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Electromagnetic Terrorism

Yury V. Parfyonov*

Institute for High Energy Densities

Institute for High Temperatures


In the first two papers referenced below, specialists of the Russian Academy of Sciences carried out an analysis of the threat of electromagnetic terrorism.1 It was noted that by using sources of powerful electromagnetic fields and specialized electrotechnical devices, the operations of electro-intensive targets may be disrupted. Distinct from nuclear, chemical, or biological terrorism, these actions leave no tracks; they do not require the terrorists to use means of individual protection. They may be accomplished at a distance from the target or by mobile means.

The problem of the vulnerability of radio-electronic information and control systems to the influence of electromagnetic radiation is an urgent one. Among the most powerful sources of such radiation are nuclear explosions, which, as is commonly known, are accompanied by the generation of an intense electromagnetic pulse. As a result of this pulse, massive failures of radio-electronic and electrotechnical systems occur over a considerable area, as observed in atmospheric nuclear weapons tests in the 1950s and early 1960s. Under current conditions, with microelectronics permeating all spheres of human life and fulfilling important functions, the influence of the electromagnetic pulse of a nuclear explosion would have global and, in a number of cases, catastrophic consequences. An understanding of this danger led to the creation in the late 1980s of Subcommittee SC77C under the auspices of the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). This subcommittee was assigned the task of working out a set of standards regulating methods and means for protecting civilian facilities from the electromagnetic pulse of a nuclear explosion. This work is nearing completion. The top-priority area for subsequent activities of the subcommittee will be

*

Translated from the Russian by A. Chelsea Sharber.



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Electromagnetic Terrorism Yury V. Parfyonov * Institute for High Energy Densities Institute for High Temperatures In the first two papers referenced below, specialists of the Russian Academy of Sciences carried out an analysis of the threat of electromagnetic terrorism.1 It was noted that by using sources of powerful electromagnetic fields and specialized electrotechnical devices, the operations of electro-intensive targets may be disrupt- ed. Distinct from nuclear, chemical, or biological terrorism, these actions leave no tracks; they do not require the terrorists to use means of individual protection. They may be accomplished at a distance from the target or by mobile means. The problem of the vulnerability of radio-electronic information and control systems to the influence of electromagnetic radiation is an urgent one. Among the most powerful sources of such radiation are nuclear explosions, which, as is commonly known, are accompanied by the generation of an intense electromag- netic pulse. As a result of this pulse, massive failures of radio-electronic and electrotechnical systems occur over a considerable area, as observed in atmo- spheric nuclear weapons tests in the 1950s and early 1960s. Under current condi- tions, with microelectronics permeating all spheres of human life and fulfilling important functions, the influence of the electromagnetic pulse of a nuclear ex- plosion would have global and, in a number of cases, catastrophic consequences. An understanding of this danger led to the creation in the late 1980s of Subcom- mittee SC77C under the auspices of the International Electrotechnical Commis- sion (IEC). This subcommittee was assigned the task of working out a set of standards regulating methods and means for protecting civilian facilities from the electromagnetic pulse of a nuclear explosion. This work is nearing comple- tion. The top-priority area for subsequent activities of the subcommittee will be * Translated from the Russian by A. Chelsea Sharber. 1

