WaPo on Nukes

Check out the first part of the Washington Post’s series on the challenges terrorists face in acquiring nuclear weapons.

About This Series

The three articles beginning today are the culmination of a year-long effort to examine the challenges the United States faces more than three years after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Previous articles have ranged from the threat posed by conventional truck bombs to the difficulty of tracking terrorist fundraising. The articles starting today take a detailed look at terrorists’ ability to acquire and use weapons of mass destruction — nuclear, biological and chemical.

While the dangers certainly are real, there is considerable disagreement among security experts about the probabilities for “catastrophic terrorism.” In the case of nuclear and biological weapons, the subjects of articles today and tomorrow, there are technical and scientific hurdles that have proved daunting, even for nations with sizable budgets and state-of-the-art facilities. Chemical weapons, which will be explored in an article Friday, would be somewhat easier to devise or obtain, but also far less likely to yield huge numbers of casualties. A radiological device would have similar limitations for terrorists.

21 thoughts on “WaPo on Nukes”

  1. I wouldn’t call it “cheering on” so much as extending helpful advice, i.e. “10 Steps to a Nuke of Your Very Own.”

    Besides, like the AP Photographers show, sometimes the news needs a little help. :)

  2. The Soviets exploded their atomic bomb about a week after the CIA told Truman that they wouldn’t have a bomb for four years, at the very least.

    In spite of all the daunting technical and logistical problems that impress Linzer so much, there were people over here who wanted the Soviets to have a bomb and helped them out. In the interests of “peace”, of course.

  3. Have you cancelled all your subscriptions? Have you stopped watching their television stations?

    You know I thought that this was a bit hyperbolic and then I remembered something, about 49 percent of the nation voted for a guy who (a) wanted to provide “peaceful” nuclear materials to Iran and (b) supported the same brain-dead scheme of Clinton-Carter to provide “peaceful” nuclear materials to North Korea.

  4. The Washington Post requires a sign up and I’m not doing it. So I’ll comment on the post above.

    “While the dangers certainly are real, there is considerable disagreement among security experts about the probabilities for “catastrophic terrorism”.In the case of nuclear and biological weapons, the subjects of articles today and tomorrow, there are technical and scientific hurdles that have proved daunting, even for nations with sizable budgets and state-of-the-art facilities”

    The war in Iraq bears directly on this problem. Saddam Hussein was a leader of a nation that was sympathetic to terrorism. Saddam was trying as hard as he could to develop chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. The point is: Terrorists don’t need to develop weapons; they only have to be friends with nations that do. Korea? Iran? Thankfully, the most accessible nation is no longer in the weapons development business.

    What is “catastrophic terrorism”? If one member of my family was harmed by a terrorist, and the rest of the world was unharmed, it would be catastrophic to me. What measurement are these people using for the value of human life? If the terrorist can’t achieve “catastrophic” results, does that make them less worthy of attention?


  5. So let me get this straight: The press highlighting security threats (and laying out information ten minutes of googling could provide) is akin to treachery or “extending a helping hand” to terrorists? I guess terrorists sophisticated enough to deliver nuclear weapons to the US probably wouldn’t be able to summarize what most arms-control agencies and many thinktanks are saying out in the open.. that’s where the treacherous MSM comes in!

    And Thorley, btw. The only thing “brain-dead” here is your characterization of Clinton’s agreed framework or the possible Kerry plan in regards to Iran. Surely North Korea’s two light-water reactors supplied by the US are not the source of its current arsenal (the soviet reactor was), nor will they be the source of their future arsenal (which will be, no doubt, the two huge new reactors under construction which will be able to supply weapons grade material).

    What North Korea does with the massive amounts of material they will SOON have is worrisome to say the least, but I’m sure the press would no doubt be engaging in an act of treachery were they to try to bring this up.

  6. Let’s see:

    Two commenters think the WashPost wants the terrorists to have nukes.

    #3 starts with a reasonable note about CIA’s failures, but then implies that terrorists will have nukes because of Americans traitors (like the Washington Post).

    #4 wants to start killing said Americans, although he tries to be clever by posing it rhetorically.

    #5 solves the problem of terrorism by not reading newspapers or watching t.v.

    And #6 blames everybody who supported Kerry. Which is strange, since President Bush is the one who tried to cut the program to secure loose Soviet nukes and keep existing suitcase nukes out of terrorist hands. And Bush apparently looked the other way while Pakistan spread nukes and N. Korea built them.

