Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Threat of Al Qaeda Nuclear Bomb Underscores Importance of Success in Afghanistan

 

This week the Vancouver Sun reported that al Qaeda is on the brink of using a nuclear bomb.

Al-Qaida is on the verge of producing radioactive weapons after sourcing nuclear material and recruiting rogue scientists to build “dirty” bombs, according to leaked diplomatic documents.

A leading atomic regulator has privately warned that the world stands on the brink of a “nuclear 9/11”.

This report should come as no shock.  Information that came into the U.S. government’s after 9/11 revealed that al Qaeda had vigorously pursued  WMD technology.  The sad fact is that acquiring the means of a nuclear, biological, or chemical attack are all too easy.  We are too easily comforted by the idea that construction of an actual nuclear bomb is difficult.  We see nation-states with substantial resources, such as Iran, facing technical problems, so we think that the threat of such an attack is low.

But this is wrong. Making other types of WMD weapons is not difficult.  A dirty bomb, for example, does not have the destructive impact of a true nuclear bomb.  It is only a conventional explosive that disperses nuclear material of much lower grade into the surroundings.  It may still kill hundreds, if not thousands, and contaminate its surroundings with radioactive material.  The means to construct biological weapons are available in thousands of biotechnology labs and plants.  Chemical weapons have been used by terrorists — in the 1990s, a Japanese terrorist group attempted to attack civilians with nerve gas; it only failed to kill thousands because it flubbed the aerosol device to spread the agent.

It is not the technology that is ultimately unavailable to terrorists, but their means of delivery.  Nation-states don’t pursue dirty bombs, and perhaps have foresworn biological weapons because they are difficult to control, imprecise, and have low effectiveness against military targets.  But the indiscriminate nature of such weapons makes them perfect for terrorists.  I think we’ve been lucky that al Qaeda has been fixated on attacks that would produce spectacular video for its propaganda uses back in the Middle East.  Hence their repeated focus on airliners, bringing down buildings, and attacking landmarks and well-known tourist sites.  If al Qaeda really wanted to spread terror in the United States, they would use these primitive WMDs on soft, undefended targets like shopping malls, sporting events, and the crowded downtowns of major cities.

Since it is not possible to protect all of our vulnerabilities, the best way to prevent these types of attacks is to take the fight to al Qaeda so they cannot have the breathing room to acquire and deploy WMD (which still take more resources than simple car bombs and attacks with firearms).  And that, to me, is the positive effect of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — it is no mistake, I think, that as our offense ramped up in both places under President Bush, al Qaeda was unsuccessful in launching another attack in the U.S.  If we lose in Afghanistan, it seems to me, we will cede another safe haven to al Qaeda which they will use to plan more of these kinds of attacks, but with more resources and sophistication as they were able to do in the years before 9/11.

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  1. Profile Photo Member
    John Yoo: Since it is not possible to protect all of our vulnerabilities, the best way to prevent these types of attacks is to take the fight to al Qaeda so they cannot have the breathing room to acquire and deploy WMD (which still take more resources than simple car bombs and attacks with firearms).

    This has always been the most convincing argument for the Afghanistan war in my mind. It’s easy for people to write the whole endeavor off as some cowboy revenge fantasy or tut-tut the silly Bush administration for shaking the hive, but 9/11 was not the first event that proved the willingness of Islamic terrorists to attack us on our soil.

    There are miles of space for strategists to argue about the way to wage asymmetrical warfare, but on the simple question of “do we go?” it seems obvious that we’re better off killing terrorists there than here.

    • #1
    • February 3, 2011, at 1:49 AM PST
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  2. Scott R Member
    Scott RJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    It’s very important to be precise with our language, though: “Al Qaeda on the brink of using a nuclear bomb…” means something entirely different from “Al Qaeda on the brink of using a dirty bomb…”.

    Both are awful, but the former is a thousand (ten thousand?) times more awful, and therefore is qualitatively different.

    • #2
    • February 3, 2011, at 2:00 AM PST
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  3. Conservative Episcopalian Inactive

    While I agree that we did the correct thing into going into both Iraq and Afghanistan, the end goal in Afghanistan, a stabilization of that country such that it will foster democracy, shouldn’t be on our plate. I believe that we can have a presence there, but that presence should be to seek out and kill Al Qaeda whenever it pops up. We should only want to take and hold land there if we need to for the security of our troops and ultimately our people. Should we need to enter Iran, Yemen, Sudan or any of those countries, nation building should be off the table and finding and killing Jihadists our only goal.

