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Don't tug on superman's cape: Underrate Dick Clarke to your peril


Watching the inside-the-beltway, alpha-interviewer, Tim Russert, question Richard Clarke on Meet the Press this morning, I believe that the administration continues to underrate Clarke to its peril. Russert quoted and then questioned Clarke about a litany of matters that attempted to discredit his skills and motives. Clarke’s pause-less, flawless, mastery of nuance performance matched his 9/11 Commission testimony.

Under direct question from Russert regarding Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s floor comments that Clarke "has told two entirely different stories under oath, " was likely guilty of perjury, and why wouldn’t he renounce any financial gain from the book, Clarke called for even greater release, including both the:

(1) July 2002 classified testimony before a joint House-Senate intelligence inquiry, and the
(2) classified 9/11 Commission testimony.

Clarke further lifted the bar by asking that more items be declassified:

(3) 25 January 2001 memo to Condi Rice containing the plan that Clarke had proposed, and which Rice and others say didn’t exist.
(4) 4 September 2001 National Security Directive authored by Clarke.
(5) All of Clarke’s emails to Rice from 20 Jan to 11 September.
(6) All of Rice’s replies to Clarke in the same period.

I am moved to question the current the White House communications and PR plan in this White House, which is to say, perhaps, where is Karen Hughes? She is returning but she also advocated the assault on Clarke.  Given the gaffs and misteps, I wonder who is looking at secondary effects and implications of their actions or lack of action. Richard Clarke, as the article, "The Wonk That Roared," below notes, is the "alpha-bureaucrat."

Clarke went on to cite the opinions of a doyen of the right, Pat Buchanan, on writing a backgrounder to defend an administration, which matches Clarke’s approach precisely.

Clarke dealt with the timing issue with a lockstep chronology from leaving the administration in February 2003 to releasing the NSC-approved text to his publisher in February 2004.

In dealing with Frist’s call to renounce all royalties from the book, Clarke replied that he had not only had plans to donate monies to the victims but also the widows and orphans of the Special ops KIA.

I still find Clarke's arguments arresting to the point that the administration will have to release someone, the leading candidate of which is Condi Rice.  I would think that the administration would try to find a way to co-opt or transcend Clarke rather than continuing to attack him. As the song writer Jim Croce noted:

You don't tug on superman's cape
You don't spit into the wind
You don't pull the mask of the ol' lone ranger
And you don't mess around with ….

I suggest three citations:

The Wonk That Roared
Richard Clarke and the Rise Of the Heroic Bureaucrat
By Joel Achenbach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 28, 2004; Page D01

Ex-Bush Aide Calls for Testimony on Terrorism to Be Opened
March 28, 2004
Filed at 11:10 a.m. ET

Bush's Efforts to Offset Clarke Stymied
Republicans Say Administration Struggling for Momentum After Ex-Aide's Assertions
By Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 28, 2004; Page A23

Gordon Housworth

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Experts fear terrorists are seeking fuel-air bombs


With the phrase, "they go to school on us," in frequent usage in the 9/11 Commission hearings, why does it come as a surprise to some that al Qaeda would attempt to deploy "near-nuclear effect" FAE (fuel air explosives) and thermobaric weapons. One of my drumbeats is that all technology "has a glide slope to the desktop," i.e., it is only a matter of time before any technology, be it laser printing or thermobarics, is small enough and cheap enough to be widely manufactured and distributed. Yet, it still comes as a surprise to so many, which is, to me, a sure sign of underestimation and our failure to "go to school" on them.

The US used thermobaric devices in March 2002 against al Qaeda caves near Gardez, Afghanistan. The weapons are "conventional" in their materials and so do not have telltale signatures but have near-nuclear effects -- a near perfect terror weapon -- and in the case of FAEs they can be assembled in country (I had manuals for them dating from the 80s from open sources) and they do not have the design challenges -- yet -- of thermobarics. The only surprise is why it would take so long.  See Defense officials defend using new bomb.

