Faulty Chips Could Cripple U.S. Military (2007)
By William Thomas
Feb. 21, 2007
Have “designed-to-fail” microchips set up the United States naval, air and ground units in the Persian Gulf for a disastrous defeat in Bush’s looming showdown with Iran? Has a Wal-Mart mentality, and corporate sleight-of-hand fatally undermined the U.S. war machine with microscopic flaws?
Following this website’s revelations of Israel’s recent abortive nuclear air strike on Iran, agents of the United States military intelligence community have returned to visit my informant to disclose disturbing developments.
During their longest and most cooperative briefing to date, the two agents-nicknamed “Bob” and “Dave”-said that they, their government, and major antagonists powers in the Middle East are being manipulated by elements as yet unknown, to the detriment of all involved.
“Once they found this out, they started asking questions, hoping to defuse a larger issue before it turns into a catastrophe,” explained a trusted source I have come to call “Hank”. During our 15-year collaboration, this combat veteran with a high security clearance has shown himself to be impeccably measured and accurate in his timely revelations.
Curious, conscious, careful, and well-connected-as well as technically savvy in computers, chemical warfare and physics, you can take his information to the proverbial bank. And charge interest.
Throughout our long association, Hank’s contacts within U.S. and international military, intelligence, political and religious circles have rarely ruffled his professional aplomb. This time, he was as shaken by his formerly adversarial visitors’ plea for his assistance, as he was by their briefing.
As Hank expressed it, Bob and Dave “felt that they were on the pointed end of a broken, splintered spear repaired with Elmer’s glue and then reshaped again. It was a bad day. Bad day. They were not in really good humor. It seems they have had a couple of things crop up they decided to share. Nobody gets more worried about sharing with me than me.”
When the agents departed 45 minutes later, Hank made a series of calls to check their information. He quickly verified that the United States military’s war-fighting capability is undermined by an unfixable flaw.
PLAYING POKER WITH CHINA’S CHIPS
It is widely documented that since the secession of America’s semiconductor supremacy to Asia, most computer chips supplied for civilian and military use in the United States by corporate giants like AMD, Microsoft, Intel and Motorola are now imported. As Hank was reminded by his visitors, “It’s all outsourced”-by U.S. manufacturers to suppliers in Japan, Taiwan and China.
Electronic components made to military specifications in Taiwan and Japan are good to go. But U.S. military microchip suppliers have in recent years been “sharing components from a single source manufactured over there in the Big C,” Hank learned. And chips manufactured in mainland China for use by the United States military are-surprise!-not OK.
Regarding the marine assault force, three aircraft carriers and their escorts about to wage war on Iran, Hank was told, “We really don’t know which components are installed in U.S. Navy weapons systems.”
Elements in the U.S. military in touch with Bob and Dave have discovered that Beijing has rigged those decks to insure China’s supremacy in any showdown with the United States. This has been accomplished by ensuring that its exported semiconductors used in many U.S. military computer and electronic components-from cellphones to missile warheads, fighter jets, frigates, radars, laptops and carriers-can be either accidentally or purposefully deactivated by a silent and invisible electromagnetic pulse delivered at the start of any future conflict.
BETTING IN A RIGGED CASINO
Bob and Dave had returned to Hank’s house to ask this army tech with a flair for thinking outside the conventional military mindset how this could have happened.
