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From: InfoSec News <isn () c4i org>
Date: Fri, 21 Sep 2001 02:39:26 -0500 (CDT)


September 2001

In the blink of an eye, electromagnetic bombs could throw civilization
back 200 years. And terrorists can build them for $400.

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

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

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.

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