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SnakebyteXX
11-21-2004, 07:05 AM
An attack on an American city by terrorists armed with a small nuclear device is an even bet within a decade, some experts say

Imagine a relatively small nuclear bomb of 10 kilotons exploding in San Francisco's Union Square. "Everything to the Museum of Modern Art would vaporize," writes Harvard security analyst Graham Allison in his chilling new book, "Nuclear Terrorism."

"Everything from the Transamerica building to Nob Hill would be sites of massive destruction; everything within the perimeter of Coit Tower and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge would go up in flames."

No survivors would be found amid nearly 100 square blocks, and buildings in about 400 square blocks would be totally destroyed or left looking like the Oklahoma City federal building after it was crushed by a truck bomb.

To alert Americans to the intimate extent of the peril, Allison's book is linked to an Internet "Blast Map" showing the radius of destruction for such a nuclear device anywhere in the United States. It can be viewed by ZIP code at www.nuclearterror.org. (http://www.nuclearterror.org.)

Allison and other experts agree that the most likely form of nuclear terrorism is a "dirty bomb," where radioactive material is scattered by a conventional explosive or perhaps an attack on a nuclear reactor.

But some analysts are worried more by the less likely but far more catastrophic detonation of a terrorist nuclear bomb.

"The gravest danger, however, and the one requiring the most urgent attention, is the possibility that terrorists could obtain highly enriched uranium or plutonium for use in an improvised nuclear device," according to Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, and former Sen. Sam Nunn, now head of the nonprofit Nuclear Threat Initiative.

Their warning comes in the opening pages of another sobering new book, "The Four Faces of Nuclear Terrorism," from the Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, the nation's largest nongovernmental organization focusing exclusively on nonproliferation issues. Based on a two-year study, the book says terrorist organizations are now able to build crude nuclear bombs.

This new nuclear nightmare was summoned up in the presidential campaign last month, when Vice President Dick Cheney warned in a widely reported speech:

"The biggest threat we face now as a nation is the possibility of terrorists ending up in the middle of one of our cities with deadlier weapons than have ever before been used against us -- biological agents or a nuclear weapon or a chemical weapon of some kind, to be able to threaten the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans."

The Boston Herald's story about Cheney's speech carried the headline, "Vote Kerry, get nuked, veep warns." Critics accused Cheney of election scaremongering, but analysts on both sides of the partisan divide share his assessment of the terrorist nuclear threat, even if they disagree with him about Kerry.

"Fissile material is widely available," said UC Berkeley Professor Harold Smith, a nonproliferation expert who served in the Clinton White House. "The technology is widely known. The prudent man would assume that this kind of tragedy is going to happen and should be asking himself, 'What can I do about it?' "

Fueling the alarm was an ABC News demonstration last year of how easy it would be to penetrate post-Sept. 11 security. A news team successfully sent uranium inside a shipping container from Jakarta through the Port of Los Angeles.

The shipment underscored findings of a report from the Peace Research Institute in Frankfurt, Germany, that terrorist transport of nuclear weapons by sea or by land "probably would not be detected."

The U.S. government has several approaches to reducing the danger, but critics question their adequacy. The strategies range from new radiation detectors at U.S. ports to Department of Homeland Security advice to "learn how to build a temporary fallout shelter ... even if you do not live near a potential nuclear target."

In August, San Francisco became the first port on the West Coast to receive the radiation detectors, with Oakland scheduled to be added by the end of this year.

If sufficient funding is provided, the Department of Homeland Security hopes to have the machines at all of the United States' more than 300 ports of entry -- including sea, land and air -- by the end of 2005, said Customs and Border Patrol spokesman Barry Morrissey.

Asked if the monitor would have detected the ABC News uranium shipment, Department of Homeland Security spokesman Michael Milne said, "It's designed to, yes. They should identify most sources of radiation."

UC's Smith was skeptical. "I doubt it will be very effective," he said, adding that radiation from highly enriched uranium and plutonium "is difficult to detect and easily shielded." Also, he added, the system wouldn't prevent offshore detonations inside a port harbor.

Allison welcomes the screening, but he too believes the current technology can be circumvented. "The opportunities for shielding overwhelm the current capability for finding," he said.

Allison urges that top priority be given to denying terrorists access to nuclear materials and weapons in the first place, with such steps as securing existing stockpiles and weapons, blocking production of new fissile materials, stopping more nations from acquiring nuclear arms and eliminating the nuclear black market.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., introduced legislation in April directing the president to establish a task force on removing nuclear materials from vulnerable sites around the world, but opposition turned the measure into a "sense of Congress" recommendation in this year's defense authorization bill.

Everyone agrees on one thing: A nuclear blast in a U.S. city would eclipse Sept. 11 in its horror.

"With a 10-ton nuclear weapon stolen from the former Soviet arsenal and delivered to an American city in a cargo container, al Qaeda could make 9/11 a footnote," said Allison, founding dean of Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government and a former assistant secretary of defense for policy and plans.