While jurists and purists dance on the head of a pin discussing whether a two-stage device (FAE) or single stage (thermobaric) classify as a WMD, i.e., two stages do but one stage does not, it makes no difference to the victim or the terrorist. (But you will be relieved to know that our thermobarics are consistent with the laws of armed conflict and our treaty obligations.) Terrorists will take the path of least resistance and start with homemade FAEs and purchased thermobarics.

If you design your first stage burst and mix properly, any fuel tanker truck becomes an FAE -- and it has the benefit of having a built-in transport means. (It is possible that the Tunisian synagogue blast was a developmental step in that direction.) Should the terrorist be unwilling to build, they can buy on the black market (Soviet devices have been found with rebels in the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo).

FAEs and thermobarics greatly redraft the tactical landscape as truck-barriers would have to have far greater perimeters and defensive strategies become far more complex as these weapons "go around walls." The blast effects are extraordinary, sustained, effective at a greater distance, and consume any breathable oxygen in the confined space and replace it with combustion gases. Lethality is assured.

As I noted in Nov 2001, "If you want to know anything substantive about Soviet tactical military operations, and especially areas of operations in Chechnya and Afghanistan, Lester Grau and Ali Jalali are your guys. As we consider digging anyone out of the underground sanctuaries of Afghanistan, be it natural limestone caves, irrigation tunnels, or purpose-made bunkers, it seemed wise to have a primer on the geography and the tools." Grau and Jalali’s "Underground Combat: Stereophonic Blasting, Tunnel Rats, and the Soviet-Afghan War" is still topical in employment. Just add significantly greater blast effects.

Put a thermobaric in a subway, especially an older, single tube system as the London Underground, and the effects would be profound. FYI, if you are doing research on thermobarics, there is a lot of incorrect reporting in 2001-2002 that they are two stage devices.

Experts fear terrorists are seeking fuel-air bombs
New Scientist
09:45 21 March 04
David Hambling

Some experts fear that terrorists are trying to develop thermobaric and fuel-air bombs which can be even more devastating than conventional devices...

The devices use a small charge to generate a cloud of explosive mixed with air. The main explosion is then detonated by a second charge (a fuel-air explosion), or by the explosive reacting spontaneously with air (a thermobaric explosion). The resulting shock wave is not as strong as a conventional blast, but it can do more damage as it is more sustained and, crucially, diminishes far more gradually with distance.

Gordon Housworth

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'Dirty Bomb' worries continue


I found it most interesting that US fears of a radiological dirty bomb over the previous Christmas-New Years holiday were based not upon specific recent information but upon the belief of US officials that al Qaeda was making every effort to detonate such a device. (Remember that TOPOFF 2 employed a radiological attack on Seattle as one of its two attack scenarios.) Thus a radiological device may or may not have been the primary threat. Our focus on it may or may not have been warranted, but the hall of mirrors only deepens. We must separate 'devices' from means, timing, and symbology. A radiological device is certainly easier to make that a fissile package, but after news reports such as the one below one wonders if al Qaeda will drop the idea for fear of discovery. Perhaps the US is trying to force it to drop the idea instead and so move on to other avenues.

The operative device can still be, or in parallel be, an aircraft. The US is certainly focused on the threat from an aircraft outside the country. Some six Air France cancellations, nearly as many BA cancellations, and a few Mexican flights are evidence of that but is the threat from one or more passengers on board; is the intent to splash the aircraft, dive it into a high value target, deliver a device or device component to the US for combined effect in crashing the plane or for later use, a cover for something else, or some of the above. We and the French are seeking to interview those that did not show up for certain flights. The French report that one individual was thought to have 'a small bomb whose components might get past airport security.'

If we are to believe the unclass ruminations of US intel, al Qaeda is fixated on aircraft, planning to seize inbound aircraft and studying our air traffic system for weaknesses. I suggest that al Qaeda is fixated on large volume explosives, of which an aircraft is one. It is not clear that they are fixated on aircraft per se. Al Qaeda is known for doing the unexpected, for exploiting our weaknesses, attacking that which we overlook. Is al Qaeda attempting to focus our attention on aircraft while it envisions another means of attack. Moving from a domestic flight, where security is presumed good (and I wonder of the truth of that), to an arriving international flight, where security might be less attentive, is certainly a simple adjustment to a proven plan. Given the current US focus on inbound hijacked aircraft, will al Qaeda be put off and move on to something else.

