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Is the Government Striking the Ionosphere of the Earth?


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Project HAARP: The Military's Plan to Alter the Ionosphere

by Clare Zickuhr and Gar Smith

Fall 1994

Clare Zickuhr, a former ARCO employee and ham radio operator based in Anchorage, is a founder of the NO HAARP campaign. Gar Smith is editor of the editor of Earth Island Journal.

The Pentagon's mysterious HAARP project, now under construction at an isolated Air Force facility near Gakona, Alaska, marks the first step toward creating the world's most powerful "ionospheric heater." Scientists, environmentalists and native peoples are concerned that HAARP's electronic transmitters -- capable of beaming "in excess of 1 gigawatts" (one billion watts) of radiated power into the Earth's ionosphere -- could harm people, endanger wildlife and trigger unforeseen environmental impacts.

The High Frequency Active Auroral Research Project (HAARP), a joint effort of the Air Force and the Navy, is the latest in a series of a little-known Department of Defense (DoD) "active ionospheric experiments" with code-names like EXCEDE, RED AIR and CHARGE IV.

"From a DoD point of view," internal HAARP documents state, "the most exciting and challenging" part of the experiment is "its potential to control ionospheric processes" for military objectives [emphasis in the original]. According to these documents, the scientists pulling HAARP's strings envision using the system's powerful 2.8-10 megahertz (MHz) beam to burn "holes" in the ionosphere and "create an artificial lens" in the sky that could focus large bursts of electromagnetic energy "to higher altitudes... than is presently possible." The minimum area to be heated would be 50 km (31 miles) in diameter.

The initial $26 million, 320 kW HAARP project will employ 360 72-foot-tall antennas spread over four acres to direct an intense beam of focused electromagnetic energy upwards to strike the ionosphere. The Earth's ionosphere is composed of a layer of negatively and positively charged particles (electrons and ions) lying between 35 and 500 miles above the planet's surface. The next stage of the project would expand HAARP's power to 1.7 gigawatts (1.7 billion watts), making it the most powerful such transmitter on Earth. While the project's acronym implies experimentation with the Earth's aurora, HAARP's public documents make no mention of this aspect. For a project whose backers hail it as a major scientific feat, HAARP has remained extremely low-profile -- almost unknown to most Alaskans, and the rest of the country.

A November 1993 "HAARP Fact Sheet" released to the public by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) stated that the Department of Defense (DoD)-backed project would "enhance present civilian capabilities" in communications and "provide significant scientific advancements." However, while previous DoD experiments with smaller high frequency (HF) heaters in Puerto Rico, Norway and Alaska were conducted to "gain [a] better understanding" of the ionosphere, internal HAARP documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) reveal that the project's goal is to "perturb" the ionosphere with extremely powerful beams of energy and study "how it responds to the disturbance and how it ultimately recovers...."

The public fact sheet describes HAARP as "purely a scientific research facility which represents no threat to potential adversaries and would therefore have no value as a military target." However, while ionospheric experiments at the government's Puerto Rico transmitter site are managed by the civilian National Science Foundation, the Journal has learned that proposals for experiments on HAARP are to be routed through the Pentagon's Office of Naval Research.

A February 1990 Air Force-Navy document acquired by the Journal lists only military experiments for the HAARP project, including: "Generation of ionospheric lenses to focus large amounts of HF energy at high altitudes... providing a means for triggering ionospheric processes that potentially could be exploited for DoD purposes...; Generation of ionization layers below 90 km [56 miles] to provide radio wave reflectors ("mirrors") which can be exploited for long range, over-the-horizon, HF/VHF/UHF surveillance purposes, including the detection of cruise missiles and other low observables." The document concluded that "the potential for significantly altering regions of the ionosphere at relatively great distances (1000 km or more ) [621 miles] from a heater is very desirable" from a military perspective.

One of HAARP's less-publicized goals is to find ways to disrupt the global communications capabilities of adversaries while preserving US defense communications. The Pentagon also wants to know if HAARP could bounce signals to deeply submerged nuclear subs by heating the ionosphere to trigger bursts of Extremely Long Frequency (ELF) radio waves.

Patents held by ARCO Power Technologies, Inc. (APTI), the ARCO subsidiary that was contracted to build HAARP, describe a similar ionospheric heater invented by Bernard Eastlund that claimed the ability to disrupt global communications, destroy enemy missiles and change weather (see sidebar). One of ARCO's patents identifies Alaska as a perfect site for a transmitter because "magnetic field lines... which extend to desirable altitudes for this invention, intersect the Earth in Alaska."

