Why Haven't Nukes In U.S. Been Set Off?

It is no longer a secret that the U.S. intelligence community is warning of the existence of suitcase nukes already on U.S. territory under the control of terrorists. Specifically, the estimated number is six or seven such devices, and that the terrorists in control of them are al Qaeda. Some of the rumors are more specific, saying the nukes consist of five 100kt devices and two sub-5kt devices. One of the larger devices could take out most of the people in metro areas like New York or Washington, DC.

The usual question raised by these reports is, "If they have them here, why haven't they set them off?" The standard theory from intelligence sources is that the devices are not operational, due to lack of maintenance, and that we are in a race against time until they can get them operational.

I am skeptical of that theory. The devices are presumably among the 40+ Soviet devices that Gen. Lebed reported were missing from the Soviet inventory, presumably made and last maintained in the late 1980s. However, if those devices are copies of U.S. designs, the word I am getting is that while U.S.-made devices of this kind become less reliable after a long period of lack of maintenance, they don't suddenly cease to be operational, and may continue to be likely to go off, perhaps with a lower yield, for several decades after manufacture. For the purposes of terrorists, it is not essential that all of them go off when planned. A 50% rate of success would likely be considered good enough.

I have a different theory, based on my reading of some of the literature and web sites associated with the Islamic imperialist movement, of which al Qaeda seems to be a part. The announced goal of this movement is not just to defend existing Islamic nations from the corrupting influences of the West, or even to destroy Western Civilization as the source of that corruption. Some of their web sites have put up maps of the world in the year 2100 that have the entire planet converted to Islam, presumably under a new caliphate modeled on the theocratic model of the caliphates of the past, somewhat similar to the Taliban.

Let's take those maps seriously, and ask how the leaders of that movement envision accomplishing that goal. Not by sending out swarms of missionaries, the way Christians would do. Not even by sending out hoards of mujahedin to conquer Western nations and give their populations the choice of convert or die, the way Omar and others spread Islam to much of the Middle East, North Africa, and to the other nations where it is now the dominant religion. They know those methods would not work. So what would work?

The answer is terrifyingly obvious. Beginning with the leading Western nation, the United States, smuggle in suitcase nukes until enough are in place, then set them off in random cities at random intervals, while delivering an ultimatum that they will continue to set them off until all the survivors convert.

The initial reaction to such a plan is that it wouldn't work. Americans would never submit to that kind of pressure. They would strike back, wiping out most of the centers of Islamic imperialist activity.

Strike back at whom, and to what effect? Would we nuke Mecca, or Medina, or Qom? That's not where most of al Qaeda is. All that would do is unite the Islamic world against the West, playing into the hands of the imperialists, who might regret the loss of the people of those cities, and some of the relics, but that might actually be welcomed by the imperialists, who see not just the West, but cities generally, as the source of moral corruption. Their Utopian vision is of a world of subsistance farmers and herders, with no cities and no technology more advanced than firearms. They not only don't mind if all of the Western cities are destroyed, but even if all of their own are. Their thinking is similar to that of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, who emptied the cities and killed anyone suspected of being influenced by modern civilization, evidenced by the use of such technology as eyeglasses. The difficulty we have had in just rooting al Qaeda and the Taliban out of Afghanistan demonstrates the obstacles to effectively responding to this kind of threat, especially if we had to extend it to much of the world, or even within the United States to the terrorists that are already here.

I have another theory, that al Qaeda thinks it needs more than six or seven devices, and that it wants to get all it needs in place before setting off the first one. How many would it take, and how many might Osama or his cohorts think it would take? For the answer to the latter question we would need agents on the inside of their inner circle, but we can make some good guesses about how many cities would have to be nuked before the American people would capitulate. Make no mistake. If enough of our cities and other vital resources are nuked, at random sites and at random intervals, even the proud Americans will surrender. Not all of them, of course. There will always be sone holdouts. But I expect that after 20 or 30 nukes go off, either what's left of the government, or a new government that will emerge, will enforce at least outward shows of conversion to Islam on the entire surviving population. Although many of us don't like to admit it, that actually works, and has historically worked. It might take a few generations of cognitive dissonance for anything like genuine devotion to sink in, and while the majority might always remain hypocrites, they will be afraid to express dissent, even in private conversation. Orwell's classic 1984 remains a How-To manual for doing this sort of thing.

So my theory is that al Qaeda is trying to get at least 20 to 30 suitcase nukes into the U.S. and in place before beginning to set them off. That means we still have some time to stop them, either by stopping them from getting control of such devices, or from getting them into the U.S., or of course, by taking out the imperialists themselves. That is certainly the job of the intelligence agencies, primarily, but they do not have a good record of being effective in operating in the parts of the world that they must operate in to get this difficult job done. Building the network of agents worldwide to meet this kind of threat takes a long time, perhaps more time than we have. It is a job for human intelligence ("humint" in spookspeak), more than for signals intelligence ("sigint").

