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Another temptation for terrorists: homemade EMP weapons
Popular Mechanics ^ | Sept 2001 | Jim Wilson

Posted on 09/28/2003 10:58:01 AM PDT by Psalm118

In the blink of an eye, electromagnetic bombs could throw civilization back 200 years.

And terrorists can build them for $400.

BY JIM WILSON

Lead illustration by Edwin Herder

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.

In the 1980s, the Air Force tested E-bombs that used cruise-missile delivery systems.

To ignite an E-bomb, a starter current energizes the stator coil, creating a magnetic field. The explosion (A) expands the tube, short-circuiting the coil and compressing the magnetic field forward (B). The pulse is emitted (C) at high frequencies that defeat protective devices like Faraday Cages.

ILLUSTRATIONS BY JOHN BATCHELOR


TOPICS: Business/Economy; Crime/Corruption; Foreign Affairs
KEYWORDS: cheaptechnology; comptoneffect; ebomb; ebombs; emp; faradaycage; fcg; hpm; miltech; terrorists; weapons
We have been warned, I guess...(groooaaaannnn....)

BTW check out the excellent illustrations on the Website.

1 posted on 09/28/2003 10:58:01 AM PDT by Psalm118
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To: Psalm118
Popular Mechanics is now in the business of giving detailed instructions to terrorists in how to build devices to destroy civilization?

Maybe this sort of thing increases their current circulation, but it could be very damaging to future sales if civilization vanishes, no?
2 posted on 09/28/2003 11:03:27 AM PDT by Cicero (Marcus Tullius)
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To: sourcery; Ernest_at_the_Beach
ping
3 posted on 09/28/2003 11:04:50 AM PDT by Libertarianize the GOP (Ideas have consequences)
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To: Psalm118
Pure unadulterated nonsense.

The article fails to mention that the range of these so-called poor-mans EMP weapons is very, very small. That would mean that these devices would have to be deployed WITHIN a facility to do any damage at all. EMP weapons with any decent range are too large and way too sophisticated to be of any use to terrorists.

Our own government used to have to use a nuke to get enough available power for decent EMP ranging.

So, relax.

4 posted on 09/28/2003 11:04:54 AM PDT by Pukin Dog (Sans Reproache)
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To: Psalm118
Hasn't this been debunked? Something about lack of range I think.
5 posted on 09/28/2003 11:06:12 AM PDT by palmer (/sarcasm)
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To: palmer
Yes, in fact it was debunked in post 4.
6 posted on 09/28/2003 11:07:16 AM PDT by palmer (D'oh!)
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To: Psalm118
This was the only real world weapon that humans in the movie the Matrix had against their machine enemy.

Interesting article. Scary as Hell too.

7 posted on 09/28/2003 11:09:11 AM PDT by bicycle thug (Fortia facere et pati Americanum est.)
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To: Psalm118
Are there instructions on how to shield electronics?

8 posted on 09/28/2003 11:09:49 AM PDT by hocndoc (Choice is the # 1 killer in the US)
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To: Psalm118
2 year old article. Could be a bit dated.
9 posted on 09/28/2003 11:10:25 AM PDT by Leroy S. Mort (Never attribute to malice what can satisfactorily be explained by stupidity.)
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To: Pukin Dog
"The article fails to mention that the range of these so-called poor-mans EMP weapons is very, very small. That would mean that these devices would have to be deployed WITHIN a facility to do any damage at all. EMP weapons with any decent range are too large and way too sophisticated to be of any use to terrorists.

Our own government used to have to use a nuke to get enough available power for decent EMP ranging.

So, relax."

Okay boss, I'm relaxed...

...well...I AM TRYIN!

Now tell me what about going under some transmission line way way out in the boonies and firing one of 'em crackers at the overhead lines?. Still a dud, you say?.

10 posted on 09/28/2003 11:14:38 AM PDT by Psalm118 (Isaiah 26:3 Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusteth i)
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To: Psalm118
"Now tell me what about going under some transmission line way way out in the boonies and firing one of 'em crackers at the overhead lines?. Still a dud, you say?."

And didn't the big NE power outage last month start with just a few lines somewhere?

11 posted on 09/28/2003 11:23:30 AM PDT by paulsy
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To: Psalm118
Yes, still a dud. Too much attenuation on those lines for the surge to travel far.
12 posted on 09/28/2003 11:27:47 AM PDT by Pukin Dog (Sans Reproache)
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To: Psalm118
Wanted:
Tight-focus unidirectional EMP device to disrupt obnoxious neighbors' stereo. Not necessary to destroy circuitry but functional disruption a must. Most parts need to be obtainable at retail outlets.
13 posted on 09/28/2003 11:34:15 AM PDT by NewRomeTacitus (deport deport deport deport deport deport deport deport deport deport deport...)
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To: paulsy
No, it was a series of problems on different lines over a 4 hour period. HMMMMMMMMMM.......
14 posted on 09/28/2003 11:35:25 AM PDT by Lokibob
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To: Cicero
"Maybe this sort of thing increases their current circulation . . ."