While HAARP officials deny any link to Eastlund's inventions, Eastlund has told National Public Radio that a secret military project was begun in the late-1980s to study and implement his work and, in the May/June 1994 issue of Microwave News, Eastlund claimed that "The HAARP project obviously looks a lot like the first step" toward his vision of surrounding the entire planet with a "full, global shield" of charged particles that could explode incoming enemy missiles.

The military implications of HAARP were further underscored in June, when ARCO sold APTI to E-Systems, a defense contractor noted for its work in counter-surveillance.

Electromagnetic Guinea Pigs

HAARP surfaced publicly in Alaska in the spring of 1993, when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) began advising commercial pilots on how to avoid the large amounts of intentional (and some unintentional) electromagnetic radiation that HAARP would generate. Despite the protests of FAA engineers and Alaska bush pilots (for whom reliable communications can be a matter of life or death) the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) gave HAARP the green light. Ironically, the FEIS also concluded that the project's radio interference would be too intense to allow HAARP to be located near any military facilities.

On November 11, 1993, Inupiat tribal advisor Charles Etok Edwarden, Jr., wrote to the White House on behalf of the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope and the Kasigluk Elders Conference. "Many of us are not happy with the prospect of ARCO altering the Earth's neutral atmospheric properties," Edwardsen wrote. "We do not wish to be anyone's testing grounds, as the Bikini Islanders have been...." referring to Pacific Islanders subjected to radiation exposure from US atomic bomb testing. Edwardsen has appealed to President Clinton to deny further funding to HAARP.

In the past, the EPA has accused the USAF of "sidestepping" the nonthermal hazards of electromagnetic pollution from powerful radar transmitters. Over the past three decades, numerous US and European studies have linked electromagnetic exposure to a range of health problems including fatigue, irritability, sleepiness, memory loss, cataracts, leukemia, birth defects and cancer. Electromagnetic radiation can also alter blood sugar and cholesterol levels, heart-rate and blood pressure, brain waves and brain chemistry.

Wildlife advocates also have cause to be concerned. The HAARP site lies 140 miles north of the town of Cordova on Prince William Sound, on the northwest tip of Alaska's Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Since ordinary radar is known to be deadly to low- flying birds, HAARP's powerful radiation beam could pose a problem for migratory birds because the transmitter stands in the path of the critical Pacific Flyway. In addition, HAARP's ability to generate strong magnetic fields could conceivably interfere with the migration of birds, marine life and Arctic animals that are now known to rely on the Earth's magnetic fields to navigate over long distances.

The HAARP fact sheet states that "most of the energy of the high- power beam would be emitted upward rather than toward the horizon." Later on, however, the fact sheet notes that care will have to be taken "to reduce the percentage of time large signal levels would be transmitted toward large cities." The closest large cities are Fairbanks and Anchorage.

Even if HAARP's beam were to be directed primarily at the ionosphere, people on the ground would still have reason to be concerned. According to DoD consultant Robert Windsor, clear damp nights, downdrafts and temperature inversions can cause "ducting" and "super-refracting" that can send energy beams streaming back to Earth with "a significant -- up to tenfold -- increase in field intensity."

In addition to their main beams, all electromagnetic transmitters produce large swaths of "sidelobe" radiation along their flanks. US- based PAVE PAWS over-the-horizon radars, for example, use approximately one megawatt of power to send a 420-430-megahertz (MHz) beam on a 3000-mile-long sweep. At the same time, the "incidental" sidelobe radiation from these Pentagon radars can disable TVs, radios, radar altimeters and satellite communications over a 250-mile range. PAVE PAWS radiation can also disrupt cardiac pacemakers seven miles away and cause the "inadvertent detonation" of electrically triggered flares and bombs in passing aircraft. At peak power, the energy driving HAARP could be more than a thousand times stronger than the most powerful PAVE PAWS transmitter.

HAARP's High-Level Hazards

HAARP project manager John Heckscher, a scientist at the Department of the Air Force's Phillips Laboratory, has called concerns about the transmitter's impact "unfounded." "It's not unreasonable to expect that something three times more powerful than anything that's previously been built might have unforeseen effects," Heckscher told Microwave News. "But that's why we do environmental impact statements."

The July 1993 EIS does, in fact, admit that HAARP is expected to cause "measurable changes in the ionosphere's electron density, temperature and structure," but argues that these disruptions are insignificant "when compared to changes induced by naturally occurring processes."

Subjecting the ionosphere to HF bombardment can ionize the neutral particles in the upper atmosphere. The HAARP Fact Sheet notes that "ionospheric disturbances at high altitudes also can act to induce large currents in electric power grids" on the ground, causing massive power blackouts. According to the 1990 Air Force- Navy document, power levels of one gigawatt and above "can drastically alter [the ionosphere's] thermal, refractive, scattering and emission character." While the ionosphere over the government's smaller HF transmitter in Puerto Rico is relatively "stable," the document notes that the ionosphere above Alaska is "a dynamic entity" where added bursts of electromagnetic energy could trigger exaggerated effects.