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2 RUSSIAN VIEWS ON COUNTERING TERRORISM the development of standards on preventing emergency situations in connection with the threat of unregulated use of nonnuclear sources of powerful electromag- netic radiation. This decision by IEC is a consequence of the fact that a number of countries now have generators that can produce radiation comparable in intensity with the electromagnetic pulse of a nuclear explosion and would therefore have a more effective impact on radio-electronic systems. The high effectiveness of these generators is explained by the following factors: 1. They emit not a single pulse, as occurs in a nuclear explosion, but a series of pulses repeated with frequencies of up to several thousand hertz. 2. The radiation pulses are more broad-banded than the electromagnetic pulse of a nuclear explosion, and they cover the spectrum of sensitivity of most civilian infrastructure targets. It should be specifically noted that the construction of super broad-band pulse generators is relatively simple. They may be manufactured in semiprimi- tive conditions with minimal expense. By this reasoning, analysts predict that these devices will fall into the hands of terrorists, common criminals, and hooli- gans.2 In the opinion of specialists, the consequences of their ill-intentioned or careless use will be extremely serious. Such consequences could include avia- tion, automobile, and railway accidents; obstruction of radio communications over large areas; disruption of the operations of computer systems in major banks, supermarkets, and control centers; obstruction of technical security sys- tems in major museums, art galleries, vaults containing valuables, and other secured facilities; breakdowns in the operations of the system for controlling electric power facilities; and so forth. Of course, such predictions require serious examination and, if they are even partially confirmed, the implementation of serious measures to prevent acts of electromagnetic terrorism and to develop methods for eliminating the conse- quences of emergency situations in the event such acts are perpetrated. A limited study was conducted by specialists from the Institute of Thermophysics of Ex- treme States of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Two types of experiments were carried out, one investigating the action of super broad-band electromag- netic pulses on computers and the other studying the effect of these pulses on technical security systems. In the course of the experiments, it was established that the computers under investigation failed when exposed to electromagnetic pulses with an amplitude on the order of several hundred volts per meter. This confirmed the prediction about the danger of super broad-band periodic repeat- ing electromagnetic pulses for computer hardware. The experiments also showed that the following events occurred subject to the amplitude of electromagnetic pulses acting on technical security systems:

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 HIGH IMPACT TERRORISM 1. Failure of the elements of the security equipment; 2. False sensor readings, forcing security personnel to turn off the seeming- ly defective equipment; and 3. Temporary neutralization of security systems. The last possibility calls for special concern, since it involves the likelihood that a criminal could get past the security system without sensors’ making the appropriate signal to the central control station. Apart from experiments utilizing the super broad-band electromagnetic pulse generator, the possibility of perpetrating terrorist acts using simpler and cheaper means was also investigated. One such means would be a high-voltage pulse generator. A set of theoretical and experimental investigations was carried out regarding the way in which this voltage permeates computer systems. The five- story building in which the institute is situated was chosen as the site of the investigation. The goal of the work was to demonstrate the possibility of causing a consid- erable number of computers to fail by hitting them with pulses of current through the power supply and grounding circuits. Moreover, the points of entry for the pulses were located outside the building. According to the results of this work, it is possible to confirm that the electric power supply and grounding circuits rep- resent an effective channel for the permeation of electrical pulses into the build- ing, despite the presence of voltage limiters and filters. The test signals reached computers in the building practically without weakening, and in a number of cases the signals were even strengthened as a result of resonance phenomena. Estimations indicate that the failure of practically all the computers in the build- ing could be caused by using a 10-100-kV pulse generator linked to the power supply and grounding circuits of the institute building. In addition to the aforementioned experiments, the parameters of the ground- ing system in a major telecommunications center were also measured. A consid- erable imbalance was discovered in the parameters of the grounding devices of different receiving and transmitting stations. As a result, even at minimal (mea- sured) levels of probing signals, failures were observed in the operations of the digital telecommunications system. There is no doubt that with a feed of pulses from 10-100 kV, these systems will fail. Thus, it is possible to state that effective technical means of protection against electromagnetic terrorism must be developed. It may be necessary to review and enhance rules regarding grounding devices and the laying of power cable. In any case, research should continue, and immediate measures should be developed and implemented. Such efforts will be even more useful, given that they will increase the stability of electronic systems against any electromagnetic obstacles, including lightning discharges, discharges of static electricity, et cet- era. Inasmuch as terrorism has taken on an international character in recent years,

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 RUSSIAN VIEWS ON COUNTERING TERRORISM causing serious anxiety in all industrially developed countries, it would be expe- dient to take measures to facilitate international collaboration in this area. Among other possible efforts, it is necessary to organize a joint experiment on assessing the real danger of electromagnetic terrorism and developing means of protection. NOTES 1. Fortov, V.E. 2000. About the potential possibility of commitment of large-scale terrorist acts by using electrotechnical devices. EUROEM 2000, Edinburgh, May 30-June 2, 2000. Fortov, V.E. 2001. A computer code for estimating pulsed electromagnetic disturbances penetrating into building power and grounding circuits. 14th International Zurich Symposium on Electromagnetic Compatibility. 2. Schriner, D. 1998. The design and fabrication of a damage inflicting RF weapon by “back yard” methods. Statement before the United States Congress Joint Economic Committee, Wednes- day, February 25, 1998.