George Tenet, the man who served as director of the Central Intelligence Agency on the day of the 9/11 terrorist attack – indeed, a man who served that stressful job for nearly eight years under two presidents – tells the fascinating story in his memoirs. of how Saudi intelligence captured a handful of top al Qaeda operatives in 2003, a group that included the notorious Shaykh Nasir bin Hamin al-Fahd. It was a real blow.
What made Al-Fahd fall on the radar of all intelligence services in Europe and the United States was a document he wrote with the terrifying title “Treaty on the legal status of the use of weapons of mass destruction against infidels.” The weapons you refer to are atomic bombs. Where the hell would al Qaeda terrorists get atomic bombs?
Clearly, Al-Fahd had made a credible call, from the highest level of Al Qaeda’s top leadership, to use nuclear weapons against Western targets. And now he was in a Saudi dungeon.
Under ruthless interrogation by Saudi Arabia’s Mukhabarat (the secret police), using methods that would have been frowned upon even at Guantanamo, Al-Fahd confessed that Al Qaeda had been negotiating with Moscow’s black market arms dealers for weapons. “portable” nuclear power plants. Although under extreme pressure, Al-Fahd would not (most likely could not) reveal helpful details.
We tend to think of nuclear weapons as very large objects, devices like “Fat Boy”, the bomb that partially Nagasaki: big and heavy objects that need submarines or missiles or flying fortresses of the Air Force to move. But a much smaller subcategory of nuclear weapons has been around for a long time, including several American-made designs. The media often refer to them as “suitcase nuclear weapons” or “pocket nuclear weapons”.
The two most famous of these produced by the US were the “Davy Crockett”, a nuclear device launched from a rifle that fired like a mortar at an enemy a few miles away, and the Mk-54 SADM (ammunition special atomic demolition) a 60 pound bomb that was small enough to fit in a large trunk or trunk.
Although these weapons were ridiculous compared to the nation-destroying multi-megaton hydrogen bombs that were developed in the 1950s and 1960s, any atomic bomb, even the smallest, is capable of killing millions of human beings in the world. urban environments.
The least complex device, in theory, would simply be a mass of purified plutonium approaching criticality under normal conditions at room temperature. If you accumulate between 20 and 22 pounds of elemental plutonium in a sphere, the internal level of radiation soon reaches sufficient intensity to cause spontaneous fission of the entire mass; In a matter of nanoseconds, the reaction spirals out of control and you have a nuclear explosion. Such a bomb would require no detonator, just the accumulation of plutonium in one place. He would surely also incinerate anyone reckless enough to collect so much plutonium in one place.
Even a piece of plutonium the size of half a dollar is hot to the touch, there is a lot of internal fission going on, releasing energy all the time.
Actual US-built “suitcase” weapons could deliver something in the neighborhood of five kilotons of explosive force (compared to the 16 kilotons of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima and the 21 kilotons of the bomb dropped on Nagasaki).
A fifteen kiloton device detonated in midtown Manhattan would vaporize everything in a radius of just over a mile. Anyone within a five to 10 mile radius is likely to be the victim of radiation poisoning, burns, or injuries from flying debris. Several million would die in such a scenario. Compare that to the 3,000 who died on 9/11.
These small arms are called “tactics” in the sense that they would be used on the battlefield to change the course of a skirmish rather than define the outcome of a war. Its value was its portability and size. But that was also his main responsibility. They were likely to explode so close to the people who deployed them that nuclear recoil and radioactive fallout could hit the wrong troops.
A 1994 US law (since it was repealed after 9/11) banned nuclear weapons with a yield of five kilotons or less, but in 1994 the Pentagon had discarded such weapons as impractical and nearly useless.
All “suitcase” weapons in the United States can be counted. But what happened to those made in the former USSR? Several Soviet-era defectors, including Stanislav Lunev, have described the Russian devices with great specificity. Lunev assured US spy agencies that many of them were lost in the period of perestroika, when Gorbachev and the first President Bush agreed to far-reaching nuclear weapons reductions. In that period, some 30,000 nuclear weapons were reportedly withdrawn to Moscow.
If only one percent of them sneak through the net, then 300 of those weapons could be floating on the black market for terrorists to buy. Not even the most optimistic scenarios suggest that 99 percent of the weapons were safeguarded, so the actual number is certainly much greater than 300 weapons.
Although critics today regularly dismiss speaking of “suitcase nukes” as fodder for thriller writers, George Tenet reports in his autobiography that the CIA was unable to get any good leads on the hundreds of stray nuclear bombs from the Soviet era. they certainly never returned to Moscow for disassembly.
“Of all the efforts by al-Qaeda to obtain other forms of weapons of mass destruction, the main threat is nuclear. I am convinced that this is where Osama bin Laden and his agents desperately wanted to go. They understand that the car bombings, Trucks, trains and airplanes will give them some headlines, no doubt. But if they manage to unleash a mushroom cloud, they will make history: such an event would put Al Qaeda on a par with the superpowers and fulfill Bin Laden’s threat. to destroy our economy and bring death to every American home. “
Tenet went on to say that it was “not beyond the realm of possibility” for any terrorist group, not just Al Qaeda, to obtain a nuclear weapon.
“A mushroom cloud would change history,” he wrote.
Another analyst, Paul Williams, has stated in “Osama’s Revenge: The Next 9/11” that Al Qaeda has been planning a spectacular nuclear fire show using half a dozen portable nuclear weapons that would be detonated simultaneously in major American urban centers.
So where are the lost Russian bombs? Retired Russian generals and colonels who were in positions of authority when Gorbachev ordered the withdrawal of nuclear technology have claimed that at least fifty ADMs (atomic demolition devices, the smallest nuclear bomb) definitely could not be counted and should be presumed to be counted. They were. in the hands of bad actors, probably for sale to the highest bidder. Such accusations are difficult to prove, but they are equally difficult to refute.
And what would it take to keep a “nuclear suitcase” in operational condition, even thirty or forty years after it was manufactured?
The main requirement would be a permanent source of electricity to keep the internal electrical mechanics working and the batteries charged. A simple wall outlet in any home or office would work great.