Symbology, timing, and potential casualties have links. The ability to carry off any significant attack on US soil would be a needed symbol of al Qaeda renaissance. The ability to do so in the Christmas to New Years window would have increased the symbology many fold. Public celebrations associated with the holidays would assemble a target rich environment, nearly all soft and highly vulnerable physically and emotionally. An attractive target to be certain. Was that the original target or are they waiting for the stand-down from Orange when chances of success are higher. Was the stand-down timing the original plan or now the fallback plan.

The difficulty in parsing this out is made all the worse by attempting to sift through incomplete intel with some significant portion coming from third party foreign governments who, for their own secrecy needs, are shielding primary sources. It is very hard in such conditions to gage credibility of source and individual datum from source.

Is an attack on US interests still a priority event for al Qaeda, or is it a parallel event to efforts in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, or will it be deferred until al Qaeda can attempt to 'realign' the governing elites of Saudi Arabia (provides oil and a politically stable Arab center) and Pakistan (which already has divertible nukes, is resisting fundamentalist aims, and will ultimately support a US-led attack on al Qaeda strongholds in its northern territories). Some or all of the above.

I do not envy the burden on US intel at the moment.

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From Rogue Nuclear Programs, Web of Trails Leads to Pakistan


It is astonishing that the US so grossly underestimated Pakistan's skills, aggressive marketing, capacity to assemble a covert supply chain of component manufacturers, and its specific enrichment support to Libya, Iran, and the DPRK. But as the threads ultimately began to become clear, "political necessity" intervened to prevent our curbing the "Nukes 'R' Us" approach of a significant segment of the Paki military, intelligence, and scientific corps. This could be the "blowback" -- unintentioned consequence -- of all time in that the critical path of fissile package production is, short of outright theft, enrichment and not the design and manufacture of the device itself. If the technology is now reasonably available, and everyone in need knows where to order it, it makes the production of nuclear weapons all that much easier for both state and stateless entities. I am of the camp that a certain segment will continue to proliferate -- for a combination of financial, nationalistic, and religious grounds -- despite whatever government assurances are made to the contrary.

It would not surprise me to see critical Pakistani technologists go the way of Gerald Bull, a truly remarkable weapons designer assassinated in Brussels in March 1990 by the Israelis for his work in helping Iraq build a "super-cannon" to attack Israel. Bull extrapolated his work on HARP (High Altitude Research Project) that fired instrumented cannon rounds over 80 miles into the upper atmosphere. Iraq was building enormous underground tunnels to house these super-guns pointed at Israel. Israel exercised its national interest after repeated warnings to Bull had no effect.

Gordon Housworth

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Lost in Translation (inability to translate what we intercept)


I've seen few substantial items other than Lost in Translation on the translation morass since October 2003, but I doubt things have improved in a few months. Having been involved with integrating less cleared (lower clearance level) "mumblers" into past data fusion efforts in the past, this must be a security agony. Think of having to give highly sensitive COMINT (communications intel) traffic to a foreign national -- there is almost no effective way to compartmentalize it -- and then second guess their translations as to technical and cultural accuracy. This is an Achilles Heel for us well into the future. I do wonder what the "after-session" or end-of-assignment restrictions are on these foreign translators. I wonder if they have or will have HAR (hazardous Area Restriction) travel limits:

Lost in Translation
The Feds listen in on terrorists every day. Too often they can’t understand a word they hear
By Daniel Klaidman and Michael Isikoff
Updated: 1:45 p.m. ET Oct. 30, 2003

Oct. 27 issue - The clash of civilizations rages in some surprising places, and one of them is the large room in the FBI’s Washington, D.C., Field Office that houses a unit known as CI-19. In one set of cubicles sit the foreign-born Muslims; across a partition is everyone else.

