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Monthly Archive: April 2005

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Thursday, April 28, 2005
Unready Propaganda

Senator Jon Kyl says that we're not ready for an EMP attack from terrorists. Possible rationale: Pulp fiction worked to get us into a war with Iraq; perhaps a dab of science fiction may help us get into a REAL war. Read on.

Jon Kyl is the Republican senator from Arizona who chairs the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on terrorism, technology and homeland security. After several weeks of hearings with technologists, weapons experts, criminologists, and other experts, Kyl has singled out one chilling scenario worthy of an editorial in the April 15 issue of the Washington Post.

Entitled "Unready for this Attack" he paints a tidy picture of terror - an "electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack on the American homeland" delivered by a "single Scud missile, carrying a single nuclear weapon, detonated at the appropriate altitude" that would "knock out already stressed power grids and other electrical systems across much or even all of the continental United States, for months if not years."

Being a Replicant... oops... I mean Republican... he is unlikely aware that this scenario has been mulled over by various improbable scifi novels and television shows; I say improbable because he glosses over several important points.

A SCUD could never cut the mustard - it does not have the range nor could it reach the necessary altitude to achieve the "global" high-altitude EMP effect described (I mean, where does he think they're going to fire this thing from - Ontario?). Moreover, it couldn't carry a large enough payload. Engineers say that it is possible that a true ICBM could do the job - but even the North Korean launching devices lack the technological muscle to pull it off. Hell, we're the ONLY country that currently has that kind of technology.

Both the Soviet and American military industries experimented with several EMP concepts - all discarded because the attack solution required very precise calculations of atmospheric density, temperature, blast size, et cetera - and there was no guaranteed payoff. In other words, you could probably do some damage, but it was far from a knockout punch.

If you really wanted to use EMP as a terror weapon, it would be far cheaper if you and some friends wandered around zapping HERF guns. These are high energy radio frequency devices, currently available for $150, that can produce enough of an EMP field to disrupt digital equipment. About the size of a backpack and sporting an output of about 16 megawatts, this device has a few problems - very short range and I think that it's pretty much a one-use weapon. You could wipe out a traffic signal controller then you'd have to go home and recharge for another shot. Frankly, you'd wind up pissing off a lot of people. It would be easier to don some black and get a .22 with a scope - now that's terrorism.

A nice way to say this... Senator Kyl's message of caution is premature. Not so nice: it is blatant scaremongering propaganda at its worst. One wonders about the timing - is it groundwork to nuke Iran? Did you hear the Israeli rumor that some US envoy has been running around the middle east delivering this simple verbal message - it goes basically like this - "Clean our clock, and we'll nuke every damn one of you sons of bitches." Ah, rumors are great, aren't they?

A quote for our times - a sentiment shared by many: "I don't know who to believe and I don't know who to be more fearful of - us or them."

I remain, unbelieving and fearful. -HP

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