Monday, April 06, 2009


The second category of crazy associated with electromagnetic pulse doom lobby is filled with 'experts' who believe electromagnetic pulse weapons can be easily made from stuff cadged at Radio Shack. (Well, not quite, but for the sake of this post, the demographic extends into this domain of consumer electronic store junk.)

"Electromagnetic pulse weapons capable of frying the electronics in civil airliners can be built using information and components available on the net, warn counterterrorism analysts," reads a very recent piece of EMP crazy emission at the New Scientist. (If you saw it originally, readers will note the other 'most read' story on the site -- how masturbation might protect one from hay fever, certainly puts the entire matter in proper perspective.)

Written for decades -- the original electromagnetic pulse gun stories date from at least as early as 1994 -- this flavor always has one thing of note: EMP rayguns are easy to make from plans found on the web and materials available in every town.

The New Scientist story obfuscates this cliche only slightly. Instead of using the word 'easy,' practical synonyms are employed.

"[An 'expert'] told delegates at the annual Directed Energy Weapons conference in London last month that ... basic EMP generators can be built from descriptions available online, using components found in devices such as digital cameras," reads New Scientist. "These are technologically unchallenging to build and most of the information necessary is available," she said.

The article's conclusion: "All it would take to bring a plane down would be a single but highly energetic microwave radio pulse blasted from a device inside a plane, or on the ground and trained at an aircraft coming in to land."

Forget peroxide bombs, shoe bombs, and off-the-shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles: EMP rayguns near LAX or SEATAC are the new threat.

To get a handle on the numbing character, as well as the fiction-fueled mania, surrounding non-nuclear electromagnetic pulse weapons, it's again necessary to visit the WayBack Machine and the archives of DD's old Crypt Newsletter.

"Talk of the secret electromagnetic pulse bomb was mythology as news, taking on a uniquely American demented quality," wrote Crypt News in a syndicated feature published around the beginning of the second war in Iraq, the one we're still in.

"No other single weapon -- real or imagined -- rivaled its power for sensation. In fact, in a nation where photographs of all weapons, no matter how trivial, are either officially distributed by the Department of Defense or leaked to the public, it was simply astonishing that absolutely none existed of the e-bomb.

"Bubbling over with excitement at something they'd never seen, the media mused openly on a wondrous capacity to destroy the Iraqi military without harming people. How the bomb would stop soldiers with old-fashioned artillery, automatic weapons, or tanks was nowhere to be seen. And guerrilla warfare was completely off the radar.

"Instead, the U.S. media furnished hyperventilated comment on the wonder bomb, exclamations suitable for Hollywood script.

"' Kabammy! A huge electronic wave comes along and sends out a few thousand volts," blared one newspaper. '. . . like man-made lightning bolts!' crowed another. Weeeee! Watch out Iraq, said the American buffoon corps, it's the e-bomb.

"Reporters certainly believed this copy. As non-embedded journalists moved into Baghdad in the days prior to hostilities, editors contacted military analysts asking for advice on how to e-bomb-proof the electronic tools of the profession. Would cell phones survive? Could a microwave oven be used as an improvised microwave-proof carrier?"

Readers may have already noted that electromagnetic pulse weapon stories also have another salient feature: The bombs and rayguns are always coming but never quite arriving.

A collection of comment and blurt from various EMP weapon kooks was originally published here in "Calling Victor von Doom."

That piece, from the Crypt Newsletter, cites an original electromagnetic pulse gun story from 1994 in Forbes magazine, one in which hackers are interviewed for their expertise in such things.

The EMP-weapon-used-against-Iraq (this time in the first war) 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."

A few years later, electromagnetic pulse weapons were the subject of a hearing before the House Joint Economic Committee. A handful of the regular crazies from the EMP lobby were convened to inform congressmen of the grave threat. Perhaps the best testimony was given by Robert Schweitzer, a retired military man with a whopping six Purple Hearts. Schweitzer had also served on Ronald Reagan's National Security Council in 1981.

During the hearing, Schweitzer made contradictory statements during the course of his presentation. At different times he claimed that electromagnetic pulse guns could be made for $800, that they could be made for $35, that they had been used against London banks although he was informed this was a hoax, and such weapons were now capable of disrupting Wall Street.

Schweitzer asked listeners to imagine the danger posed by a truck-mounted electromagnetic pulse gun driving around on Wall Street, catastrophically messing up all the banks and investment firms. (DD thinks this is very finely amusing in 2009, almost fifteen years later.)

" . . . the cost is about $800 to do this," Schweitzer said at one point.

As for knocking out Wall Street, Schweitzer later commented to Congressman Saxton, "[It] can be done with going to RadioShack and buying the components . . . And the prices are from $35 to $200 to buy components and do a number on Wall Street." Schweitzer also alluded to, but did not mention by name, a generic hacker tech catalog that claimed to sell parts and schematics for such a weapon.

Schweitzer added later: "I validated [this]. It isn't just taking rumors or drivel off of the tabloids. These are solid facts that I'm giving you."

Well, whatever. Schweitzer died a few years later, gone to the grave without ever witnessing the advent of the phantom electromagnetic pulse weapon.

The characteristics of notional or reported but not seen electromagnetic pulse guns have always adhered to the tenets described by Irving Langmuir's observations on pathological science -- another way of describing rubbish.

"The maximum effect that is observed is produced by a causative agent of barely detectable intensity, and the magnitude of the effect is substantially independent of the intensity of the cause," observed Langmuir. In a manner of speaking, check.

"The effect is of a magnitude that remains close to the limit of detectability; or, many measurements are necessary because of the very low statistical significance of the results."


"Claims of great accuracy." See New Scientist, the testimony of Robert Schweitzer, and many others.

"Fantastic theories contrary to experience."

To these can be added: "Proof" defined as regular appearances in newspapers and on the covers of popular magazines but not, somehow, in the real world; plus a handful of 'experts' always claiming that the technology is easy, readily available -- "technologically unchallenging" and generally available on the Internet.

Indeed, for even daring to rehash this DD will receive mail and comment from the EMP crazy lobby.

"I have made an electromagnetic pulse raygun!" someone will write. Why, of course you have, dear sir.

Link to original.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Carrington Event anyone?

8:34 AM  
Blogger Jake said...

So, you think just because it hasn't happened anyone who would prepare for it is a kook?

and just because it takes a bit more technology than can be picked up at Radio Shack, you don't think China or North Korea wouldn't like to see their EMP-enhanced nuke handed off to an al-Qieda type outfit launched off a Somalia-hijacked ship 200 miles off our shore (US) - you don't think China wouldn't love for the US to go back to wood burning stoves while they feed their veracious oil appetite from the their burgeoning middle-class all scrambling to own SUV's and and house?

Why would you spend your time writing two articles about something that only kooks worry about?

I'm betting the folks at Hiroshima and Nagasaki probably didn't believe something as powerful as a nuke would ever be dropped on them...

an EMP launched off the deck of a freighter is way more tempting from an asymmetrical attack than having to actually smuggle in a suitcase nuke and trying to actually devastate a city or region... properly done and they can sit back while we eat our own...

have you read 'one second after'?

how would things go in your mind if an EMP were successfully deployed?

5:37 PM  

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