a normal town ... / Reference
literature to the theme: are electrical appliances dangerous to your health?
Tramès per Klaus Rudolph (Citizens'
Just a normal town
New Scientist www.newscientist.com
, 1 July 2000
...but out of nowhere a wave of chaos was to wash over that world. In
a millisecond it was gone. There were no phones, no computers, no power,
nothing. Yet nobody had died, no buildings razed to the ground. And then
the blind panic set in.
What's going on, asks Ian Sample
IT SOUNDS like the perfect weapon. Without fracturing a single brick or
spilling a drop of blood, it could bring a city to its knees. The few
scientists who are prepared to talk about it speak of a sea change in
how wars will be fought. Even in peacetime, the same technology could
bring mayhem to our daily lives. This weapon is so simple to make, scientists
say, it wouldn't take a criminal genius to put one together and wreak
havoc. Some believe attacks have started already, but because the weapon
leaves no trace it's a suspicion that's hard to prove. The irony is that
it's our love of technology itself that makes us so vulnerable.
This perfect weapon is the electromagnetic bomb, or e-bomb. The idea behind
it is simple. Produce a high-power flash of radio waves or microwaves
and it will fry any circuitry it hits. At lower powers, the effects are
more subtle: it can throw electronic systems into chaos, often making
them crash. In an age when electronics finds its way into just about everything
bar food and bicycles, it is a sure way to cause mass disruption. Panic
the financial markets and you could make a killing as billions are wiped
off share values. You could freeze transport systems, bring down communications,
destroy computer networks. It's swift, discreet and effective.
Right now, talk of the threat of these weapons is low-key, and many want
it to stay that way But in some circles, concern is mounting. Last month,
James O' Bryon, the deputy director of Live Fire Test & Evaluation
at the US Department of Defense flew to a conference in Scotland to address
the issue. "What we're trying to do is look at what people might
use if they wanted to do something damaging," he says. With good
reason, this is about as much as O' Bryon is happy to divulge.
E-bombs may already be part of the military arsenal. According to some,
these weapons were used during NATO's campaign against Serbia last year
to knock out radar systems. So do they really exist? "Lots of people
are doing lots of work to protect against this type of thing," says
Daniel Nitsch of the German Army Scientific Institute for Protection Technology
in Muster, Lower Saxony. "You can make your own guess."
Interest in electromagnetic weapons was triggered half a century ago,
when the military were testing something a lot less subtle. "If you
let a nuclear weapon off, you get a huge electromagnetic pulse,"
says Alan Phelps of the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. If this
pulse hits electronic equipment, it can induce currents in the circuitry
strong enough to frazzle the electronics. "It can destroy all computers
and communications for miles," says Phelps.
But the military ran into problems when it came to finding out more about
the effects of these pulses. How could they create this kind of powerful
pulse without letting off nuclear bombs? Researchers everywhere took up
the challenge. The scientists knew that the key was to produce intense
but short-lived pulses of electric current. Feeding these pulses
into an antenna pumps out powerful electromagnetic waves with a broad
range of frequencies. The broader the range, the higher the chance that
something electrical will absorb them and bum out.
Researchers quickly realised the most damaging pulses are those that contain
high frequencies. Microwaves in the gigahertz range can sneak into boxes
of electronics through the slightest gap: vent holes, mounting slots or
cracks in the metal casing. Once inside, they can do their worst by inducing
currents in any components they hit. Lower radio frequencies, right down
to a few megahertz, can be picked up by power leads or connectors. These
act as antennas, sending signals straight to the heart of any electronic
equipment they are connected to. If a computer cable picks up a powerful
electromagnetic pulse, the resulting power surge may fry the computer
To cook up high-frequency microwaves, scientists need electrical pulses
that come and go in a flash-around 100 picoseconds, or one ten-billionth
of a second. One way of doing this is to use a set-up called a Marx generator.
This is essentially a bank of big capacitors that can be charged up together,
then discharged one after the other to create a
tidal wave of current. Channelling the current through a series of super-fast
switches trims it down to a pulse of around 300 picoseconds. Pass this
pulse into an antenna and it releases a blast of electromagnetic energy.
Marx generators tend to be heavy, but they can be triggered repeatedly
to fire a series of powerful pulses in quick
Marx generators are at the heart of an experimental weapons system being
built for the US Air Force by Applied Physical Sciences, an electronics
company in Whitewater, Kansas. "We're trying to put them on either
unmanned aerial vehicles or just shells or missiles in an effort to make
an electromagnetic minefield," says Jon Mayes of APS. "If something
flies through it, it'll knock it out." It could also be used on a
plane to bum out the controls of incoming missiles, says Mayes. Put it
on the back of a military jet and if a missile locks onto the plane, the
generator can release a pulse that scrambles the missile's electronics.
Marx generators have the advantage of being able to operate repeatedly.
