back to article Defence Minister 'to big up electropulse threat' - report

New UK defence minister Liam Fox has fallen into the clutches of fearmongering armsbiz lobbyists, according to reports. The Telegraph reports on a behind-closed-doors speech by Dr Fox at an event today organised by Avi Schnurr, a lobbyist known for pushing the idea that various expensive defence technologies should be …


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  1. Paul 25
    Thumb Down

    Isn't this called a conflict of interests?

    The chair of a parliamentary committee being a board member of an organisation with interests in the same area?

    Surely that shouldn't be allowed.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      in a fair and just world... ROFL. You know we're talking about politicians here?

      *wonders if can get a job as a £2000 an hour consultant, blind the politicians with the science of faraday cages, then wrap everything in tinfoil*

  2. M7S

    "Space Katrina"

    Avio Schnurr reportedly refers to "once in a century" super-flares. The last one may well account for some dirsuption to the telegraph system (still going on if the performance of my BT landline is anything to go by).

    What the article fails to mention is the previous event (or sequence thereof) and the electrical disruption resulting from this that enables him to deduce their frequency, so to speak.

    I'd have expected better analysis from the Telegraph reporter, but probably he felt it difficult to challenge the sci-fi plot he was being fed with a name like "Kirkup".

  3. blackworx

    Evil Sean Bean in Goldeneye

    Shurely you mean "Evil Richard Sharpe in Goldeneye"?

    He don't like French. His wife don't like French neither.

  4. Marco Mieshio

    What a load of tripe

    The government have just caught wind (no pun intended) of the fact that a solar flare is a real threat to the continuity of our species and have decided to dress it up as a terrorist threat so that they can fund the process without any back benchers bemoaning the expenditure during this financial crisis. Anyone with an ouce of knowledge in this area knows that EMP is not directional and is indiscrimiate in knocking out electrical devices so would likely affect terrorist facilities as well as their intended targets. Any terrorist wishing to take out a city would require a device as big as a 20 storey block of flats. Of course this is purely theoretical of course as the only time we have witnessed EMP or gamma radiation like this is during a nuclear explosion. If of course (like the Russians) we reverted back to valve technology we would not have this worry of a natural solar event as they would continue to work. Our Integrated circuits would fry during an electron storm and even bring planes down from the sky. If anything this is the ideal opportunity for government to start the ball rolling on protecting our future technology from natural phenomena. A faraday cage around our electrical installations and devices would offer some protection and provide at least some coverage to our national infrastruture. The truth is however that if we do experience a massive solar storm as NASA suggests in 2012/12 then we have very little time to implement anything any way.

  5. ESQ


    For those you haven't really looked into it, I understand the initial skepticism - I really do. I also understand the reluctance to take the time to really learn about it, and why it's important now. That said, PLEASE don't be so quick to dismiss this threat and just move on. The threat of EMP (made-made and solar) is real, and there are practical solutions - and those solutions don't need to come from some big defense firm or company. In fact, many of the solutions simply involve better planning (including at the indivivual level), and taking simple measures to help protect key electronics and other infrestructures (and/or spare parts). Moreover, the the U.S. is FINALLY taking steps toward inacting some simple measures to start protecting its electric grids. This is actually a good news story - it's not 'doom-and-gloom.' You know what they say about an ounce of prevention right? Well, that can be done on all levels. Just think about what your life would be like if you had NO electricity or the things that rely on electricity for months, or even years. Don't think it can happen, or don't understand how it could happen? Well, PLEASE just take the time to look into this enough to better understand it. For more information, check out - maybe watch a few featured videos at

    EMPact America, the foremost electromagnetic pulse (EMP) education and advocacy organization in the world, has an entire website and radio network dedicated to EMP and national security. It has 0 profit motive, and is just trying to educate people about this issue.

    On EMPact America’s website, you can read source materials (including official US Congressional Commission reports) and watch various types of videos about nuclear and solar EMP, including exclusive video from the historic EMPact America EMP conference, featuring America’s top EMP experts (, congressional hearings, and additional clips from such other trusted sources as National Geographic’s ‘Electronic Armageddon,’ which featured EMPact America’s Chairman, President, and many of its speakers/affiliates. There’s also a forum with blogs, comments, and discussion on this critical topic.