    Didja read this part:

    Nuclear scientists tend to believe the most plausible route for terrorists would be to build a crude device using stolen uranium from the former Soviet Union. Counterterrorism officials think bin Laden would prefer to buy a ready-made weapon stolen in Russia or Pakistan, and to obtain inside help in detonating it.

    This site need more leftwing nuts like me to balance all you rightwing nuts. Cause only a leftwing nut would notice how the WashPost never mentions that Bush tried to reduce the nuke-securing program. As usual, the big media is afraid angering its highly-placed administration sources.

  7. “Paris Match spent a week riding with a Ba’athist SAM crew trying to get a shot at a military or DHL jet. They finally did. Then they protested that they had NO IDEA it was a civilian a/c, when that can be seen clearly in their own photographs (and presumably through the viewfinder. I daresay they were using an SLR).”

    —“ AFP, AP and AP TV had advance notice of the murders of contractors in Fallujah last spring, so that they could position themselves on scene.”
    from http://powerlineblog.com


    People mistakenly think reporters are simply abusing “journalistic” license and “ethics” to get a scoop. The situation is actually worse than that: Reporters are being used as pawns for terrorism. Willingly.

    Killing isn’t the primary goal in terrorism. Killing is merely used by terrorism to get attention. Why would terrorists bother involving the press if killing was enough? Terrorism needs the press.

    The press is willing to help terrorism by politically and profitably condemning people and nations that oppose terrorism. They “expose” anomalies and represent them in a way that generates anger that can be harnessed by terrorists (simply because sensationalism is profitable). They work frantically when they smell the blood of an American like Rumsfeld or Bush, and are too lazy to work at all if a story would make America look good.

    Terrorism is nothing without the press. Terrorism is the weapon of a pathetic, powerless and weak organization. They need each other. The press makes no money without sensation, and terrorists get no votes without the press.

    Terrorists are powerless? Yes, Absolutely. They are so powerless that they need others to advance their agenda. They need Spanish people to vote a certain way, and Americans to vote a certain way. They must manipulate people to do their will because they don’t have enough support or power to achieve their goals on their own. They can not convince by using reason or by example because their goals are extreme. Instead they instill fear (thus “terrorism”).They need to make people afraid enough to advance the agenda of terrorism because there are not enough terrorists to kill enough people or to vote in a majority, or direct a government without the help of the fearful.

    While they work to make one segment afraid to oppose them, they use propaganda to make another segment angry enough to join them. Terrorism is the ultimate hate machine. Divide and conquer with hate and fear. These are the primary weapons in their arsenal because they know hate works against the people who embrace it, and fear is akin to hate.

    No army will defeat our military by fighting the way terrorism has. They can’t blow up enough buildings or people to win that way. But they can steadily keep pecking in a way that is sure to get in the news, until it wears away at the will of the people who direct the army; the American people run our military by voting. Old story; cut off the head and the body dies.
    America has always been willing to criticize herself and terrorists use that against her. They use the press and polls to gauge the success of their efforts. Who finances the polls? Who publishes them? Are they “news” or a political tool? It doesn’t matter; terrorists find them useful.

    Terrorists are so powerless that even murders by the thousand would not have an effect; unless the world knew about it. And terrorists would not be able to generate anger if serious journalism were valued over sensationalism and profit.

    While seeking fame and lining their pockets with blood money, short-sighted journalists write strongly about the shortcomings of people who are dedicated to destroying the worlds most effective hate machine since Hitler. The media’s self righteous sensational misrepresentations would be amusing, if they were not so deadly.

    To think the press doesn’t have any impact in a terrorist war is naïve.


  8. Folks, there are intersting issues around the role of the press in this overall conflict, but my point in posting this was to toss out the question – are nukes harder than we fear to develop? It’s a legitimate question, because for the last ten years, the Soviet Union has been in turmoil, the Islamist world has had money and the desire for a bomb – and yet they don’t have one.

    So asking the question isn’t dumb.

    That doesn’t mean the proposition is right, but it’s worth a reasoned discussion – and we’re not doing that here.


  9. Can terrorists get Nukes? I’d argue absolutely, but the WaPo article doesn’t discuss the most likely:


    Nation states have found it relatively easy to get nukes, Brazil, Israel, India, Pakistan, South Africa, North Korea all have nukes. Egypt, Saudie Arabia, Iran, and Libya all have nuclear development programs. None of these countries are major economic powers, so it’s not that hard.