"And if not al Qaeda, one of its affiliates can step up, using a weapon built of (highly enriched uranium) from Pakistan or North Korea or from a research reactor in Uzbekistan," Allison wrote.

Such a bomb at noon in New York's Times Square would kill a million people in the blast itself and in collapsing buildings, fires and fallout in the following hours, he said.

"A nuclear terrorist attack is more likely than not within the next decade," he told The Chronicle. To dramatize the point, he's accepting bets, at 51-to-49 odds, on such an event.

Alarm over the prospect of a city being devastated by a terrorist nuclear bomb was sounded soon after Sept. 11, but has grown noticeably louder in recent weeks and months.

"An American Hiroshima" was the ominous title of a recent New York Times column by Nicholas Kristof. It quoted former Secretary of Defense William Perry saying there is an even chance of a nuclear terror strike in the United States in the next six years.

"We're racing toward unprecedented catastrophe," said Perry, a Stanford professor and co-director of the Stanford-Harvard Preventive Defense Project. "This is preventable, but we're not doing the things that could prevent it."

The most dangerous source of a "loose nuke" or the materials to make one, many security analysts say, are the former states of the Soviet Union, where much of the nuclear materials and weapons left over from the Cold War remain scattered and inadequately guarded.

To confront the danger, Lugar and Nunn started the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, by which the U.S. government assists former Soviet states in securing nuclear materials and weapons, a program Smith implemented when he served in the White House.

That program and similar efforts, however, receive only about $1 billion a year, just a third of the amount recommended by a bipartisan presidential commission in 2001.

"Roughly two-thirds of Russia's fissile material is inadequately secured," Carl Robichaud of the Century Foundation said a critical report in August, "What the 9/11 Commission Forgot."

At the same time, fears have been fueled by mounting evidence of terrorist groups making repeated attempts to obtain nuclear materials and weapons at the same time as potential sources multiply.

Added to the stockpiles in the former Soviet Union are the contraband exports of nuclear secrets and materials from Pakistan, Iran's uranium enrichment plans and North Korean nuclear weapons development.

At Berkeley, Smith has a somber plan, not for prevention but for the harrowing days and months after such a catastrophe. He and Professor Steven Weber, director of the Institute of International Relations at UC Berkeley, propose to study what would happen if a nuclear bomb blew up in a major city somewhere in the world.

Their proposed study, for which they seek funding, would use Moscow as the hypothetical target, given the frequent terrorist strikes in Russia.

Unlike disaster-response plans already developed by the United States and other governments for a nuclear terrorist strike, the two UC researchers want to look beyond emergency response, evacuation and radiation containment.

They ask: What precautionary plans could help avert retaliation against the wrong target, mass panic, a collapse of world trade brought on by sudden closure of ports?

If Moscow were destroyed by an anonymous bomb, what could reduce the risk of Russian retaliation mistakenly launched against Chechnya or the United States?

One of their ideas is to have a team of international technical experts prepared for immediate dispatch to assess the bomb's origin by analyzing its distinctive radioactive signature, Smith and Weber said.

"A week's delay in retaliation could literally save the world," said Smith.

It's a topic so chilling that few people want to face it, Smith said. "I'm finding what I call the psychology of denial."

Yet, given al Qaeda's many efforts to acquire nuclear materials, its desire to inflict extensive casualties and the unrelenting stepping up of the scale of its attacks, the prospects of what-if must be faced, Smith and Weber said.

"I'm a great believer in having these thinking-the-unthinkable discussions up front," Weber said. "It would be irresponsible not to plan for it."




Link (http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2004/11/21/BURRESS.TMP)

highsea
11-21-2004, 11:12 AM
Well, I'm not saying a nuclear bomb in a US city would not be a disaster, but the author makes several critical misstatements.
[ QUOTE ]
Fueling the alarm was an ABC News demonstration last year of how easy it would be to penetrate post-Sept. 11 security. A news team successfully sent uranium inside a shipping container from Jakarta through the Port of Los Angeles. <hr /></blockquote> What the author fails to mention was that the shipment was of 15 pounds of depleted uranium. The DU was packed inside a steel pipe and lined with lead.

DU is less radioactive than natural Uranium ore, and only emits alpha particles, which can be shielded with a piece of paper. No radiation detector is going to go off under these circumstances. In fact, we don't even want them to, because it would render them useless. What we want them to look for is gamma radiation, which would indicate HEU, and is more difficult to shield. [ QUOTE ]
"With a 10-ton nuclear weapon stolen from the former Soviet arsenal and delivered to an American city in a cargo container, al Qaeda could make 9/11 a footnote," said Allison, founding dean of Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government and a former assistant secretary of defense for policy and plans.<hr /></blockquote> Some facts: All Russian nukes were designed with sophisticated permissive action links (PAL's) that precluded unauthorized use. Furthermore, they were all under control of the 12th GUMO, they are accounted for, and not exactly easy to steal. What is being alluded to here is Lebed's claims (first broadcast on 60 minutes) that 100 "suitcase nukes" were stolen from Russia in the early 90's. This rumor has been widely discredited by analysts from both the West and Russia.