The answer is that electronic components made by companies in Taiwan, Japan and the U.S.A. for the U.S. military are often wired with chips made by their subsidiaries in China. By 2005, after nearly a decade of explosive electronics growth, China surpassed the United States to dominate the world IT (information technology) market with annual exports exceeding $180 billion. Foreign firms have driven much of China’s growth, with “heavy investment” from U.S. giants like Intel, Motorola and Microsoft.” [International Herald Tribune Dec 12/05]
Today, China’s advanced computer chips run everything from civilian rice cookers to military communications, surveillance, and missile guidance systems. Companies like Semiconductor Manufacturing International and Grace Semiconductor can use lasers to etch circuitry as intricate as an interstate highway network onto nano-thin wafers less than one one-hundredth the width of a human hair. And that was five years ago. According to one online industry publication, Chinese circuitry is now used “in the smallest, fastest and most powerful computer chips in world.” [www.hpcwire.com May 10/02]
Elecsound Electronics Company is another Chinese manufacturer specializing in semiconductors “widely used in communication, satellites, mobile phone and wireless telephones” assembled by U.S. military suppliers such as Intel and Motorola. Like many Chinese semiconductor firms, Elecsound also supplies Japanese companies such as NEC, Sanyo and Toshiba, which in turn make electronic components for the Pentagon’s smartest weapons. [www.made-in-china.com]
The outsourcing tangle also leads through Taiwan, where companies like ProMos Technologies, Powerchip Semiconductor and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing are exporting “Made In Taiwan” DRAM chips and other components to U.S. firms from their newly built manufacturing plants on mainland China. [IDG News Service Nov 16/06]
The world’s second largest custom chip maker, United Microelectronics no longer sends genuine “Made In Taiwan” chips to the USA. UM was recently fined a wrist-slapping $155,000 by the government of Taiwan for helping to establish an advanced microchip company in China without first gaining Taipei’s approval. [IDGNews Service Feb 16/06]
Not all transfers of chip-making technology to China have been legal. According to the Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, California, the rapid rise of Shanghai-based Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC) has involved repeated patent violations and “illegal transfers of technology allegedly originating in Taiwan.” [Asian Export Control Observer Feb- Mar /05]
Launched in Shanghai in 2000, the Taiwan-invested $1.48 billion SMIC is actually controlled by Beijing, whose mandarins insist on 11 “public relations officers” to keep them informed. SMI has supplied third party Chinese chips to the U.S. military through such recognized suppliers as Motorola. Company chairman Yang Yuan Wang is a Chief Scientist of the Microelectronics Research Institute at Beijing University and a fellow of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. He is also a Chinese government official.
Motorola sold its $115 million stake in SMIC in February 2005. [US China Economic and Security Review Commission Hearing March 17/06]
Even more troubling, documents declassified in 2003 show that after the Democratic Party received illegal cash campaign contributions from the Red Army, then-President Bill Clinton signed a November 1996 waiver authorizing the transfer to China of specialized chips needed to wage nuclear war. The high-tech “Chinagate” transfers not only allowed China “to more accurately target American cities with atomic weapons using advanced U.S technology,” as Charles Smith disclosed, but also allowed China to later sell advanced chips back to the U.S. military-rigged with a fatal flaw. [www.newsmax.com Feb 15/07]
A STRATEGIC THREAT
During the US China Economic and Security Review Commission Hearing held in Washington D.C. last year, John Tkacik, Jr., a Senior Research Fellow in Asian Studies at the Heritage Foundation, pointed to Defense Science Board report on “High Performance Microchip Supply” issued 13 months before, which called “the strategic threat to the United States” in semiconductors “significant” in two ways:
1) The globalization of the microchip supply chain is draining production capacity from the United States and in a crisis it would be difficult to ramp up domestic output.
2) There is a real threat that microchip supplies from overseas-particularly from China-would be untrustworthy; that “opportunities for adversaries to clandestinely manipulate technology used in U.S. critical microelectronics applications are enormous and increasing.”
Testifying on March 17, 2006 Tkacik went on to remark, “Not only is the Pentagon finding fewer and fewer sources for application specific integrated circuit microchips for highly classified defense applications (such as signals processing, encryption, guidance systems, etc.), but the U.S. military already relies heavily on China for the bulk of the nervous system of our network-centric warfare doctrine.”