    Consider Iran. Persia has wanted domination of the Gulf since Pericles time. The US Navy is in the way, and can’t be defeated conventionally, that effort failed in the 1980’s. However, a series of strikes on US cities would look attractive, particularly if blame can be placed on territory-less Al Queda; with a set of “Revolutionary” demands matching Iran’s political objectives (removal of the US Navy from the Gulf).

    This is basically the US Embassy takeover (it was the “students”) writ large and with nukes.

    I’d say a nuclear attack on US cities is VERY likely, given Iran’s political objectives, shaky government, and confluence of interests short-term with Al Queda.

    Certainly Iran testing devices, and providing third-party shipment and intelligence support is not out of the question, Iran’s Intelligence Services have supported various terrorist attacks on the US, most notably Khobar Towers, and have a lot of experience using Europe as staging areas for attacks on the US and Israel.

  10. The U.S. built a bomb using technology from the 1940s with no certain scientific record, previous knowledge, computers (as efficient as the ones we have now) or experience such as we have today. People in America were still plowing with horses, getting their first telephone, some were just getting wired for electric, space flight was comic book stuff, and most of the people reading this were not born yet. We made a bomb that wiped out entire cities and delivered it using propeller aircraft.

    Why wouldn’t a group with enough wealth and desire be able to do something that has already been done?

    An IAEA inspector told me, before the U.S. invaded, it was only a matter of time before Iraq developed nukes; that anthrax was difficult to get to a size that would disperse effectively, but Iraq was working on it; the location of many Russian warheads is a mystery and the shelf life of these missing warheads is not a problem if uranium can be refined. We now know Iraq had plenty of yellow cake. Iran is in the process of refining weapons grade stuff. Iraq already had sarin gas, and terrorists used it on U.S. troops, but failed to deliver the shells so they would activate the gas.

    To ask if terrorists can do these things using antique technology is a question that has been answered a long time ago.

    The only question is: Can we stop them?


  11. Jim Rockford wrote: “However, a series of strikes on US cities would look attractive, particularly if blame can be placed on territory-less Al Queda;. . .”

    This sentence needs to be noticed. There are lots of nations that would be happy to take advantage of Al Queda as scapegoat. The chances of weapons being turned over to terrorists get bigger when power changes occur. In the words of Jack, gambling for a ticket on the Titanic; “If you got nothin’, you got nothin’ to lose”.


  12. Not registered and will not register with the WaPo so haven’t read the article. That being said, the construction of a 1st generation nuclear weapon is not difficult. The most difficult and expensive process it obtaining the fissile material. Uranium by the centrafuge or plutonium by reactor takes lots of space, energy and people. The rest is the easy step. True, you had some brilliant people working on it in 44-45, but they did it on the first try using slide rules. Once someone has the critical mass of the material, its kitty bar the door.

  13. Tinfoil –

    If you could build an atomic bomb by reading the Washington Post, every establishment liberal in the country would have an atomic bomb.

    The “traitors” are more likely to be disgruntled ex-Soviets, or just any persons who can be bought with the kind of money that terrorism commands these days – which is probably greater than anything the Soviet Union could muster in the 30s and 40s.

    My point was that the article downplays the possibility of a terrorist nuke because of technical difficulties, which have been overcome before.

  14. GM —

    What struck me in reading accounts by people close to Khomenei who left Iran, was how Khomenei used the “students” as a deniable force.

    He was afraid of US strikes against his regime, and even of invasion, and in the first day distanced himself from the “students” and was prepared to move against him. Then Carter apologized for letting the Shah into the US for medical treatment, and Khomenei knew he had nothing to fear from the US as far as serious threats to his regime.

    Iran is a good example as to the Mullahs the logic is … “hey it worked before” but I’m sure there are other states that would like to move attention to a deniable scapegoat and have their own reasons for wishing US departure (particularly the US Navy) from the Middle East.

    As long as a State is willing to use it’s power to acquire/make/buy/build nuclear weapons, there isn’t much of a barrier, regardless of sanctions, inspections, etc.

  15. Actually, I think it’s been fairly well established by now that Khomenei didn’t initially know about the students, but was able to use them later to consolidate his own power.

    As for the first batch of comments, er, what? Please take your meds, people.

  16. Most of the technical hurdles involved in making the crudest type of nuclear weapon (e.g. a “Little Boy” type HEU gun-assembly device such as that used on Hiroshima) is in acquiring the fissile material. Beyond that it takes only a few precautions and basic shop-skills. Persons capabable of making IEDs that use timers could easily make a nuclear weapon if they had enough high enriched Uranium.

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