Science: Moscow Microwaves

Feb. 23, 1976 Time http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,918076,00.html American diplomats and their families have learned to live with the fact that the walls of the U.S. embassy in Moscow are probably infested with "bugs" put there by the Russians. But last week they were given something else to worry about. Embassy staffers and their families were told that high levels of microwave radiation had been detected in the nine-story embassy building on Tchaikovsky Street. The source: Soviet antennas, which are beaming the waves in both to charge up the batteries of their listening devices and to jam embassy-based U.S. electronic monitoring of Russian communications. U.S. officials were not alarmed about any serious breach of embassy security; diplomats routinely hold important conversations in a lead-shielded "safe" room that is regularly swept for bugs. But some officials expressed concern for the health of embassy residents and workers. High-intensity microwaves, like those used in electronic kitchen ovens, can "cook" human cells. They can cause cataracts and raise levels of serum triglycerides, or blood fats, in humans, predisposing them to heart attacks. The waves can also interfere with the operation of heart pacers. State Department officials insist that they have thus far found no ill effects from the radiation. But Pentagon scientists have recommended that the U.S. demand an immediate halt to the microwave bombardment. They have also proposed putting in alarms to let embassy staffers know when they are being irradiated so they can leave the building. Physicist Fred Sterzer, director of RCA's Microwave Technology Center at Princeton, N.J., points out that there are well-known and commonly used countermeasures. All the embassy need do, he says, is use metal Venetian blinds, place a layer of wire mesh under its floors, and paper its walls with metal foil, which can then be covered with regular wallpaper. These

precautions would not only block any incoming microwaves, but would also prevent bugs in inside walls from sending signals outside the building by microwave.