Pointing to a “global supply-chain” delivering Chinese chips everywhere, Tkacik asked, “How can saying that the United States simply won’t buy Chinese-made chips for its military be sufficient? ”
As microcircuitry architecture continues to shrink, becoming “orders of magnitude denser,” this expert warned, “it becomes ever easier to hide lines that serve as Trojan Horse circuit designs, radio-frequency receivers and other ‘backdoors’ to circumvent encryption, muddle signals, induce data failure”- leaving supposedly “hardened” circuits vulnerable to EMP.
“Are Chinese semiconductor firms capable of such chicanery?” Tkacik asked the U.S. government panel. “There are already several hundred semiconductor design labs in China-sponsored and paid-for by foreign firms including America’s top microchip corporations.”
[US China Economic and Security Review Commission Hearing March 17/06]
Right now, no one serving onboard a U.S. warship, manning a tank, or flying a fighter in the Persian Gulf can know for certain where the microswitches conveying electrical impulses to their communications, surveillance and fire-control systems originate. Or whether they will turn into powder in an EMP.
In order to harden military electronics against an electromagnetic pulse from a nuclear detonation or directed energy weapon, chips and circuit boards assembled to United States military specifications are not encased in a protective shell. Instead, they are etched with thicker wiring that Hank described as “the equivalent of a 30-amp fuse as thick as your thumb.”
This thicker circuitry, “reduces reaction time to an electromagnetic pulse by shutting off the circuit faster.”
Instead of adhering to “milspecs”, my source was informed and has since confirmed that Chinese chips inadvertently used in many U.S. military applications have been booby-trapped with EMP-sensitive circuitry equivalent of a civilian-size “3-amp fuse, the size of a wire in a light bulb.”
Regardless of it’s “dual use” in civilian and military applications, Hank emphasized, “a transistor is a transistor. The U.S. military for example is using essentially the same AMD 64X2 chip being manufactured for civilian use. They say it’s shielded. It ain’t.”
While specially-made circuit boards for the helmet-mounted fire-control system in an Apache helicopter are robust enough to be stomped on, the millions upon millions of chips and motherboards permeating high-tech U.S. military equipment-from laptops purchased at the local Circuit City to Patriot missiles supplied by Raytheon-“can’t all be tested.”
The glitch was discovered during a routine rear-area inspection. Technicians working in a shielded “womb” room thought the component they were testing was hardened. But Hank learned from his visitors that when their readouts started blinking, and they were still wondering, “What the heck could have done this?”- monitoring equipment “used across the womb room also went bust.”
Since those remote monitors were not part of the test, this should not have happened.
When the alarmed techs ran further experiments, “they found that the A—– brands had that fatal flaw in it,” he related (brand name redacted by this reporter). “They started reverse engineering and breaking it down as best as they could, and they found a fatal flaw in each component.”
As Hank put it, “Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action.”
DON’T TRY IT
“We had a 45 minute chat-the longest I’ve ever talked to either of them. They were forthright. Not exactly scared, but nervous,” Hank recounted.
Until he frightened them.
If this goes down, he told the two military agents, the systems you’ve come to be depend on will bite you in the ass. And then close its teeth. In each instance if sabotage, before the odor of fried electronics clears, “You no longer have an operating system. All the information you had is gone, and any recovery you might want to do is kaput.”
And there will be no in-theater resupply, he stressed, Even if spare circuit boards are stored in a warehouse “and somebody does this nearby, it’s kaput.”
Responding after further investigation to further queries from this reporter, Hank used slang to reveal his stress when he flatly declared, “The stuff that’s ‘hardened’ ain’t. The stuff that’s ‘safe’ ain’t.”
This means that in the event of an attack launched by the United States against Iran, an electromagnetic pulse from a deliberate or accidental nuclear detonation-or from a directed energy weapon manned by Chinese technicians defending their country’s interests ashore-will cause many or most American offensive and defensive missile systems to fail to fire, explode on launch, or not detonate on target. Some weapons may even emulate WWII torpedoes and Vietnam- era Sidewinders and boomerang back on the ship, plane or vehicle that launched them.