    Based in Elma, NY (USA), EMPact America is a non-partisan, non-profit organization for citizens dedicated to protecting America from a man-made or natural electromagnetic pulse (EMP) catastrophe. EMPact America's primary goals include educating the American people on the EMP threat and solutions, and helping them to act effectively for their safety and security.

    Please take a few minutes of your time to visit: right now

    1. Hollerith 1

      uh huh...

      The Chinese have a proverb: "if 1000 people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing".

  6. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    @Marco Mieshio

    A few points.

    The critical infrastructure (as El Reg has reported before) seems to be the back bone of the power grid, especially the *very* large transformers used in it (and BTW to power the top quality vacuum arc furnaces to make the still used to make them).

    In *principle* protective measures involve finding a way to get enough early warning (NASA seem to have put a new probe in Solar orbit to replace the old SOHO vehicle that did this job for about 15 years).of the event to segment the grids, probably backed by quite a lot of very large surge surpressors (most PC power supplies have them but I think the one he has in mind are nearer the height of peoples living rooms).

    During the 80s the UK GEC Marconi company (and I think one of the US National Labs IE Livermore or Los Alamos) looked at chips using very small narrow cone shaped electrodes working by field emission rather than thermionic emission and vacuum (rather than silicon oxide) as the insulator. Fiendishly difficult to fabricate with an apparently small market (and being V 0.7 a suitably high price tag and low integration level, about that of a standard TTL chip).

    I got the impression was mostly about *solar* events, not terrorist EMP bombs.

    Has *anyone* (even the ever optimistic maniacs of DARPA) actually *built* one of these things for real? I've seen various discussions of ideas for them but actual *genuine* kill a bunch of electronic equipment (ideally included the hardened military stuff) stone dead in say a 100m radius demonstrations?

  7. StuartMcL


    Gee, just at the same time as they are pushing the threat, along comes a release of two year old news about a sting by the FBI which involved attempts to sell EMP technology to a "rogue state".

    How convenient

  8. Graham 25

    We had one once ...

    The UK had a fully EMP proof communications network for about 10 years and would have survived an attack almost fully intact. While it was build in the days when dial up was prevalent and relied on voice and packet networks, it was designed to survive precisely the sort of threat outlined above.

    Through a network of over 100 nuclear hardened bunkers, each with EMP vaults only penetrated by fibre and massively fitered power systems, it could survive virtually anything. Systesm were triplicated as a minimum and were fully power backed.

    It was dismantled by about 2003 as it was no longer required, as the Eastern European/Russian threat of nuclear attack had largely gone away.

    All the kit was ditched, and sold off. The buildings have largely been mothballed an/or demolished.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Funny old world

    From what I saw they had bascially stopped caring about EMP over a decade ago

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    More bluster mixed with a spurious grasp of the facts

    "Right Honourable James Arbuthnot, Tory chairman of the Parliamentary Defence Committee and relentless arms-industry point man inside the government"

    He's not a member of the government. No Select Committee chairs are.

  11. Rogerborg

    You'll thank him when the Klingons don't kill us

    Bit late to create a Disruptor shield when you're already a pile of ashes.

  12. Anonymous Coward

    Save the infrastructure!

    "The idea that terrorists or a rogue nation might launch a devastating electromagnetic pulse (EMP) strike against western civilisation is an old one. It has tended to lack credibility as the only known way to generate a worthwhile EMP is to detonate a nuclear weapon, and most observers find it difficult to see why someone with nuclear bombs and the desire to hurt western civilisation wouldn't simply blow up selected cities."

    When I was involved back in the 70s/80s with trying to deal with this idea the scenario was that a good EMP would knock out all the defences without destroying buildings and people. All that would happen would be a paralysis of the telecomms, power and transport systems which would enable the aggressor to invade almost unopposed. A nuclear blast well above ground level was supposed to do this. Sounds still scary enough today but bringing down the InterTubes might be enough on its own. It would not need a nuke either!

    The problem is I can't see how to use a Paris icon on this one.

  13. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Red Team Penetrations BetaTesting .... ZerodDay Vulnerability Parameters and Defense Protocols

    "But cyber defence also covers conventional network security, which many would say is a more serious issue than solar storms or pulse strikes. And there are quite a few more observers who would be inclined to see even cyberwar net defences as more of an industry-driven grab at the public purse - perhaps quite worrying in a civil liberties context to boot - than as rational spending to meet a genuine threat."

