Dirty Bomb Myths

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On
June 10, 2002, Attorney General John Ashcroft called a press conference
in Moscow to announce that Abdullah Al Muhajir — aka Jose Padilla
— had been arrested more than a month earlier at O’Hare International
Airport by the FBI on a “material witness” warrant. Quoth Ashcroft:

I
am pleased to announce today a significant step forward in the war
on terrorism. We have captured a known terrorist who was exploring
a plan to build and explode a radiological dispersion device, or
“dirty bomb,” in the United States.

Let
me be clear: We know from multiple independent and corroborating
sources that Abdullah Al Muhajir was closely associated with al-Qaida
and that as an al-Qaida operative he was involved in planning
future terrorist attacks on innocent American civilians in the
United States.

The
safety of all Americans and the national security interests of
the United States require that Abdullah Al Muhajir be detained
by the Defense Department as an enemy combatant.

Finally,
last week, the Justice Department got around to charging Padilla
and four others — apparently subject to FBI surveillance since at
least 1996 — with operating and/or participating in a North American
“support cell” that sent money and mujahideen recruits to overseas
conflicts in Bosnia, Kosovo, Chechnya, Somalia and elsewhere.

In
particular, the indictment alleges that in July 2000, Padilla [who
had been in Egypt since 1998] filled out a “Mujahideen Data Form”
— under the name Abdullah al-Espani — “in preparation for violent
jihad training in Afghanistan.”

What
about the “dirty bomb”?

According
to the Department of Justice, Padilla, while in Afghanistan, had
suggested to his al-Qaida “handler,” Abu Zubayda, that he construct
a real nuke, using “plans” Padilla had found on the Internet.

Zubayda
allegedly didn’t think Padilla — or anyone else in al-Qaida — was
capable of doing that. However, Zubayda allegedly did think Padilla
might be able to construct a radiological dispersal device [aka
“dirty bomb”] consisting of “uranium wrapped with explosives.”

How
did Ashcroft know what Padilla allegedly suggested to Zubayda? And
how did Ashcroft know what Zubayda allegedly thought?

Well,
Abu Zubayda was captured in Pakistan in April 2002 — a month before
Padilla showed up in Chicago with $10,000 in cash — and has been
held for interrogation ever since in one of those secret prisons
run by the Central Intelligence Agency.

So,
maybe the CIA has extracted the truth from Zubayda, and maybe they
haven’t.

In
particular, if uranium is actually the “radiological agent” that
Zubayda suggested Padilla use, then Zubayda doesn’t know diddley-squat
about nukes — “dirty” or otherwise.

You
see, uranium is only weakly radioactive, emitting principally alpha
particles, which won’t even penetrate rubber gloves. True, uranium
is a heavy metal, but unlike lead, is not a “bone seeker.” In fact,
if ingested in any form other than a fine aerosol, uranium passes
right through the body.

Shortly
after 9-11, the dirty bomb “experts” at the Federation of American
Scientists told the world how to make one that would work.

The
FAS “dirty bomb” was a “coffee jar” containing about a thousand
curies of a true radiological material such as Cobalt-60.

[That’s
about the radiological source-strength of a medical radio-therapy
unit used to irradiate cancer patients.]

A
successful bomb would have to be designed with great sophistication,
first to break open the “coffee jar,” then to gradually heat the
radioactive source so that it vaporized, and finally to scatter
it to the winds.

No
explosion? Gradually heat the radioactive source? Scatter vapor
to the winds?

What’s
terrifying about that?

The
only person who would die right away would be the dolt who transported
a thousand-curie gamma-ray source into the mall in a coffee jar.

There
are estimated to be more than 10,000 medical radiotherapy units
and 12,000 industrial radiographic units in operation, worldwide.
Many are “orphans”. That is, no one knows where many of them — still
potentially dangerous — are.

Thieves
have stolen several medical radiotherapy units — not knowing what
they had stolen — and sold them as scrap metal. The lead shielding
weighs about a ton.

In
the worst incident — in 1987 in Brazil — the thieves removed the
highly radioactive source from the shielded unit. Result? Five persons
died within days and others got life-threatening doses of radiation.

How
many might Padilla’s “dirty bomb” have killed? Well, that would
depend upon how much explosive he used.

So,
if Padilla is convicted, it certainly will be “a significant step
forward in the war on terrorism.” Ashcroft will probably get the
Medal of Freedom.

November
28, 2005

Physicist
James Gordon Prather [send
him mail
] has served as a policy-implementing official for national
security-related technical matters in the Federal Energy Agency,
the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Department
of Energy, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Department
of the Army. Dr. Prather also served as legislative assistant for
national security affairs to U.S. Sen. Henry Bellmon, R-Okla. –
ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and member of the
Senate Energy Committee and Appropriations Committee. Dr. Prather
had earlier worked as a nuclear weapons physicist at Lawrence Livermore
National Laboratory in California and Sandia National Laboratory
in New Mexico.

Gordon
Prather Archives

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