They have the same vital job: to translate supersecret wiretaps of suspected terrorists and spies. But the 150 or so members of CI-19 (for Counterintelligence) segregate themselves by ethnicity and religion. Some of the U.S.-born translators have accused their Middle Eastern-born counterparts of making disparaging or unpatriotic remarks, or of making "mistranslations"failing to translate comments that might reflect poorly on their fellow Muslims, such as references to sexual deviancy. The tensions erupt in arguments and angry finger-pointing from time to time. "It’s a good thing the translators are not allowed to carry guns," says Sibel Edmonds, a Farsi translator who formerly worked in the unit.

To fight the war on terror, the FBI desperately needs translators. Every day, wiretaps and bugs installed under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) record hundreds of hours of conversations conducted in Arabic or other Middle Eastern languages like Farsi. Those conversations must all be translated into Englishand quicklyif investigators are to head off budding Qaeda plots against the United States. Today, more than two years after the 9/11 attacks, the FBI is still woefully short of translators. FBI Director Robert Mueller has declared that he wants a 12-hour rule: all significant electronic intercepts of suspected terrorist conversations must be translated within 12 hours. Asked if the bureau was living up to its own rule, a senior FBI official quietly chuckled. He was being mordant: he and every top gumshoe are well aware that the consequences could be tragic.


The FBI is still overwhelmed. Because of a threefold increase in FISA wiretaps to monitor the terror threat, the bureau has struggled to keep up. Mueller has been adamant about trying to monitor conversationsin real timein the dozen or so truly urgent terrorism investigations. But he has been disappointed again and again. One FBI official described an oft-repeated awkward scene in the director’s office: a top investigator comes to brief Mueller on a high-priority case, the kind that appears in the Threat Matrix shown to President George W. Bush every morning. During the course of the presentation, it becomes obvious that there are significant gaps in the case. The sheepish agent finally admits that hours of wiretaps have yet to be translated. Mueller, a no-nonsense ex-Marine, swallows his exasperation and tersely instructs his subordinates to "do better."

In theory, there are rules for prioritizing which conversations are to be translated first. Can the information be obtained elsewhere? Is the speaker a known Qaeda member? Is there other intelligence suggesting urgency? In practice, says one street agent, "it all depends on how loud you scream on the phone to headquarters."

Gordon Housworth

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Conventional war and other mentalities overlooked the armored Humvee


The Humvee and the A-10 Warthog, among other platforms, share great similarities: both unloved, beneath the radar of those envisioning grand engagements, lacking what we call a "high science-fiction coefficient" of embedded technology, almost never manufactured, and both nearly dropped from production and AF inventory.

The A-10 came to be recognized as a highly survivable "life-support system" for a remarkable 30 MM gun in which every "ugly," non-supersonic element was designed to keep pilot and gun intact over the kill box. It's design critical path is superb.

The Humvee is, I think, becoming the "mobile foxhole" and CP (command post) for mechanized infantry, especially in an urban setting. Its capacity, speed, traverse and ground clearance are fine but it has been thrust into the role of an armored car without the armor. The vehicle can carry substantial ordnance but if the bad guy gets off the first shot, it is imperiled.

Cold-War Thinking Prevented Vital Vehicle From Reaching Iraq describes a planning world in which massed tank battles in the central German plains held sway (along with the service ego of having the best toys and the manufacturers desire to provide them) had no place for an armored Humvee whereas 'low level' guerilla conflicts demand it. Now we see on-the-spot ingenuity of the GIs ad hoc armoring their 'personal transports,' much like GIs did in earlier wars (e.g., the hedgerow penetrators that allows tanks to go through a hedgerow, keeping the muzzle on the Germans, rather than going over it and exposing the tanks soft underbelly, and the decapitation deflectors on the front of a jeep that cut wires strung trails before they reached the occupants).