    Let me assure you that an effective cyber attack, which may at first appear to those who may notice such things .... and they are rare enough beings too [].... to be no more than a crazy useless virtual drive-by, will leave behind more viral problems to be energized at a remote and unknown controller's will, than you are obviously presently capable of imagining to be realistic.

    And it is as well to realise from the outset, that the field is not industry driven, it is intelligence led, and invariably the forte of individuals, who would command an exorbitant price to reflect the catastrophic value of damage which can be wrought across systems with such as their expertise in competitor or opponent's hands/virtual arsenals, rather than any collective effort. In much the same way as a general would be marshal of a battle and an army of troops and weapons.

    But don't be expecting a cyber attack to be anything resembling a "normal" attack, which can be countered with anything physical like a force. To imagine that to be the case has one identified as being totally out of one's depth and unfit for to either lead or server in what are AI and IT Fields and Live Operational virtual Environments.

    Forewarned is Forearmed they say ..... so now, Proper Preparation and Planning to Prevent Piss Poor Performance should Present to the Future no Possible excuse for a Strategic Defensive Failure in a Most Irregular and Unconventional Security Theatre.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Surely easier ways of disruption everything

    I drive past 'leccy pylons everyday. You only need 50 pylons down spread over the whole country to knacker the grid. (That number is a complete guess, but you know what I mean)

    That way you just need a few kilos of C4 (or whatever) for each pylon. Christ, even 50 blokes with petrol driven angle grinders could do the job.

    Much easier than trying to build an EMP weapon. They tried something similar in DieHard 104 or whichever, but via computer hacking methods. Still think C4/Angle grinders is easier.

  15. Pete 2 Silver badge

    Dear minister,

    It has come to my attention that this country faces serious threats from as yet undisclosed sources of an unknown nature. It is my considered opinion that the treasury should allocate funds sufficient for us to identify all unknown threats and thence to develop countermeasures against them.

    Given the nature of the problem, it will not be possible to say when all the unknown threats have been uncovered, therefore it will be necessary for this project to be open-ended. Further, until the nature of these threats is known, the cost of countermeasures will also, be unknowable. I would therefore suggest that we waste no time in starting to look into these potentially disastrous possibilities and set up a series of committees to monitor progress. We should also invite tenders for research into the nature of future developments and provide finance accordingly.

    Given your position at the centre of this initiative, you will be ideally placed to direct the companies carrying out this never-ending research and subsequent development when your present term as minister for imaginary, scary hokum comes to an end. This will be a job for life, or until the next government comes to its senses and I therefore popose we dub this PROJECT GRAVYTRAIN.

    Yours sincerely


    1. mmiied

      re: Dear minister

      can the first itam on your budget be a new keybord my current one has been atacked by liquid based injection methords

  16. Knowledge
    Thumb Up

    Great opening line...

    "New UK defence minister Liam Fox has fallen into the clutches of fearmongering armsbiz lobbyists, according to reports."

    If only the rest of the pathetic newsweb could cut through the crap so accurately! Well done El Reg!

  17. kissingthecarpet

    Liam Fox

    = waste of space

    1. Bilgepipe

      No Fair

      It's not fair of you to just single out a single member of Government as a waste of space. They all are.

  18. Anomalous Cowturd

    Hey LOOK every-one, a nice shiny new trough!

    Snouts at the ready piggies!

    Trough on.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    What a lovely name. Schnurr. I think I'll sit in my rocking chair and go "Schnurr...." all evening now. Wonderful.

  20. PhallusOfJustice


    You might want to watch dispatches tonight on Channel 4 at 8pm if you are at all surprised by the conflict of interest.

  21. NoDosh

    I for one

    welcome our magnet-waving overlords.

    So where do I sign?No, really, I want in on this one. My utter lack of knowledge of the subject, combined with some paranoia and a ruthless determination to make money should make me a shoe-in.

  22. Anonymous Coward


    Imagine a major internet exchange being EMPed !! All the violence from men who could not let off their steam in front of fresh porn served by their internet connection.

    I say we need Emergency Porn Stores in every telephone exchange. My estimate is that 100 Tbyte would be the lowest figure.

  23. "Dead Eye"

    Coincidences again?

