by Timothy L. Thomas
Parameters, Spring 1998, pp. 84-92
The following article
is from the US military publication Parameters,
subtitled "US Army War College Quarterly."
itself as "The
United States Armyís Senior Professional Journal."
Timothy L. Thomas (USA Ret.) is an analyst at
the Foreign Military Studies Office, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
Recently he has written extensively on the Russian view of
information operations and on current Russian military-political
issues. During his military career he served in the 82nd Airborne
Division and was the Department Head of Soviet
Military-Political Affairs at the US Armyís Russian Institute in Garmisch, Germany.
The human body, much like a computer, contains myriad data
processors. They include, but are not limited to, the
chemical-electrical activity of the brain, heart, and peripheral
nervous system, the signals sent from the cortex region of the brain
to other parts of our body, the tiny hair cells in the inner ear
that process auditory signals, and the light-sensitive retina and
cornea of the eye that process visual activity.
We are on the
threshold of an era in which these data processors of the human body
may be manipulated or debilitated. Examples of unplanned attacks on
the bodyís data-processing capability are well-documented. Strobe
lights have been known to cause epileptic seizures. Not long ago in
Japan, children watching television cartoons were subjected to
pulsating lights that caused seizures in some and made others very
Defending friendly and targeting adversary data-processing
capabilities of the body appears to be an area of weakness in the US
approach to information warfare theory, a theory oriented heavily
toward systems data-processing and designed to attain information
dominance on the battlefield. Or so it would appear from information
in the open, unclassified press. This US shortcoming may be a
serious one, since the capabilities to alter the data-processing
systems of the body already exist. A recent edition of U.S. News and
World Report highlighted several of these "wonder weapons"
(acoustics, microwaves, lasers) and noted that scientists are
"searching the electromagnetic and sonic spectrums for wavelengths
that can affect human behavior."
A recent Russian military
article offered a slightly different slant to the problem, declaring
that "humanity stands on the brink of a psychotronic war" with the
mind and body as the focus. That article discussed Russian and
international attempts to control the psycho-physical condition of
man and his decision-making processes by the use of VHF-generators,
"noiseless cassettes," and other technologies.
An entirely new arsenal of weapons, based on devices designed to
introduce subliminal messages or to alter the bodyís psychological
and data-processing capabilities, might be used to incapacitate
individuals. These weapons aim to control or alter the psyche, or to
attack the various sensory and data-processing systems of the human
organism. In both cases, the goal is to confuse or destroy the
signals that normally keep the body in equilibrium.
This article examines energy-based weapons, psychotronic weapons,
and other developments designed to alter the ability of the human
body to process stimuli. One consequence of this assessment is that
the way we commonly use the term "information warfare" falls short
when the individual soldier, not his equipment, becomes the target
Warfare Theory and the Data-Processing Element of Humans
In the United States the common conception of information warfare
focuses primarily on the capabilities of hardware systems such as
computers, satellites, and military equipment which process data in
its various forms. According to Department of Defense Directive
S-3600.1 of 9 December 1996, information warfare is defined as,
information operation conducted during time of crisis or conflict to
achieve or promote specific objectives over a specific adversary or
An information operation is defined in the same
"actions taken to affect adversary information and
information systems while defending oneís own information and
These "information systems" lie at the heart
of the modernization effort of the US armed forces and other
countries, and manifest themselves as hardware, software,
communications capabilities, and highly trained individuals.
Recently, the US Army conducted a mock battle that tested these
systems under simulated combat conditions.
US Army Field Manual 101-5-1, Operational Terms and Graphics
(released 30 September 1997), defines information warfare as,
"actions taken to achieve information superiority by affecting a hostileís
information, information based-processes, and information
systems, while defending oneís own information, information
processes, and information systems."
The same manual defines information
operations as a,
"continuous military operation
within the military information environment that enables,
enhances, and protects friendly forcesí ability to collect,
process, and act on information to achieve an advantage across
the full range of military operations. [Information operations
include] interacting with the Global Information Environment . .