At the time, attention was devoted to the Army's Future Combat System, "which officials say will replace the 70-ton battle tank and should be able to do everything from high-end combat to peacekeeping. The system, which the Army hopes to field starting around 2010, will depend on unmanned surveillance planes, robotic sensors and human scouts to determine the enemy's whereabouts. Computers linked by wireless modems will then disseminate the data to troops -- who will spread out over the battlefield and attack simultaneously from several directions before the enemy can even get off a shot. Instead of armor, these new units will rely on better intelligence, munitions and speed to survive."

The armored Humvee, by contrast, was insignificant, yet the current production armored versions are performing well against most Iraqi threats.

Gordon Housworth

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Europe's value after Atocha


In response to Atocha's impact I had been discussing the value of the European bloc with a colleague.

It is my opinion that Europe is now more valuable than ever. The Abu Hafs Al-Masri Brigade put them in play and they must now work out a means to engage (hopefully that over capitulation). It is most valuable to have the FEBA (Forward Edge of the Battle Line) on their soil instead of ours. (Ask any German in the pre-Soviet collapse period. They knew perfectly well that a NATO-led war with the Warsaw Pact would be fought on their soil.)

As the Europeans engage, their security services will pick up intel on a wide spectrum of mutual interests. As it taxes the most disciplined fighter to sustain two fronts, the terrorists are likely to get careless in their communication and emcon (emission control). That will offer US intel an opportunity to gather additional items so that we can interdict the terrorists' wider infrastructure, logistics, and command & control.

A certain amount of US antipathy towards the French could even drain away if the French intel services engage in earnest. (Remember that the French government has its own quite significant issues with its Muslim minorities.) Despite France's public comments about liberty and democracy, the French security forces and national police are ruthless beneath the surface. The French have never endured a Church Commission and its aftermath, and its security services never suffered the equivalent of the "Levy Guidelines" as did the FBI. Notable groups are:

  • General Directorate for External Security (DGSE) (France’s MI6)
  • Directorate of Territorial Security (DST) and its public interface, the Central Directorate Judicial Police (DCPJ)
  • National police under Ministry for the Interior, and the national gendarmerie (military police) under Ministry for Defense
  • Companies for Republican Security (CRS)

These folks do not miss around. Remember that the predecessor to the DGSE (the SDECE) attempted to hijack Nigeria and its oil supply from the UK and US in 1967 by arming the Biafran secession that was suppressed at the cost of a half-million dead. A DGSE/SDECE arm, the Action Service, is used for assassinations, sabotage, aggressive interrogation, terrorist group infiltration, and "neutralization" of nettlesome folks. The DGSE was responsible for blowing up the Greenpeace vessel, Rainbow Warrior, in New Zealand.

The DGSE/SDECE Action Service and the 10th Paratroop Division were responsible for the military suppression of the FLN in Algeria at the cost of a half-million to a million Algerian dead -- along with some French anti-war protesters. A member of the 10th remarked that, "We make the Gestapo and SS look like children." There is excellent reason to believe that the Algerian excursion was approved by Guy Mollett's socialist government, including the Justice Minister, and France's ruling police and judicial establishment. Just no one made public mention of it.

It has been said that no nation can become great until it masters the art of hypocrisy. By the token, the French are ready to go. Here is a personal example: I have a friend, an American national with legal Parisian residence, that was disappeared for some days for interrogation as to why the address book of a dead Palestinian operative had her name and address in it. This event was some fifteen years ago. Yes, she was a red diaper baby of socialist parents so was seen as a likely fellow-traveler, but her story started off like the French interrogations in Algeria. She told me that she assumed that she would be violated, then killed. Luckily, she was returned to the street and released.

It should also be remembered that only the French and the Russians ended the kidnapping and killing of their nationals in Lebanon. Each informed the pertinent authorities that they would decide who was guilty (note that I said 'decide' not 'adjudicate') and then kill the grandparents, children, and grandchildren before the perp went. A few instructive examples were carried out. For men who were willing to die themselves, this variation of the Columbian "Leave no seed" killing stopped matters cold.

As grisly as it is, I had said that it was only a matter of time before Europe got its 11 September, and that time is now. They, certainly the French, will pursue matters in ways that we might not.

