now...
Har...Oh wait, don't forget about the commuter helicopters in every garage.
"You have bomb"
SOMEONE SET UP US THE E-BOMB