. and exploiting or denying an adversaryís information and
This "systems" approach to the study of information warfare
emphasizes the use of data, referred to as information, to penetrate
an adversaryís physical defenses that protect data (information) in
order to obtain operational or strategic advantage. It has tended to
ignore the role of the human body as an information - or
data-processor in this quest for dominance except in those cases
where an individualís logic or rational thought may be upset via
disinformation or deception. As a consequence little attention is
directed toward protecting the mind and body with a firewall as we
have done with hardware systems. Nor have any techniques for doing
so been prescribed.
Yet the body is capable not only of being
deceived, manipulated, or misinformed but also shut down or
destroyed -- just as any other data-processing system. The "data" the
body receives from external sources -- such as electromagnetic,
vortex, or acoustic energy waves -- or creates through its own
electrical or chemical stimuli can be manipulated or changed just as
the data (information) in any hardware system can be altered.
The only body-related information warfare element considered by the
United States is psychological operations (PSYOP). In Joint
Publication 3-13.1, for example, PSYOP is listed as one of the
elements of command and control warfare. The publication notes that,
"the ultimate target of [information warfare] is the information
dependent process, whether human or automated . . . . Command and
control warfare (C2W) is an application of information warfare in
military operations. . . . C2W is the integrated use of PSYOP,
military deception, operations security, electronic warfare and
One source defines information as a "nonaccidental signal used as an
input to a computer or communications system." The human body is
a complex communication system constantly receiving nonaccidental
and accidental signal inputs, both external and internal. If the
ultimate target of information warfare is the information-dependent
process, "whether human or automated," then the definition in the
joint publication implies that human data-processing of internal and
external signals can clearly be considered an aspect of information
warfare. Foreign researchers have noted the link between humans as
data processors and the conduct of information warfare. While some
study only the PSYOP link, others go beyond it.
As an example of the
former, one recent Russian article described offensive information
warfare as designed to,
"use the Internet channels for the purpose of
organizing PSYOP as well as for 'early political warningí of threats
to American interests."
The authorís assertion was based on the
"all mass media are used for PSYOP . . . [and] today this
must include the Internet."
The author asserted that the Pentagon
wanted to use the Internet to "reinforce psychological influences"
during special operations conducted outside of US borders to enlist
sympathizers, who would accomplish many of the tasks previously
entrusted to special units of the US armed forces.
Others, however, look beyond simple PSYOP ties to consider other
aspects of the bodyís data-processing capability. One of the
principal open source researchers on the relationship of information
warfare to the bodyís data-processing capability is Russian Dr.
Victor Solntsev of the Baumann Technical Institute in Moscow.
Solntsev is a young, well-intentioned researcher striving to point
out to the world the potential dangers of the computer operator
interface. Supported by a network of institutes and academies,
Solntsev has produced some interesting concepts. He insists that
man must be viewed as an open system instead of simply as an
organism or closed system. As an open system, man communicates with
his environment through information flows and communications media.
Oneís physical environment, whether through electromagnetic,
gravitational, acoustic, or other effects, can cause a change in the
psycho-physiological condition of an organism, in Solntsevís
opinion. Change of this sort could directly affect the mental state
and consciousness of a computer operator. This would not be
electronic war or information warfare in the traditional sense, but
rather in a nontraditional and non-US sense. It might encompass, for
example, a computer modified to become a weapon by using its energy
output to emit acoustics that debilitate the operator. It also might
encompass, as indicated below, futuristic weapons aimed against
manís "open system."
Solntsev also examined the problem of "information noise," which
creates a dense shield between a person and external reality. This
noise may manifest itself in the form of signals, messages, images,
or other items of information. The main target of this noise would
be the consciousness of a person or a group of people. Behavior
modification could be one objective of information noise; another
could be to upset an individualís mental capacity to such an extent
as to prevent reaction to any stimulus. Solntsev concludes that all
levels of a personís psyche (subconscious, conscious, and "superconscious")
are potential targets for destabilization.