FYI, Mollett's Justice Minister was Francois Mitterrand, a later French President. No wonder Mitterrand was critical of the intel services.

For more on the "war without a name" and the book, Special Services, Algeria: 1955-1957, see:

French general on trial over Algeria

The Battle of Algiers

Gordon Housworth

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European extortion masquerading as a peace plan


The Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades has offered to halt further operations in Europe to see if Spain makes good on its withdrawal from Iraq. It implied that the cease-fire could become permanent. I have been tracking the major press on this side of the pond during the day (NYT, WP, WSJ, etc) yet none are reflecting it.

In light of traffic elsewhere that speaks of the Ball, the Bat, and the Glove (respectively Bin Laden, Pakistani and Iranian pressure, and US forces), this could be another inspired gambit to reduce pressure on al Qaeda and its allies, split the alliance, and further isolate the US. As I write this, the AP is reporting that Pakistani troops think that they bottled up al Qaeda's number two, Ayman al-Zawahri. Whether they get him is not at issue in this note, but as the effort has been underway for three weeks (along with US SoCom forces operating covertly inside Pakistan), it is reasonable to assume that the faithful would do what they could to distract or degrade our efforts.

This ploy is remarkably thoughtful as no one related to al Qaeda has ever asked for anything save for unilateral withdrawal from anything declared to be Muslim lands. Now they have placed an extortion plot on the table masquerading as a peace deal. It is quite extraordinary and goes to show what good asymmetrical thinking can do against superior forces and technology.

Not being able to make effective inroads on US soil or produce mass casualties among deployed US forces, they have gone down the list of soft targets: coalition states, civilian contractors, NGO staff, Iraqi police and administration, and Iraqi and Arab civilians. Now they have carried the game onto Western European soil.

The peace card will attract some Europeans that dislike US Iraqi policy and even lead them to advocate Spain’s follow-through. It is not out of the question as even the UK once buckled under less direct pressure under Neville Chamberlain.

I had sent out an earlier, limited version of this note in response to a colleague's sending me a general trading report that we class as one that makes you 'better educated but unable to act." The only value to the missive was a "Don't be there" location list, which included such guesses as the Euro 2004 soccer matches in Portugal and the Olympic Games in Greece. Not to be unkind but your admin could have guessed those choices -- but folks have to fill up their "ink hole" by whatever means.

I would be more interested in your board of directors meeting, supervisory board meeting, staff retreat, the marriage of the CEO's son or daughter, or annual customer convention, et al, as softer targets.

The threats from the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades are dire. In November 2003, they were promising "cars of death" to Europeans in news caught by Agence France-Press, New York Times, and AAP:

"The Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigade statement also drew up a list of demands of the US and its allies, and called on militants to join the anti-US resistance in Iraq. "This is a golden opportunity for them [the allies] to understand the message and withdraw from the coalition of the Crusades against Islam and Muslims," it said. "If they have not understood the language of words, that of the cars of death could explain it to them."'


"The statement also defended the November 8 suicide bombing, which the Saudis blamed on al-Qaeda, of a housing compound in Riyadh that killed 17 people, most of them Arabs."

'"We have warned Muslims more than once that they must not go near the places where the infidels are to be found, and we renew our warning."'

Now they would represent themselves as guarantors of European wellbeing. Yet there are suckers born every minute that would grasp 'peace in our time.'

Gordon Housworth

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Bioterrorism Drill TOPOFF 2 -- Failing to think like al Qaeda & relearning old lessons


A fictional terrorist group, GLODO, carries out a simultaneous attack again Chicago using pneumonic plague and Seattle using a radiological bomb. Such was the premise of a May 2003 public safety exercise known as TOPOFF 2 -- for "Top Officials 2" -- and designed to test and improve US domestic response to terrorist incidents including WMD.