    And. as those of us wh were watching the idiot-box (Spooks) last (Monday) night now know, an EMP-device could be used as a *defensive* "weapon" to disable high-tech attacks...

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Graham 25

    "The UK had a fully EMP proof communications network for about 10 years and would have survived an attack almost fully intact. While it was build in the days when dial up was prevalent and relied on voice and packet networks, it was designed to survive precisely the sort of threat outlined above.

    Through a network of over 100 nuclear hardened bunkers, each with EMP vaults only penetrated by fibre and massively fitered power systems, it could survive virtually anything."

    The UK still does have nuclear bunkers with protection mechanisms as you describe" who sole purpose to provide communication facilites.

  25. TkH11

    Copper lined rooms

    So what they gonna do to protect us from this?

    Build iron and copper lined houses? Office buildings, super markets?

    Give us big metal doors with berillium copper finger strips down the edges and we're to keep the doors shut all the time? Remove all glass windows from Office buildings?

  26. Lottie


    does that mean the sun is a terrorist? If I buy a solar panel to charge my phone, will I be working with a terrorist?

    O Noes!

  27. J 7


    is it coincidence that last nights episode of "Spooks" featured just such an EMP weapon used in central London???? (although it was used by the "good" guys to defeat a terrorist bomb in a submarine

  28. TeeCee Gold badge

    "...fearmongering armsbiz lobbyists..."

    Who appear to have an inside track to nobble the Beeb if last night's "Spooks" is anything to go by.

    Apparently you can put one of these electropulse superweapons under the Palace of Westminster and this is the ULTIMATE DEFENCE AGAINST TERRORISM!!!!!!111!!!!!

    That should stop any pesky reality checks interfering with the signing of humungoresearchwonga cheques. After all, when it comes to convincing MPs that something's a Good Thing you can't beat easily knocking off 40-knot drug-subs stuffed with explosives in the Thames*, can you?

    *However hopelessly bleedin' unlikely *that* may be.

  29. Anonymous Coward

    emp devices are 50 years old


    but in fact even the mighty US military has never succeeded in building a useful conventional EMP weapon, either explosives-pumped or of the electrically-powered High Power Microwave (HPM) type


    what! haven't you read (unclassified) NATO AGARD 1995 CONFERENCE PROCEEDINGS 564 High Power Microwaves (HPM) AGARDD-CP-564 mentions realistic Vircators, triaxial klystrons etcetera or done a search on "Электромагнитные боеприпасы ЭМБП", seems to me that there exist weaponised EMP systems already for decades?

    photo at of the E45 and E46 EMP devices, allegedly!

  30. Sceptical Bastard

    Anyone remember .,..

    ... the Millenium Bug?

    Obviously the terrorist threat from electro-magnetic pulse 'bombs' is just far-fetched FUD. But I suspect that e-mp threats from solar winds will prove to be the next 'millenium bug' - a threat that sounds plausible and frightening in foresight but which will prove largely unfounded.

    Either that or all the lights will go out and we'll all die.

  31. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    @Sceptical Bastard

    "Anyone remember... the Millenium Bug"

    Most of the people who actually *worked* on this issue (rather than hearing about it) knew if it worked no *one* would thank them as

    1) It would take a *lot* of developer time to test (because when the code base is *decades* old you can forget looking at the source) and the *best* you could hope for was a null result.

    2) Managers would feel vindicated that their predecessors decisions to save on how much disk storage they'd have to buy was vindicated, green lighting their own corner cutting next time.

    3) Managers would go into panic mode to get a jump on all the projects they had in back log while their staff were on this.

    Y2K was not an issue because a *lot* of people made *sure* it was not. Quite a lot of people got rich peddling assorted magic bullets to save companies doing the work (some worked, some didn't YMMV)

    *Human* made EMP had taken place (Look up "Starfish" in 1962) . Weather it's feasible in anything smaller than a nuke (let alone something that can be knocked up in a cave) is *highly* debatable.

    It is a fact that solar events above the atmosphere *can* deliver lethal levels of particle radiation. It is a fact charged particles hitting the upper atmosphere can induce very large currents in electricity supply grids and in principle anything that can act as an aerial (like a lot of data cabling).

    How *often* this is likely to happen *is* debatable. How much hardening *above* what is happening as systems shift to fibre optic connections and the speeding up of isolation switches to segment the grid are *also* debatable.

    The problem is the consequences.

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