According to Solntsev, one computer virus capable of affecting a
personís psyche is Russian Virus 666. It manifests itself in every
25th frame of a visual display, where it produces a combination of
colors that allegedly put computer operators into a trance. The
subconscious perception of the new pattern eventually results in
arrhythmia of the heart. Other Russian computer specialists, not
just Solntsev, talk openly about this "25th frame effect" and its
ability to subtly manage a computer userís perceptions. The purpose
of this technique is to inject a thought into the viewerís
subconscious. It may remind some of the subliminal advertising
controversy in the United States in the late 1950s.
on "Wonder Weapons": Altering the Data-Processing Ability of the
What technologies have been examined by the United States that
possess the potential to disrupt the data-processing capabilities of
the human organism? The 7 July 1997 issue of U.S. News and World
Report described several of them designed, among other things, to
vibrate the insides of humans, stun or nauseate them, put them to
sleep, heat them up, or knock them down with a shock wave.
The technologies include dazzling lasers that can force the pupils
to close; acoustic or sonic frequencies that cause the hair cells in
the inner ear to vibrate and cause motion sickness, vertigo, and
nausea, or frequencies that resonate the internal organs causing
pain and spasms; and shock waves with the potential to knock down
humans or airplanes and which can be mixed with pepper spray or
With modification, these technological applications can have many
uses. Acoustic weapons, for example, could be adapted for use as
acoustic rifles or as acoustic fields that, once established, might
protect facilities, assist in hostage rescues, control riots, or
clear paths for convoys. These waves, which can penetrate buildings,
offer a host of opportunities for military and law enforcement
officials. Microwave weapons, by stimulating the peripheral nervous
system, can heat up the body, induce epileptic-like seizures, or
cause cardiac arrest.
Low-frequency radiation affects the
electrical activity of the brain and can cause flu-like symptoms and
nausea. Other projects sought to induce or prevent sleep, or to
affect the signal from the motor cortex portion of the brain,
overriding voluntary muscle movements. The latter are referred to as
pulse wave weapons, and the Russian government has reportedly bought
over 100,000 copies of the "Black Widow" version of them.
However, this view of "wonder weapons" was contested by someone who
should understand them. Brigadier General Larry Dodgen, Deputy
Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Policy and Missions, wrote
a letter to the editor about the "numerous inaccuracies" in the
News and World Report article that "misrepresent the Department of
Dodgenís primary complaint seemed to have been
that the magazine misrepresented the use of these technologies and
their value to the armed forces.
He also underscored the US intent
to work within the scope of any international treaty concerning
their application, as well as plans to abandon (or at least
redesign) any weapon for which countermeasures are known. One is
left with the feeling, however, that research in this area is
intense. A concern not mentioned by Dodgen is that other countries
or non-state actors may not be bound by the same constraints. It is
hard to imagine someone with a greater desire than terrorists to get
their hands on these technologies. "Psycho-terrorism" could be the
Views on "Psychotronic War"
The term "psycho-terrorism" was coined by Russian writer
of the Moscow Anti-Psychotronic Center. According to Anisimov,
psychotronic weapons are those that act to,
"take away a part of the
information which is stored in a manís brain. It is sent to a
computer, which reworks it to the level needed for those who need to
control the man, and the modified information is then reinserted
into the brain."
These weapons are used against the mind to induce
hallucinations, sickness, mutations in human cells, "zombification,"
or even death. Included in the arsenal are VHF generators, X-rays,
ultrasound, and radio waves.
Russian army Major I. Chernishev,
writing in the military journal Orienteer in February 1997, asserted
that "psy" weapons are under development all over the globe.
Specific types of weapons noted by Chernishev (not all of which have
A psychotronic generator, which produces a powerful electromagnetic
emanation capable of being sent through telephone lines, TV, radio
networks, supply pipes, and incandescent lamps.
An autonomous generator, a device that operates in the 10-150 Hertz
band, which at the 10-20 Hertz band forms an infrasonic oscillation
that is destructive to all living creatures.
A nervous system generator, designed to paralyze the central nervous
systems of insects, which could have the same applicability to
Ultrasound emanations, which one institute claims to have developed.