Good one!

15 posted on 09/28/2003 11:53:00 AM PDT by Abcdefg
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To: Psalm118
The effective radius of the largest proposed non nuclear EMP device is only a few hundred meters. It would take a saturation attack with thousands of weapons at once to take out even one city.

So9

16 posted on 09/28/2003 12:41:18 PM PDT by Servant of the 9 (The voices tell me to stay home and clean the guns.)
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To: Servant of the 9
You don't need to take out the entire city!

set one off atop the empire State bldg? wall street area?

One atop the tallest bldg in any city would be enough to cause massive damage and sheer terror.

Mission accomplished on the cheap!
17 posted on 09/28/2003 12:45:49 PM PDT by steplock (www.FOCUS.GOHOTSPRINGS.com)
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To: Leroy S. Mort; Cicero
Popular Mechanics is now in the business of giving detailed instructions to terrorists in how to build devices to destroy civilization?
2 year old article. Could be a bit dated.

But Popular Science just published a newer article that outlines how this technology can be applied to destroy our economy!

Making Small Change Smaller

The art of shrinking coins using copper coils, magnetic fields and enough energy to power a small city.


PUCKER MONEY
Five thousand joules shrinks most coins to about
half their normal size, surface details vividly intact.
(Photograph by Jeff Sciortino)

by Theodore Gray
Popular Science
October 2003

I remember driving past a fraternity house when I was a teenager and wondering why I could tell instantly that someone was playing the drums live, not on a stereo. Live drums, I realized, have a sharper attack than any electronic reproduction, and the distinction is obvious to the drums in our ears. But shouldn't it be possible to hit a speaker cone with a magnetic field just as hard as you can hit a drum with a stick?

It turns out it is, but frat boys simply don't have the technology. Engineers, on the other hand, can potentially go way beyond annoying the neighbors should they choose to get involved in the sport of hitting things really hard with magnetic fields. Take, for example, my friend Bert Hickman, a retired electrical engineer living outside Chicago: He rather enjoys using magnetic force to smash coins to roughly half their normal size. (He then sells them on eBay, of course.)

Bert's high-voltage equipment takes up most of his screened-in porch (from the looks of things, his wife drew a line at the sliding door—there's a clear border between tidy suburban house and chaotic suburban lab). Bert begins the coin-shrinking process by wrapping a quarter in copper wire and bolting the leads to copper bus bars, which are connected, by way of a triggered spark gap, to a 600-pound bank of 12,000-volt capacitors. A bulletproof blast shield encloses the coin and coil, and a high-voltage power supply charges up the capacitors. The only thing holding back the several thousand joules of energy stored in the capacitors is the tiny space between the spark gap's two brass discs.

Pressing a switch triggers the spark gap, which releases the entire charge through the coil in 25 millionths of a second. This creates a huge magnetic field, which induces a current and then a magnetic field inside the coin, which in turn pushes back against the field outside. The repulsion force between these two fields crushes the metal, instantly taking a quarter down to the size of a dime. A large amount of energy discharged in a short amount of time usually entails an explosion, and in this case the copper coil is blown apart with a brilliant flash and a satisfying bang. And, yes, the report is sharper than any drum, proving that you really can hit something as hard with magnetic force as you can with a drumstick.

Bert happily takes custom orders by mail (he charges a shrinking fee, though —visit www.teslamania.com for info). "Clad" U.S. coins, such as quarters, work best—they contain a conductive copper core sandwiched between a nickel-copper alloy—but most metal currencies will do the trick. Just don't send him your 1937 three-legged buffalo nickel by mistake.


18 posted on 09/28/2003 12:47:43 PM PDT by Willie Green (Go Pat Go!!!)
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To: Pukin Dog
But could it destroy, say an obnnoxiously loud 'boom boom' type car stereo as it was passing my house?

Just asking for no reason....honest.

L

19 posted on 09/28/2003 12:49:56 PM PDT by Lurker ("To expect the government to save you is to be a bystander in your own fate." Mark Steyn)
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To: Lurker
Now that it could do. Worth an investment if you ask me.
20 posted on 09/28/2003 12:55:00 PM PDT by Pukin Dog (Sans Reproache)
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To: Cicero
Popular Mechanics is now in the business of giving detailed instructions to terrorists in how to build devices to destroy civilization?

Yes. In an allegedly free society, people publish things that make other people uncomfortable. They even publish things that evil people can use to wreak havok.

It's not that terribly difficult to build EMP weapons that could be useful in a localized area. This information has been out there for years, yet e don't see thousands of people using them to sow destruction and confusion.

You do realise that the average household contains enough chemicals to produce some really nasty effects, don't you?

I have a copy of the 1903 edition of the Encyclopaedia Brittannica. Using the information in it, I could do many things including make TNT. Are we going to destroy all knowlege in the world to make the world safe from evildoers?