“It’s a 50-50 coin toss whether you have bad material,” Hank told two very unhappy agents. “There’s no way to identify which ones are and which ones are not the problem children. You won’t know until you roll.”
IMPOSSIBLE TO FIX
Any detonation of Bush’s beloved “low yield” bunker-buster, an Iranian nuclear power plant, or shipboard reactor “could deactivate the U.S. Navy,” as Hank put it-along with all other command, control, communications and weapons circuits quietly humming in some forgotten but vital piece of equipment aloft, afloat or alongshore in the Persian Gulf.
To rig the Trojan chips, “pick a frequency that isn’t in nature above 23,000 hertz or below 2 hertz at power levels only you can produce,” Hank invited. Jackie the sailor would not be able to misdial her sonar and shut down the entire fleet because “the pressure and wattage, as well as the frequency equivalent to an EMP” would be needed to do melt all those microchips. And that “could only come from a nuclear blast,” Hank added.
Or a pulse weapon. Hank was also informed that if attacked, Chinese technicians in Iran could make every vulnerable circuit within range “melt when hit by a microwave” tuned to their vulnerable frequency.
If that happens, this military tech added, “You would immobilize the entirety of any response we would have. No radars. No engines to mobilize troops; to supply electricity.
We’d be on foot. That’s it. Oops!”
Despite rigorous spot-testing of some batches of some Pentagon- purchased microelectronics, the only way to ensure that bad things will not happen to components that have not been microscopically checked is to remove every chip and motherboard in every computer in every ship, aircraft, truck, radio, radar, sonar, cellphone, satellite, toothbrush, laptop and warhead “that everything is soldered onto, and replace it with something else.”
That cannot be done, Hank continued. “There is quite literally no way to break one of these things open on the nano level” and reverse engineer the millions of micro-traps the Chinese have set. “There’s no way to tell if you got it all.”
Whoever said that a 12,000 year-old civilization was dumb?
Is this all hypothetical? Supposedly built “milspecs”, will much or most U.S. military electronics in the Persian Gulf Theater of Operations cease to function if hit with an electromagnetic pulse?
The smoking transistor answer is that China has already dramatically demonstrated their capability to fry the best U.S. military microelectronics on-or off-the planet. Just before North Korea tested a nuclear weapon in a “tiny” underground blast on October 9, 2006, Hank confirmed from multiple sources that America’s most advanced reconnaissance satellite was immobilized by Beijing.
According to this well-informed source, “We had no warning” of the North Korean test because “the Chinese took down our look down capability” with a frequency-focused EMP. “And we were going, ‘What the fuck just happened?’ Nobody knew. Even after it happened nobody knew. Because it leaves no signature.”
Since “an electromagnetic pulse goes on through and it’s gone,” such egregious aggression could not be proven, and was not an act of war.
It was a wake up call. Because the advanced NSA spy bird-“a little higher than Keyhole 14”-was supposedly “hardened against everything from solar flares to enemy action,” Hank was told.
“This ain’t GE,” he underlined. “The Chinese “have the ability to do this to our equipment. We don’t know which equipment. We don’t know what frequencies it will fail. It could be frequency A in this component, frequency B in that one, frequency I in that one.”
In a confrontation in the Persian Gulf or off Taiwan, where another U.S. task force has also been deployed, it will not matter if some “Made In Colorado” hardened chips shut down in time to dodge aimed or accidental pulses. Because complex electronic circuitry is assembled in a cascade-inviting daisy chain, if one microchip fails, even if the other dozen chips connected to that circuit come back online, the device they’re directing won’t.
Did someone say, “eject”?
The author is a former member of the U.S. Navy Reserves who resigned his commission over the mass murder of civilians during the Vietnam War. He later served with a three-man Gulf Environmental Response Team in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait during and immediately after Desert Storm. His film of that experience, “Eco War” won the 1991 U.S. Environmental Film Festival award.