Devices using ultrasound emanations are supposedly capable of
carrying out bloodless internal operations without leaving a mark on
the skin. They can also, according to Chernishev, be used to kill.
Noiseless cassettes. Chernishev claims that the Japanese have
developed the ability to place infra-low frequency voice patterns
over music, patterns that are detected by the subconscious. Russians
claim to be using similar "bombardments" with computer programming
to treat alcoholism or smoking.
The 25th-frame effect, alluded to above, a technique wherein each
25th frame of a movie reel or film footage contains a message that
is picked up by the subconscious. This technique, if it works, could
possibly be used to curb smoking and alcoholism, but it has wider,
more sinister applications if used on a TV audience or a computer
Psychotropics, defined as medical preparations used to induce a
trance, euphoria, or depression. Referred to as "slow-acting mines,"
they could be slipped into the food of a politician or into the
water supply of an entire city. Symptoms include headaches, noises,
voices or commands in the brain, dizziness, pain in the abdominal
cavities, cardiac arrhythmia, or even the destruction of the
There is confirmation from US researchers that this type of study is
going on. Dr. Janet Morris, coauthor of The Warriorís Edge,
reportedly went to the Moscow Institute of Psychocorrelations in
1991. There she was shown a technique pioneered by the Russian
Department of Psycho-Correction at Moscow Medical Academy in which
researchers electronically analyze the human mind in order to
influence it. They input subliminal command messages, using key
words transmitted in "white noise" or music. Using an infra-sound,
very low frequency transmission, the acoustic psycho-correction
message is transmitted via bone conduction.
In summary, Chernishev noted that some of the militarily significant
aspects of the "psy" weaponry deserve closer research, including the
following nontraditional methods for disrupting the psyche of an
ESP research: determining the properties and condition of objects
without ever making contact with them and "reading" peoplesí
Clairvoyance research: observing objects that are located just
beyond the world of the visible--used for intelligence purposes
Telepathy research: transmitting thoughts over a distance--used for
Telekinesis research: actions involving the manipulation of physical
objects using thought power, causing them to move or break
apart -- used against command and control systems, or to disrupt the
functioning of weapons of mass destruction
Psychokinesis research: interfering with the thoughts of
individuals, on either the strategic or tactical level
While many US scientists undoubtedly question this research, it
receives strong support in Moscow. The point to underscore is that
individuals in Russia (and other countries as well) believe these
means can be used to attack or steal from the data-processing unit
of the human body.
Solntsevís research, mentioned above, differs slightly from that of
Chernishev. For example, Solntsev is more interested in hardware
capabilities, specifically the study of the information-energy
source associated with the computer-operator interface. He stresses
that if these energy sources can be captured and integrated into the
modern computer, the result will be a network worth more than "a
simple sum of its components."
Other researchers are studying
high-frequency generators (those designed to stun the psyche with
high frequency waves such as electromagnetic, acoustic, and
gravitational); the manipulation or reconstruction of someoneís
thinking through planned measures such as reflexive control
processes; the use of psychotronics, parapsychology, bioenergy, bio
fields, and psychoenergy; and unspecified "special operations"
or anti-ESP training.
The last item is of particular interest. According to a Russian TV
broadcast, the strategic rocket forces have begun anti-ESP training
to ensure that no outside force can take over command and control
functions of the force. That is, they are trying to construct a
firewall around the heads of the operators.
At the end of July 1997, planners for Joint Warrior Interoperability
"focused on technologies that enhance real-time
collaborative planning in a multinational task force of the type
used in Bosnia and in Operation Desert Storm. The JWID í97 network,
called the Coalition Wide-Area Network (CWAN), is the first military
network that allows allied nations to participate as full and equal
The demonstration in effect was a trade fair for
private companies to demonstrate their goods; defense ministries got
to decide where and how to spend their money wiser, in many cases
without incurring the cost of prototypes. It is a good example of
doing business better with less. Technologies demonstrated
Soldiers using laptop computers to drag cross-hairs over maps to
call in airstrikes
Soldiers carrying beepers and mobile phones rather than guns
Generals tracking movements of every
unit, counting the precise number of shells fired around the
globe, and inspecting real-time damage inflicted on an enemy,
all with multicolored graphics
Every account of this exercise emphasized the ability of systems to
process data and provide information feedback via the power invested
in their microprocessors. The ability to affect or defend the
data-processing capability of the human operators of these systems
was never mentioned during the exercise; it has received only slight
attention during countless exercises over the past several years.