But to generate a seriously powerful, one-off pulse, you can't beat the
oomph of old-fashioned explosives. The energy stored in a kilo or two
of TNT can be turned into a huge pulse of microwaves using a device called
a flux compressor. This uses the energy of an explosion to cram a
current and its magnetic field into an ever-smaller volume. Sending this
pulse into an antenna creates a deadly burst of radiowaves and microwaves.
Simplicity is one of the flux compressor's big attractions. Just take
a metal tube, pack it with explosives, and stick a detonator in one end.
Then fix the tube inside a cylinder of coiled wire, which has a wire antenna
attached at the far end. Finally, pass a current through the coil to set
up a magnetic field between the metal tube and the coil, and you're ready
to go. Setting off the detonator triggers the charge, sending an explosion
racing along the tube at almost 6000 metres per second. If you could slow
this down, you'd see that in the instant before the explosive pressure
wave begins to shatter the device, the blast flares out the inner metal
tube. The distorted metal makes contact with the coil, causing a short
circuit that diverts the current-and the magnetic field it generates-into
the undisturbed coil ahead of it. As the explosive front advances, the
magnetic field is squeezed into a smaller and smaller volume. Compressing
the field this way creates a huge rise in current in the coil ahead of
the explosion, building a mega-amp pulse just 500 picoseconds wide. Finally,
just before the whole weapon is destroyed in the blast, the current pulse
flows into an antenna, which radiates its electromagnetic energy outwards.
The whole process is over in less than a tenth of a millisecond, but for
an instant it can spray cut a terawatt of power.
Tom Schilling of TPL, an electronics company in Albuquerque, New Mexico,
is working along similar lines with the micro-wave weapons he's developing
for the US Air Force "We're using explosive flux generators to generate
the power, then sending that straight into an antenna" he says. "One
of the systems we're looking at is a guided bomb that can be
dropped oft a plane. Targets would be things like command and control
centres - we should be able to shut those down with little or no collateral
damage." Schillings company is also looking at putting flux compressors
into air-to-air missiles It's an appealing idea, as even a near miss could
bring down a plane
It certainly ought to be practical As long ago as the late 1960s, scientists
sent a pair of flux compressors into the upper atmosphere aboard a small
rocket to generate power for an experiment to study the ionosphere. "You
can build flux compressors smaller than a briefcase," says Ivor Smith,
an electrical engineer at Loughborough University who has worked on these
devices for years. Perhaps the biggest benefit of these weapons is that
they carry the tag "non-lethal". You could take out a city's
communications systems without killing anyone or destroying any buildings.
In addition to the obvious benefits for the inhabitants, this also avoids
the sort of bad press back home that can fuel opposition to a war. But
that doesn't make these weapons totally safe, especially if they're being
used to mess up the electronics of aircraft. "If you're in an aeroplane
that loses its ability to fly, it's going to be bad for you," points
out James Benford of Microwave Sciences in Lafayette, California.
Another big plus for people thinking of using these weapons is that microwaves
pass easily through the atmosphere This means that you can set off your
weapon and inflict damage without having to get close to your target.
"People think in terms of a kilometre away," says Benford According
to some estimates, a flux compressor detonated at an altitude of few hundred
metres could wipe out electronics over a 500-metre radius. Electromagnetic
weapons can be sneaky, too. You don't have to fry everything in sight.
Instead you can hit just hard enough to make electronics crash-they call
it a 'soft kill' in the business-and then quietly do what you came to
do without the enemy ever knowing you've even been there. "That could
be useful in military applications when you just want to make [the opposition]
lose his electronic memory for long enough to do your mission," Benford
says "You can deny you ever did anything," he adds "There's
no shrapnel, no burning wreckage, no smoking gun".
Did it work?
The downside is that it can sometimes be hard to tell when an electromagnetic
weapon has done its job This is compounded by the fact that unless you
know exactly what kind of electronics you are attacking, and how well
protected they are, it's hard to know how much damage a weapon will do.
This unpredictability has been a major problem for the military as it
tries to develop these weapons "Military systems have to go through
an enormous amount of development," says Benford "The key thing
is that it has to have a clearly demonstrated and robust effect."
Tests like this are close to the heart of Nigel Carter, who assesses aircraft
for their sensitivity to microwaves at Britain's Defence Evaluahon and
Research Agency in Famborough, Hampshire Microwaves can easily leak between
panels on the fuselage he says "You've also got an undercarriage
with hatches that open there's leakage through the cockpit, leakage through
any doors." To find out how bad that leakage is, Carter could simply
put the plane in a field and fare away at it
with microwaves But he has to be careful. "If we go blatting away
at a very high level at hundreds of frequencies, people in the nearest
town get a bit upset because they can't watch TV any more," says
Carter. "It's very unpopular". To avoid annoying the neighbours.
Carter beams very low-power microwaves at the plane Sensors on board-linked
by fibre optics to data recorders so they are immune to the microwaves-record
the currents induced in the plane's electronics. Knowing what currents
are produced by weak microwaves. Carter calculates what kinds of currents
are likely to be produced if the plane is hit by a more powerful pulse
of microwaves. "You can then inject those currents directly into
the electronics," he says The results can be dramatic 'The sort of
effects you might expect to get if it's not protected are instrumentation
displaying wrong readings, displays blanking out and you could, in the
worst case, get interference with your flight controls," he says.