21 posted on 09/28/2003 1:00:22 PM PDT by zeugma (Hate pop-up ads? Here's the fix: http://www.mozilla.org/ Now Version 1.4!)
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To: Willie Green
BTW, I think that the PopSci editors got snookered on this one.
I AM aware of industrial processes that utilize EMP to form metal, but those are more like bending/crimping processes. Something like crimping a ring onto a shaft, or forming a bulge (or a constriction) in a tube. Yeah, the metal moves and deforms, but it still occupies the same volume and has the same mass. You can't defy the laws of physics, as this article suggests, and compress solid matter to a smaller volume and drasticly higher density. The Popsci article is bogus junk science.
22 posted on 09/28/2003 1:03:58 PM PDT by Willie Green (Go Pat Go!!!)
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To: Pukin Dog
The article fails to mention that the range of these so-called poor-mans EMP weapons is very, very small.

More or less true. However, US defense contractors bought some newer more sophisticated designs (i.e. not a classic FCG design) from the Russians in the early 90s for something like $11 million (fuzzy memory -- I haven't worked in that industry for years); the Russians were selling off many of their designs to curious defense contractors back then. The US took the sexier Soviet generator design, modeled them in supercomputers and completely re-engineered the materials, and came up with something MUCH more powerful than what you get out of a simple FCG and with much better range and performance than anything the Soviets could build.

The modern US version of the system is sufficiently powerful that it has been tested for use as a single-stage fusion trigger. Obviously though, there is very little in the way of specific details on it.

23 posted on 09/28/2003 1:10:13 PM PDT by tortoise (All these moments lost in time, like tears in the rain.)
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To: Pukin Dog
"EMP weapons with any decent range are too large and way too sophisticated to be of any use to terrorists. "

I agree.

24 posted on 09/28/2003 1:14:42 PM PDT by blam
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To: Psalm118
This hoax again? I figured Jim was above this silliness, but then again he still writes for PM, the National Inquirer for nerds. :)
25 posted on 09/28/2003 1:24:26 PM PDT by anymouse
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To: zeugma
Yes, when I was a kid I used to make bombs with my chemistry set. I still remember several recipes, including classic black powder and ammonium tri-iodide, but I prefer not to post them publicly at this point in time.
26 posted on 09/28/2003 2:06:02 PM PDT by Cicero (Marcus Tullius)
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To: Psalm118
the Flux Compression Generator (FCG).

If we spent more time working on the Flux Capacitor rather than the FCG we could go back in time (ala "Back to the Future").

27 posted on 09/28/2003 2:26:13 PM PDT by NoControllingLegalAuthority
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To: steplock
You don't need to take out the entire city!
set one off atop the empire State bldg? wall street area?

Set one off atop the Empire State Building and the pulse woldn't reach the ground.

The Back offices of the brokerages are scattered all over New York, New Jersey and Conneticut.
The exchenges have mirrored systems located in salt mines in the midwest, and the brokerages have backup datastores there.

An EMP attack that took out all of Manhatten would take the exchanges down for maybe 15 minutes with no loss of data.

The same is true of the big banks and the Federal Reserve.

So9

28 posted on 09/28/2003 2:40:26 PM PDT by Servant of the 9 (The voices tell me to stay home and clean the guns.)
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To: Cicero
Popular Mechanics is now in the business of giving detailed instructions to terrorists in how to build devices to destroy civilization?

I saw this posted on the net not too long ago -- possibly on Slashdot.

29 posted on 09/28/2003 5:17:18 PM PDT by Eala (quag-mire (kwagmre, kwgmre) noun. Democrat presidential aspirations)
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To: NewRomeTacitus
From Slashdot, Build a HERF gun.
30 posted on 09/28/2003 5:20:18 PM PDT by Eala (quag-mire (kwagmre, kwgmre) noun. Democrat presidential aspirations)
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To: Pukin Dog
Well said. Too many 'gloom & doom' predictions look like a 6th graders science project that got a "D."

The Y2K issue was a big one - a legitimate problem that some overstated. Most obvious was the banking scare - that somehow all our savings and checking account records would have been lost at the stroke of midnight when the computers all were supposed to get confused.

I didn't think, for one second, all the banks and lending institutions would have lost all our debt records, which would have gone 'poof' also. Imagine how the banks would have had to explain how our savings records got lost, but they have all our debt information secured. Laughable!
31 posted on 09/28/2003 5:27:04 PM PDT by HitmanLV (I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered. My life is my own.)
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To: Pukin Dog
Look P.D., I mean NO disrespect to you at all. You say:

"Yes, still a dud. Too much attenuation on those lines for the surge to travel far".

I mean No flame, you have been so informed. But how do YOU know, IOW what are your credentials...are you an EE?.

(Before you type your reply take a deep breath and re-read my first line, okay?
32 posted on 09/29/2003 1:29:13 AM PDT by Psalm118 (Isaiah 26:3 Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusteth i)
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To: metalbird1; thinden
bump

Keep your rollerblades in the car and don't take ny elevators.

33 posted on 12/20/2003 5:46:28 AM PST by rubbertramp (remember the aum cult)
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