Writing in Physics and Society (the quarterly newsletter of the American Physical Society), Dr. Richard Williams, a consultant to Princeton University's David Sarnoff Laboratory, denounced ionospheric heating tests as irresponsible and potentially dangerous.

"Trace [chemical] constituents in the upper atmosphere can have a profound effect" on the formation of ozone molecules, Williams stated. It is known that altering the temperature of the ionosphere can affect the chemical reactions that produce ozone. Referring to the Montreal Protocol (the international agreement to protect the ozone layer from ozone-depleting chemicals), Williams warned that activating HAARP's ionospheric heater "might undo all that we have accomplished with this treaty."

"Look at the power levels that will be used -- 10**9 to 10**11 watts!" Williams told the Journal in a recent interview. "This is equivalent to the output of ten to 100 large power-generating stations. A ten-billion-watt generator, running continuously for one hour, would deliver a quantity of energy equal to that of a Hiroshima-sized atomic bomb."

"Of course," Williams added, "they will operate in a pulsed mode [producing a series of short, powerful bursts], rather than continuously." The HAARP fact sheet states that the HF beam, which operates in the 2.8-10 MHz band, will only be used 4-5 times a year for several weeks at a time over a 20-year period. Nonetheless, Williams argued, to proceed without a full public discussion of HAARP's potential impacts runs the risk of committing "an irresponsible act of global vandalism. With experiments on this scale," Williams concluded, "irreparable damage could be done in a short time. The immediate need is for open discussion."

Dr. Daniel N. Baker, director of the University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, offered a less- alarming assessment. "The natural input of energy to the magnetosphere from the sun is very commonly 10**11 - 10**12 watts," Baker told the Journal. "Thus, HAARP may be a small fraction of the energy that flows into the region." Baker added that the ionosphere is, by nature, a "highly dynamic and fluctuating" environment that is able to "flush" away energy disturbances in a matter of hours or days.

Of course, in nature, one cannot simply "flush" something away without anticipating potential "downstream" consequences. Caroline L. Herzenberg, an environmental systems engineer at the Argonne National Laboratory, has suggested that, by "changing the chemical composition of the atmosphere; [and] transporting plumes of particulates or plasma within the atmosphere," HAARP may violate the 1977 Environmental Modification Convention, which bans all "military or any other hostile use of environmental modification techniques having widespread, long-lasting, or severe effects...." The US ratified the convention in 1979.

"X-Raying" the Earth?

On June 14, a Senate committee report noted that the Deputy Secretary of Defense had called for increasing HAARP funding from $5 million to $75 million in the 1996 defense budget. The sudden increase would be used to promote a disturbing new mission for HAARP.

Instead of just pouring its vast energy into the skies, the transmitter's power would be aimed back at the planet to "allow earth-penetrating tomography over most of the northern hemisphere" -- in effect, turning HAARP into the world's most powerful "X-ray machine" capable of scanning regions hidden deep beneath the planet's surface. According to the Senate report, this would "permit the detection and precise location of tunnels... and other underground shelters. The absence of such a capability has been... a serious weakness for [DoD] plans for precision attacks on hardened targets...."

Meanwhile, construction on the larger HAARP facility -- with a potential effective radiated power of 1.7 GW (1.7 billion watts) -- is set to begin in 1995. This expanded version would require additional funding from Congress. According to the 1990 project document: "The desired world-class facility... will cost on the order of $25-30 million." The Senate Committee's April report, however, predicts that the cost "could be as much as $90 million."

What You Can Do

Write Congress to demand a review of HAARP's environmental impacts. Request that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration [NITA, c/o US Department of Commerce, Washington, DC 20230] reject the HAARP frequency/power request pending the outcome of a Congressional inquiry. Queries and contributions may be sent to NO HAARP c/o Jim Roderick, PO Box 916, Homer, AK 99603.

"Visibility is a crude criterion for assessing environmental damage.... An unprecedented amount of energy can produce an unprecedented reaction. Experimenting with [the ionosphere] is a very delicate thing. A localized event can spread around the Earth fairly quickly." -- Prof. Dick Williams

Copyright 1995, Earth Island Journal. Articles may be freely reprinted with prior permission. Please credit Earth Island Journal and send samples.

Clare Zickuhr, a former ARCO employee and ham radio operator based in Anchorage, is a founder of the NO HAARP campaign. Gar Smith is editor of the editor of Earth Island Journal.