The idea of weapons like these being used in warfare is disturbing enough,
but what if criminals get their hands on them? According to Bill Radasky,
an expert in electromagnetic interference with Metatech in Goleta, California,
they may have already done so. A basic microwave weapon, he says can be
cobbled together with bits from an electrical store for just a few hundred
dollars. Such a system would be small enough to fit in the back of a car
and could crash a computer from 100 metres away. Other systems are even
easier to acquire. Some mail-order electronics outlets sell compact microwave
sources that are designed to test the vulnerability of electronics. But
they could just as easily be
used in anger "We've done experiments that show it's very easy to
do," says Radasky. "We've damaged a lot of equipment with those
little boxes." It some reports are to be believed, they're not the
Criminals may have already used microwave weapons, according to Bob Gardner
who chairs the Electromagnetic Noise and Interference Commission of the
International Union of Radio Science in Ghent, Belgium Reports from Russia
suggest that these devices have been used to disable bank security systems
and to disrupt police communications. Another report suggests a London
bank may also have been attacked While these incidents are hard to prove,
they' re perfectly plausible. If you're asking whether it's technologically
reasonable that someone could do something like this," says Gardner,
"then the answer is yes."
Gardner's claims are backed by Nitsch He is investigating how vulnerable
computers and networks are to powerful bursts of microwaves . Surprisingly,
he has found that today's machines are far easier to crash than older
models. He says computer manufacturers used to be more worried about electromagnetic
interference, so they often put blocks of
material inside to absorb stray signals, and ran strips of copper around
the joins in the casing to keep microwaves out. That modern computers
have less protection is bad enough. But they are also more susceptible
because they are more powerful. To push signals around faster, you must
reduce the voltage to ensure that the extra current doesn't make the
processor chips overheat. In the 1980s, most computers operated at 5 volts.
Today's machines operate at nearer 2 volts, says Nitsch, making their
signals easier to disrupt. Networks are particularly susceptible, he adds,
because the hundreds of metres of cabling connecting their workstations
can act as an efficient radiowave receiving antenna.
So are businesses taking the threat seriously? Radasky knows of only one
European company that has protected its control centre against microwave
weapons. Gardner believes it will take a high-profile attack to raise
awareness of the issue. But combine the lack of evidence left by microwaves
with companies' reluctance to admit their systems have been breached and
you'd expect attacks to go unreported. The good news is that protection
isn't too difficult if it's done at the design stage, says Carter The
first thing to do is make sure you've got well-constructed circuits. This
means using strong signals that can easily be distinguished from the fuzz
of noise generated by microwaves. "You also want to make sure your
circuitry only responds at the frequency it's supposed to," he says
So if your computer is intended to respond to signals coming in at 500
megahertz, you want to make sure it won't also respond to signals at twice
that frequency-the kind that could be induced by microwaves. Another step
is to wire in filters that absorb large surges of current-much like those
used to protect against glitches in the mains power supply following lightning
Regardless of whether these weapons have been used yet, they highlight
the way our dependence on electronics could become our Achilles' heel
The next time your computer crashes, don't automatically blame Bill Gates.
Just wander over to the window and look out for that unmarked van that
sometimes parks across the street Could there be someone inside sending
a blast of microwaves your way?
For more information see:
Informant: Dr. Imelda O'Connor
to the theme: are electrical appliances dangerous to your health?
We have a book in English on this very subject: "Killing Fields in
the Home" by Alasdair & Jean Philips see www.powerwatch.org.uk
and select publications.
Also we have some very new controversial mobile phone base station information
on the web site. Could you send the above information to the people on
your list for us?
One of Tom Bearden's most
provocative papers is now posted on the Website at
Written in 1973, it is entitled "Quiton/Perceptron Physics: A Theory
of Existence, Perception, and Physical Phenomena". It is an attempt
at a fundamental answer to the questions of being, time, space, existence,
perception, and physical phenomena.
There are also some most important additions to the Correspondence Section
and EXPLANATION OF THE MOTIONLESS ELECTROMAGNETIC GENERATOR BY SACH'S
THEORY OF ELECTRODYNAMICS has been added at http://www.cheniere.org/references/megsachs/index.htm
There are also new postings in the Cloud Anomaly Section at http://www.cheniere.org/clouds/index.html
The demand for "Energy from the Vacuum - Concepts & Principles"
has been almost overwhelming, and it is thanks to our volunteers such
as Marcia Stockton, and our hard-working printer, Jace, that we have been
able to keep up - see http://www.cheniere.org/books/efv/reviews.htm
Tom Bearden has now finished the Second Edition update of "Fer de
Lance", the Briefing on Soviet Scalar Electromagnetic Weapons, which
will take it up to the year 2002. This Second Edition will contain much
new material, and many new Figures and diagrams. We hope to be publishing
that within the next few months.
The Tom Bearden Website. www.cheniere.org