Internet Nukes

Two years ago Jose Padilla was arrested for allegedly being sent back here by al-Qaeda "to reconnoiter potential sites" for detonating a radiological dispersal device – sometimes referred to as a "dirty bomb." President Bush promptly designated Padilla an "enemy combatant" and he has been confined to a military prison ever since.

Because the issue of Padilla’s confinement is now before the Supreme Court, Deputy Attorney General Comey decided he’d better "brief" the rest of us – including Justice Sandra Day O’Connor – on what military interrogators have got their imprisoned "enemy combatant" to reveal about his sojourn with Al-Qaeda.

According to Comey;

"At that border, Padilla met Abu Zubaida for the first time. Abu Zubaida, one of the most important and powerful members of al-Qaeda, was in charge at that border of sorting fighters into two groups: those who should continue on and be relocated to Pakistan and those who should be sent back into Afghanistan.

"Padilla says it was at the place in Faisalabad that he and a new accomplice, a new partner, approached Abu Zubaida with an operation in which they proposed to travel to the United States to detonate a nuclear improvised bomb that they had learned to make from research on the Internet.

"Padilla says Zubaida was skeptical about the idea of them building and deploying a nuclear bomb, but nonetheless told them he would send them on to see Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, also known as KSM, the operational leader of al-Qaeda and the mastermind behind September 11.

"We know separately that Zubaida did think the nuclear bomb idea was not feasible but he did think as well that another kind of radiological device was very feasible: uranium wrapped with explosives to create a dirty bomb. Zubaida believed this was feasible and encouraged Padilla and his accomplice to pursue it."

Now that you know that, think back a year, to a Washington Times report that sent shock waves across the country and around the world, headlined "CIA says al-Qaeda ready to use nukes."

The accompanying story by investigative reporter Bill Gertz was even more frightening than the headline. Gertz began, "Al-Qaeda terrorists and related groups are set to use chemical, biological and nuclear weapons in deadly strikes, according to a new CIA report."

Wow! It wasn’t just al-Qaeda. And it wasn’t just getting nuked in our jammies. There were other "related" terrorist groups out there, ready to strike us with chemical and biological weapons, as well as nukes.

Of course, Gertz never tells us where he gets his "secret" information. He claims his "sources" insist on remaining anonymous. But if he says he read it in a "CIA report" – presumably highly classified – then you’ve just got to believe that Gertz actually read the report and understood what it said.

Certainly no CIA official could have been expected to come forward to either confirm or deny what Gertz had reported. If classified, that would be against the law.

Unfortunately for Gertz, he based his story last year on a CIA document that was not classified and his characterization of what it said was wildly inaccurate.

So wildly inaccurate that, later that same day, the CIA posted the entire document – "Terrorist CBRN: Materials and Effects" – on its website, with the following disclaimer at the top and bottom:

"Please note: This pamphlet contains a summary of typical agents and CBRN [Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear] devices available to al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. It is not intended to be a summary of the overall threat from al-Qaeda’s CBRN program."

So, this particular CIA document was just an information pamphlet. It was undated. Unclassified. The sort of thing that was intended to be passed out at "homeland security" public meetings.

Here is what the pamphlet says about Al-Qaeda and ‘dirty bombs’:

"Al-Qaeda is interested in radiological dispersal devices (RDDs) or ‘dirty bombs.’ Construction of an RDD is well within its capabilities as radiological materials are relatively easy to acquire from industrial or medical sources."

Nowhere did it say – as Gertz said it did – that "al-Qaeda terrorists and related groups are set to use chemical, biological and nuclear weapons in deadly strikes."

Why bring up this embarrassing and discrediting report by Gertz, now? Well, one of the things the CIA information pamphlet actually did say was, "A document recovered from an al-Qaeda facility in Afghanistan contained a sketch of a crude nuclear device."

Now who do you suppose made that sketch?

Author: Gordon Prather

Physicist James Gordon Prather 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.