DHS and State sponsored the 5-day, $16 million full-scale exercise and simulation event in an effort to improve upon the results of TOPOFF 2000 held in Denver and involved a fictitious germ warfare attack. While Chicago and Seattle volunteered for exercise, these cities were chosen for TOPOFF 2 due to their proximity to Canada as one of the goals of the simulation was to test coordination between the two countries.

Although no explosives or harmful substances were used, real first responders worked simulated crime scenes and treated volunteers pretending to be victims. Although both cities were expecting an "attack," many details remained secret so that first responders and government officials would be surprised. GLODO had clandestine bioweapons labs in each city.

Nineteen Federal Agencies, the American Red Cross, State and Local Emergency Responders from the states of Illinois and Washington, as well as Canada were involved. The exercise provided valuable lessons, including the realization that multiple control centers, numerous liaisons, and increasing numbers of response teams only complicated the emergency effort. (Programmers will recognize the "mythical man month" syndrome.)

DHS released its unclass summary of TOPOFF 2 in late 2003. Performance improvements were noted over TOPOFF 2000, but communications, local coordination, and timely information transfer remain a sharp problem. In each city of each event, we learn that the diseases are fearsome, hospitals and first responders are overwhelmed and interagency and intra-agency coordination is pummeled.

The difficulty with this exercise, and those who planned it, is that whoever GLODO is modeled on, it is not al Qaeda. Yes, disaster preparedness is valid; yes, the Chicago pneumonic plague simulation was fierce in terms of fatalities -- 70 % is common and it is more contagious than smallpox; and yes, the Seattle radiological device was more disruptive than fatal -- authorities had predictable difficulty in estimating the size and direction of the plume.

TOPOFF missed the lessons that al Qaeda learned between its two attacks of the World Trade Center, 1993 and 2001: Redundancy and Delivery. Despite the achievements of TOPOFF 2, there is still too much "feel good" security and too little asymmetrical thinking. TOPOFF 2 only succeeded in highlighting the FEMA mass dislocation problem and the strains that this placed on local authorities.

While such attacks can certainly occur, the risk that a TOPOFF 2 attack would be discovered is high. Al Qaeda is the most rational and fiscally conservative of terrorists. They would lean to using technologies that enables use of multiple attacks and wait until enough payload had been assembled for a unprecedented multiple WMD or conventional attack. Neither TOPOFF 2000 nor TOPOFF 2 has simulated these more logical scenarios.

Few politicians and disaster planners in either the US or Canada have much experience in sorting out the credible from fanciful risks. This is not to fault them as it requires much specialized training in the mindset of this particular enemy. In the absence of understanding the asymmetrical attack of al Qaeda -- or the IRA for that matter, these TOPOFF events smack of "feel good" security and a means to prove that officials are ‘proactive’ in domestic security in an otherwise expensive test whose advertised $16 M cost did not cover person-hours, cost to local jurisdictions, or economic disruptions.

While the two most deadly attacks on US soil were a fertilizer bomb in Oklahoma and low tech air piracy in NYC and DC, major dollars and attention has been lavished on the most high-tech scenarios. Events like TOPOFF 2 encourage a focus on the improbable with spending to match, while ignoring more probable threats and appropriate dedication of resources.

For example, a program dubbed BioWatch would install monitoring systems in major US cities to provide early warning for pathogen release. Such a system only succeeds if the released pathogen is on its ‘detection list,’ release is outdoors rather than indoors -- such as in a major building’s HVAC system, and the release is either near a detector or released in great quantity.

Where is the attention to the fact that both Chicago and Seattle have large urban hubs immediately adjacent to harbors where boats can anchor -- not to mention smaller adjacent airports? One does not need the complexity of GLODO having created full scale bioweapons labs in each city. Simple high explosives and modestly refined anthrax would have done just fine.

I found it interesting that although DHS released its event summary in late 2003, a succinct version much more to the point was published months earlier in ‘Police and Security News’ titled, "Communicating at TOPOFF 2: A Keystone in Terrorism Response."

If you are interested in the lessons learned from TOPOFF 2, Go to Police and Security News. Look in the archives for the JULY / AUGUST 2003 issue and you will find "Communicating at TOPOFF 2: A Keystone in Terrorism Response."

