Recently I heard about the U.S. Air Force’s new “doomsday machine” called HAARP, for High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program. From what I understand, the Air Force plans to experiment with blowing a hole in our ionosphere by directing intense high-frequency radio waves at it from somewhere in Alaska. The Air Force “experts” assured the interviewer that such a thing would have no negative impact on our global environment or weather systems. There was also some discussion of using this technology as a form of mind control by determining the proper frequency radio waves and directing them at whole armies to render them insensible.

My understanding is that the ionosphere protects us from lethal cosmic forces, allowing the earth to support life as we know it. What evil people are toying with this delicate balance? Where can information about this project be found, and who can concerned citizens appeal to to stop this unnecessary experiment? –Donna Sexton, Northbridge, Massachusetts

Come on, where’s our sense of adventure? When HAARP is fully deployed in 2002 and they flip the switch, either nothing much will happen or, to hear opponents tell it, it’ll be the end of the world. Cecil has had a long talk with the folks at HAARP and concludes that the latter isn’t very likely, but thinking about it will definitely liven up a dull day at the office.

What freaks some people out about HAARP is the concept: scientists are building an array of 360 high-power radio antennas in Alaska to generate a beam of radio energy for purposes of heating up a patch of the ionosphere, the outer part of the earth’s atmosphere. This may come in handy for such purposes as:

Submarine communication. Send a pulsed radio beam into the “auroral electrojet,” the high-altitude stream of charged particles found in polar regions, and the electrojet will rebroadcast pulses of extremely low frequency (ELF) radio energy. In effect what you’ve done is turn part of the electrojet into a giant ELF antenna extending for hundreds of miles. ELF energy will penetrate seawater and thus can be used to communicate with submerged submarines.

Underground surveillance. ELF energy will also penetrate some distance into the earth. By means of “earth-penetrating tomography”–radiating ELF energy at the earth and seeing what kind of echo bounces back–you can map out stuff hidden underground, e.g., mineral deposits or, more urgently for the Pentagon, secret underground nuclear-bomb factories in countries like North Korea.

Directed over-the-horizon radio communication. You could create one or more “virtual refractors” in the upper atmosphere to direct a radio beam to a location in a distant part of the globe.

Doesn’t sound so bad, but HAARP opponents say the Air Force isn’t telling the whole story. Their main beefs: first, the project will pour more energy into the sky than ever previously attempted, with who knows what awful consequences. Proponents say the energy isn’t that much greater than what existing ionospheric research facilities pump out and in any case is trivial compared to natural forces. The second complaint is that the military wants to use HAARP to develop scary futuristic weapons. Among them: (1) a “global shield” that would zap the guidance systems of incoming ballistic missiles; (2) mind-control beams to incapacitate enemy troops, and (3) weather-control machines. Sounds wild, but at least some of these schemes were embodied in technology patented in the 1980s by physicist Bernard Eastlund, who was a founder of a predecessor company of the current HAARP contractor. HAARP spokesmen say there’s no connection between Eastlund’s plans and theirs, and that they’re not cooking up death rays or anything of the sort. But check out both sides of the story and decide for yourself. For the full paranoid treatment see Angels Don’t Play This HAARP: Advances in Tesla Technology by Nick Begich, Earthpulse Press, PO Box 201393, Anchor- age, Alaska 99520, 907-249-9111. For the Air Force’s version (complete with photos), check out the HAARP Website at


Is there something you need to get straight? Cecil Adams can deliver the Straight Dope on any topic. Write Cecil Adams at the Chicago Reader, 11 E. Illinois, Chicago 60611, or E-mail him at

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Slug Signorino.