This means that the current half-hearted window-dressing that passes for governmental border security is not enough, nor is there any indication that the current administration takes the threat seriously enough to commit the resources it would take to seal our borders. The voluntary Minuteman Project shows how it can be done: putting a lot more people on the ground and in the air. Increased funding on the order of 10-20% is not nearly enough. Even a 100-200% increase would not be enough. But the policy of "catch-and-release" (to come right back over the border) is also not sufficient. The illegal intruders who are caught should at least be put to work building a fence or wall along the border, before being sent back.

It is also necessary to take firm action against another form the invasion of the United States is taking: the takeover of land and officials by criminal gangs. We get reports that the drug cartels are buying up large ranches and parcels of real estate along both sides of the U.S. border, both with Mexico and with Canada, especially on the U.S. side of the border with Mexico, and also land to create corridors for the movement of the criminals not only across the border, but from the border to transshipment hubs near major metro areas. The formula is "plata or plomo", "silver or lead". Landowners, officials, and other personnel the gangs seek to compromise are first offered purchase or bribes, and if that doesn't work, killed or threatened with violence. There is some indication that the titles to ranches are not being legally transferred, by deeds of record, but the landowners are being left in place, pretending to still own the land, and instructed to not cooperate with law enforcement or voluntary efforts like the Minutemen Project. There is even reason to suspect that drug money is being used to influence "civil rights" organizations to file lawsuits against such efforts as 'discriminatory". Those "civil rights" organizations might not realize they are working for criminal gangs, or perhaps even for terrorists, but they need to wake up and realize what is going on. It is not about harmless foreign jobseekers any more. It is estimated that at least 20% of the intruders are now criminals, prone to commit not just immigration crimes, but crimes of violence. The criminals and terrorists are using the flow of harmless jobseekers as a cover.

The threat of this kind of terrorism also strongly argues for decriminalizing drugs. Prohibition of alcohol didn't work, and prohibition of other psychoactive substances isn't working either. It doesn't prevent acquisition and use. All is does is create a channel of corruption, and worse, now creates a channel of corruption that can be exploited by foreign enemies bent on our destruction. We have enough to do to try to defend our borders against smugglers of suitcase nukes without also having to contend with narcotraffickers that create the underground pathways over which the terrorists can operate.

But this threat also strongly argues strongly for reviving the constitutional militia. When Secretary of State Rice takes the position, as she did in a recent speech, that border security is the "exclusive job" of the government, she is taking a position that is dangerously inadequate. She deserves credit for alerting the public of the danger of the first sign of the threat being "mushroom clouds" over our cities, and of relating how her father once organized a militia to defend their neighbors from violence, but she and others in government need to realize that the efforts that government can make are not enough and can never be enough. Nothing less that the total mobilization of the entire population can hope to significantly reduce a threat of this kind. Yes, civilians are disorganized, untrained, and difficult to control, but so are government operatives. The solution is to organize and train the civilians to function not just as an informer network, which is the opposite of what we need, but as militia, able to meet local challenges locally, even to securing and disarming things like suitcase nukes. There is simply no way government operatives can provide the coverage that is needed. It will take everyone working. There is no really good substitute for requiring everyone to show up for periodic training and organization, if only to break down the barriers of anonymity that now allow criminals and terrorists to operate freely without anyone spotting signs of the threat some might present. Surveillance will require intense socializing and community activity that involves everyone. Many government agencies need to work on this within their own organizations. Could Aldritch Ames have gotten away with his espionage activities if his colleagues had visited him and his wife in their home and noticed he was enjoying a lifestyle his salary could not support? An agency might review the security clearances of its personnel if they don't pay their bills, but does it check up on those who pay their bills too easily?

Finally, I have a theory on why the Bush Administration went into Iraq. Now I am not excusing it as a matter of law. Without a declaration or war, or letters of marque and reprisal, issued to the President and forces under his command, it is illegal, a violation of several clauses in 18 USC Chapter 45, and grounds for impeachment. On the other hand, that doesn't mean that the Iraqi policy of the Bush Administration is not a good idea, apart from its illegality, which could have been avoided by getting Congress to issue a declaration of war or letters of marque and reprisal. I am also aware of many reasons for that Iraqi policy, among which securing the flow of Iraqi oil into world oil markets to keep down the world price of oil is not a bad one. But I find another good reason, one that involves more subtle strategic thinking than this Administration is perhaps able to manage, but which would do them some credit if it was part of their thinking. The theory is this: to give al Qaeda something it wants, a recruiting ground sufficiently rich to induce them to concentrate their efforts on an insurgency there, and to delay setting off nukes on U.S. soil, giving us more time to try to find and secure those devices. The reason I suspect it is not part of the Administration's thinking is because they don't seem to be doing all that it would take to keep more nukes out of the U.S. Perhaps they are doing more, and being more effective, than is apparent from sources of information available to me. I hope so, but I doubt it. They need to be doing so much more for border security and militia activation than they are, it seems unlikely they are pursuing a diversionary strategy that is not combined with such other elements of a complete strategy.