Russian nukes contained just enough plutonium to reach critical mass, and were boosted with tritium to acheive their yield. Tritium has a half-life of 12.3 years, so yield degrades rapidly if the pit is not replaced frequently, i.e. every 4-6 months. Also the heat and radiation in the core plays hell with the electronic components and the HE used to initiate the reaction, which also have to be replaced on very short intervals. These short service intervals were typical of Russian nukes.

The chances of a terrorist group being able to set off a stolen nuke successfully are almost non-existant in real life. Even if the claims by Lebed were true, these nukes would have missed at least 20 scheduled service intervals, and would not be a threat today. They would be nothing more than radioactive scrap metal.[ QUOTE ]
"The gravest danger, however, and the one requiring the most urgent attention, is the possibility that terrorists could obtain highly enriched uranium or plutonium for use in an improvised nuclear device," according to Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, and former Sen. Sam Nunn, now head of the nonprofit Nuclear Threat Initiative. <hr /></blockquote> I agree with this statement, but Lugar and Nunn were not referring to a fission device. They were talking about a dispersal device (a "dirty bomb"), which has a much lower potential for destruction.

As usual, journalists love to throw out doomsday scenarios and exagerate the threat. It sells newspapers, and they are not particularly concerned with presenting a realistic scenario. It's not difficult to find an "expert" from Berkely or Harvard or some other university to go along with these scenarios, they like to see their names in the paper. My advice is to take such statements with a grain of salt. These people are not defense analysts, and they are not privy to classified intelligence.

We need to be focusing on actual threats, conjuring up imaginary ones does not help anyone.

SnakebyteXX
11-21-2004, 12:44 PM
Wow! Highly articulate response! You are clearly well informed on this issue. As as has often been the case I learned something from reading one of your posts - thanks.

[ QUOTE ]
What the author fails to mention was that the shipment was of 15 pounds of depleted uranium. The DU was packed inside a steel pipe and lined with lead.

DU is less radioactive than natural Uranium ore, and only emits alpha particles, which can be shielded with a piece of paper. No radiation detector is going to go off under these circumstances. In fact, we don't even want them to, because it would render them useless. What we want them to look for is gamma radiation, which would indicate HEU, and is more difficult to shield. <hr /></blockquote>

I think this experiment was irrelevant. What the author also failed to mention is that in spite of the best efforts of Customs and the Border Patrol, our borders are sieves. There is no reason to believe that anyone bent on smuggling nuclear material into this country would be confined to proper channels.

For example, given the suicidal nature of the terrorists we're facing what would prevent them from bringing in nuclear material aboard a ship and detonating the whole thing in a US harbor before Customs ever got close enough to take a look?

Consider also the hundreds of tons of illegal narcotics that get brought into this country every year. Many of which are delivered via small airplanes flying into clandestine landing strips or transferred from offshore ships to small go-fast boats before finally running the gauntlet to shore (no hassle of going through Customs for those boys). Not to mention the tonnage delivered incrementally by human mules transporting it 100 pounds at a time across low surveillance stretchs of our southern desert areas. To the north there are vast stretchs of the Canadian border that essentially go unmonitored. There are still places where you can drive across the border between the US and Canada without going through a checkpoint.

Top that off with the reality of several hundred thousand illegal alliens who somehow manage to enter the US from Mexico (and exit to Mexico) without aprehension and you have the obvious means for terrorists to enter the US undetected carrying whatever materials that they need to get the job done.

At present, I think security from terrorist attack as the average American percieves it is an illusion and will remain so indefinitely in spite of the best efforts of our government to convince us otherwise.

Snake

highsea
11-21-2004, 01:20 PM
Snake, I agree 100% that our borders are sieves.

I just get tired of the "terrorists have stolen Russian nukes" claims that seem to pop up about every 30 days. It's the same old claim rehashed again and again.

Anything can be smuggled into the US. No doubt about that. And the threat of a dirty bomb should not be ignored. But there are easier and more effective ways for terrorists to hit us, such as chemical weapons, so I don't lose much sleep over the threat of terrorists and mini-nukes.

The truth is, I think they will continue to use the tactics they have used in the past, airplanes, trains, car bombs, etc. I suppose this is just the way it's going to be from now on, or at least until Islam reforms itself.

SecaucusFats
11-21-2004, 01:58 PM
<blockquote><font class="small">Quote SnakebyteXX:</font><hr> Top that off with the reality of several hundred thousand illegal alliens who somehow manage to enter the US from Mexico (and exit to Mexico) without aprehension and you have the obvious means for terrorists to enter the US undetected carrying whatever materials that they need to get the job done.

Snake <hr /></blockquote>

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