Gordon Housworth

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Terrorist attempts to win a nuclear weapon -- and what is that weapon anyway?


The diversion of nuclear materials and the definition of what constitutes a "dirty bomb" in terrorist terms require two important definitions:

Under the US-USSR nuclear weapons preparation and operations scenarios, a "dirty bomb" was a fissile package (nuclear weapon) having an extra layer of Cobalt-60 isotope whose half-life was extraordinarily long. Sometimes that was buttressed with an additional Iodine isotope that had a short but intense half-life so that the near term and long term survival rates of the target region -- and it is the entire footprint of the downwind plume -- was compromised. (Of course, a surface or sub-surface burst of any fissile package has far more radioactive, 'dirty' output than an airburst due to the increased rate of contaminated soil drawn into the cloud.)

Under the modern terrorist scenario, a "dirty bomb" can be as simple as conventional explosives packed inside or adjacent to nuclear materials, i.e., there is no fissile package here, merely a ‘tainted’ conventional explosive. The primary value of this device is twofold: long term contamination via the included nuclear materials and simplicity in design, i.e., the learning curve to produce a device is vastly eased and shortened.

Under the terrorist scenario, a dirty bomb can be produced by delivering conventional explosives onto or into a reactor complex or its usually less well guarded spent fuels storage facility -- or even a research or hospital facility containing radioisotopes. For example, a conventional explosives attack against the spent fuels stored at the Hanford, Washington or Oak Ridge, Tennessee complexes would unleash much of the accumulated spent nuclear materials from fifty years of US weapons production.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Vienna added a fifth day Special Session on Combating Nuclear Terrorism (2 Nov 2001) to their Nuclear Safeguards symposium. Some comments from attendees and speakers:

A retired CIA psychologist with expertise in terrorism offered profiles based on interviews with numerous terrorists, "They have no ‘redline’ when it comes to casualties. The more the better, and suicide and death is an honor."

Another speaker picked up on this comment, noting that, "Most nuclear [reactor] safety is based on danger to the perpetrator. If they don't care about dying, it does not work. Truck bombs are much easier than planes, and they have a good record with truck bombs."

Speaking at IAEA Vienna on 29 October, 2001, Charles B. Curtis, President and COO of the Nuclear Threat Initiative noted:

"The worldwide system of security for nuclear materials is no stronger than the system of security at the weakest, worst-defended site, which in many cases amounts to no more than a poorly-paid, unarmed guard sitting inside a chain link fence. The theft of nuclear materials anywhere is a threat to everyone everywhere. This has been a difficult point to get across. One of the most important efforts we made when I was in the Department of Energy was convincing Members of our Congress that funds spent securing nuclear materials in Russia was not solely for the security of Russia; it was for our own national security as well. If terrorists want nuclear materials, and they do, they are going to go where it’s easiest to get them.

As the people in this room know, the theft of potential bomb material is not just a hypothetical worry, but an ongoing reality. This includes the attempted theft -- by a conspiracy of insiders -- of 18.5 kg of HEU from a weapons facility in the Urals. It includes nearly a kilogram of HEU in the form of fast reactor fuel pellets seized last year in the Republic of Georgia. It includes 600 grams of HEU found by police in Colombia in April. Authorities still do not know the source, but no Latin American nation has a facility that uses or is capable of producing such material. The IAEA illicit trafficking database has recorded more than 550 reported incidents of trafficking since 1993. The great majority do not involve weapons-usable material, but 16 cases have involved plutonium or enriched uranium. Sixteen cases is a disturbing number, but it also may not tell us what we really need to know: what percentage of the actual thefts do we uncover? Is it close to one hundred percent -- or closer to five or ten percent? We simply do not know. Nor can we ever know with absolute certainty. But we can considerably narrow the window of vulnerability by strengthening physical protection as we strengthen diversion safeguards."

Gordon Housworth

InfoT Public  Infrastructure Defense Public  Strategic Risk Public  Terrorism Public  


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