The time has come to ask why we appear to be ignoring the operators
of our systems. Clearly the information operator, exposed before a
vast array of potentially immobilizing weapons, is the weak spot in
any nationís military assets. There are few international agreements
protecting the individual soldier, and these rely on the good will
of the combatants. Some nations, and terrorists of every stripe,
donít care about such agreements.
This article has used the term data-processing to demonstrate its
importance to ascertaining what so-called information warfare and
information operations are all about. Data-processing is the action
this nation and others need to protect. Information is nothing more
than the output of this activity. As a result, the emphasis on
information-related warfare terminology ("information dominance,"
"information carousel") that has proliferated for a decade does not
seem to fit the situation before us. In some cases the battle to
affect or protect data-processing elements pits one mechanical
system against another.
In other cases, mechanical systems may be
confronted by the human organism, or vice versa, since humans can
usually shut down any mechanical system with the flip of a switch.
In reality, the game is about protecting or affecting signals,
waves, and impulses that can influence the data-processing elements
of systems, computers, or people. We are potentially the biggest
victims of information warfare, because we have neglected to protect
Our obsession with a "system of systems," "information dominance,"
and other such terminology is most likely a leading cause of our
neglect of the human factor in our theories of information warfare.
It is time to change our terminology and our conceptual paradigm.
Our terminology is confusing us and sending us in directions that
deal primarily with the hardware, software, and communications
components of the data-processing spectrum.
We need to spend more
time researching how to protect the humans in our data management
structures. Nothing in those structures can be sustained if our
operators have been debilitated by potential adversaries or
terrorists who--right now--may be designing the means to disrupt the
human component of our carefully constructed notion of a system of
I. Chernishev, "Can Rulers Make
`Zombiesí and Control the World?" Orienteer, February 1997, pp.
Douglas Pasternak, "Wonder Weapons," U.S. News and World
Report, 7 July 1997, pp. 38-46.
Ibid., p. 38.
FM 101-5-1, Operational Terms and Graphics, 30 September
1997, p. 1-82.
Joint Pub 3-13.1, Joint Doctrine for Command and Control
Warfare (C2W), 7 February 1996, p. v.
The American Heritage Dictionary (2d College Ed.; Boston:
Houghton Mifflin, 1982), p. 660, definition 4.
Denis Snezhnyy, "Cybernetic Battlefield & National Security,"
Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, No. 10, 15-21 March 1997, p.
Victor I. Solntsev, "Information War and Some Aspects of a
Computer Operatorís Defense," talk given at an Infowar
Conference in Washington, D.C., September 1996, sponsored by the
National Computer Security Association. Information in this
section is based on notes from Dr. Solntsevís talk.
Pasternak, p. 40.
Ibid., pp. 40-46.
Larry Dodgen, "Nonlethal Weapons," U.S. News and World
Report, 4 August 1997, p. 5.
"Background on the Aviary," Nexus Magazine, downloaded from
the Internet on 13 July 1997 from www.execpc.com/vjentpr/nexusavi.html,
Aleksandr Cherkasov, "The Front Where Shots Arenít Fired,"
Orienteer, May 1995, p. 45. This article was based on
information in the foreign and Russian press, according to the
author, making it impossible to pinpoint what his source was for
Bob Brewin, "DOD looks for IT `golden nuggets,í" Federal
Computer Week, 28 July 1997, p. 31, as taken from the Earlybird
Supplement, 4 August 1997, p. B 17.
Oliver August, "Zap! Hard day at the office for NATOís
laptop warriors," The Times, 28 July 1997, as taken from the Earlybird Supplement, 4 August 1997, p. B 16.