    • #3
    • February 3, 2011, at 2:11 AM PST
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  4. liberal jim Inactive

    It is no mistake, I think, that since the Bush administration became preoccupied with Iraq, Bin Laden has remained free and expanded his organization into Yemen and other areas of the world, Iran has become more influential in the mid-east and the region has become progressively less, not more stable. Now that an Iranian back cleric holds an important role in the Iraq government justifying the expenditure of time, life and resources is becoming increasingly more difficult. Perhaps there are arguments that would mitigate the shortsightedness of the decision to invade Iraq, but the often used one you sight in my opinion falls far short of doing this; especially when one takes into account that Bush could not find the resources or will to secure our southern border.

    • #4
    • February 3, 2011, at 2:20 AM PST
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  5. Profile Photo Member

    You don’t need much space to construct a dirty bomb. If we deny them refuge in Afghanistan, they can do that sort of dirty work in Yemen, the Sudan, Somalia, Waziristan, Lebanon or any of a number of other places.

    After nearly ten years of sinking blood and treasure into a barbarian snake pit, it’s time to recognize that Afghanistan is never going to be anything remotely approaching a stable democracy.

    As for fighting terrorism at home, it’s long past time to secure our borders and deny visas to anyone from countries known to breed or harbor terrorists.

    • #5
    • February 3, 2011, at 2:21 AM PST
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  6. Kervinlee Member
    KervinleeJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Would it be possible for Congress to declare war on a non-state adversary such as Al-Quada?

    • #6
    • February 3, 2011, at 2:31 AM PST
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  7. Profile Photo Member
    Kervinlee: Would it be possible for Congress to declare war on a non-state adversary such as Al-Quada? · Feb 2 at 1:31pm

    Yes. But it would require a 3,000-page bill, stuffed with pork.

    • #7
    • February 3, 2011, at 2:33 AM PST
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  8. Kervinlee Member
    KervinleeJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Only 3,000 pages? If it comes with the intestinal fortitude to fight and win, I say pass it.

    • #8
    • February 3, 2011, at 2:45 AM PST
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  9. Profile Photo Member
    Kervinlee: Only 3,000 pages? If it comes with the intestinal fortitude to fight and win, I say pass it. · Feb 2 at 1:45pm

    Just don’t expect them to read it.

    • #9
    • February 3, 2011, at 2:49 AM PST
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  10. Mark Wilson Member
    Mark WilsonJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member
    Kenneth
    Kervinlee: Only 3,000 pages? If it comes with the intestinal fortitude to fight and win, I say pass it. · Feb 2 at 1:45pm
    Just don’t expect them to read it. · Feb 2 at 1:49pm

    Or stand by their vote when the winds change.

    • #10
    • February 3, 2011, at 4:44 AM PST
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  11. Chris Johnson Inactive

    To me, Prof. Yoo’s essential point is that it does not matter what material, specifically, is being used. In the mind of the public, a radiation (dirty) bomb is equivalent to a nuclear bomb.

    That’s what a terror weapon does.

    I sometimes run games, if I’m traveling with a colleague, passing things past security measures. To use an old example, I would sometimes hand a cup of coffee to a colleague, after we had cleared security in an airport, have them take the lid off, and find a note saying, “BOOM!”. We have addressed liquids, since then, so I am giving that one away.

    My point to my colleagues has always been that there is no such thing as a lock devised that cannot be easily defeated by a locksmith; or a burglar. That applies to the materials we handle.

    Security has little to do with keeping materials away from bad guys. Materials are available everywhere. Security comes from applying pressure at the source of bad guys, while remaining unpredictable on the defensive front. Government employee agents of security, at the TSA or HSA level, are for show. Those standardized protocols are easy to defeat.

    • #11
    • February 3, 2011, at 6:21 AM PST
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  12. Brian Watt Member
    Brian WattJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member
    Kenneth: You don’t need much space to construct a dirty bomb. If we deny them refuge in Afghanistan, they can do that sort of dirty work in Yemen, the Sudan, Somalia, Waziristan, Lebanon or any of a number of other places.

    After nearly ten years of sinking blood and treasure into a barbarian snake pit, it’s time to recognize that Afghanistan is never going to be anything remotely approaching a stable democracy.

    As for fighting terrorism at home, it’s long past time to secure our borders and deny visas to anyone from countries known to breed or harbor terrorists. · Feb 2 at 1:21pm

    Edited on Feb 02 at 01:38 pm

    But Kenneth, Janet Napolitano says that all this silly talk about the border not being secure and dangerous is just political posturing. I mean I don’t see why we all don’t just start packing picnic baskets now and head to the Arizona border with carloads of children to frolic in the desert. Who knows maybe we’ll find an old cow skull, a prospector’s pick or perhaps a Muslim prayer rug…you know when the Muslims headed West in their covered wagons.

    • #12
    • February 3, 2011, at 6:37 AM PST
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  13. Jerry the Bastage Inactive

    I suppose that the area affected by a dirty bomb could be cleaned up. But if not, depending on the material used, it could be radioactive for a long, long time.

    • #13
    • February 3, 2011, at 7:34 AM PST
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