[Clips] The myth of "suitcase nukes."

R.A. Hettinga rah at shipwright.com
Mon Oct 31 04:31:40 PST 2005

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 WSJ Online


 Baggage Claim
 The myth of "suitcase nukes."

 Monday, October 31, 2005 12:01 a.m. EST

 "It is the duty of Muslims to prepare as much force as possible to
 terrorize the enemies of God."

 --Osama bin Laden, May 1998

  "Bin Laden's final act could be a nuclear attack on America."

 --Graham Allison, Washington Post

  "One hundred suitcase-size nuclear bombs were lost by Russia."

 --Gerald Celente, "professional futurist," Boston Globe

  Like everyone else rushing off the Washington subway one rush-hour
 morning, Ibrahim carried a small leather briefcase. No one paid him or his
 case much mind, except for the intern in the new Brooks Brothers suit who
 pushed past him on the escalator and banged his shin. "What do you have in
 there? Rocks?"

  Ibrahim's training had taught him to ignore all provocations. You will
 see, he thought.

  The escalator carried him up and out into the strong September sunlight.
 It was, as countless commentators would later say, a perfect day. As he
 walked from the Capitol South metro stop, he saw the Republican National
 Committee headquarters to his right. Two congressional office buildings
 loomed in front of him. Between the five-story structures, the U.S. Capitol
 dome winked in the sun. It was walled off in a mini-Green Zone of jersey
 barriers and armed police. He wouldn't trouble them. He was close enough.

  He put the heavy case down on the sidewalk and pressed a sequence of
 buttons on what looked like standard attachi-case locks. It would be just a
 matter of seconds. When he thought he had waited long enough, he shouted in
 Arabic: "God is great!" He was too soon. Some passersby stared at him.
 Two-tenths of a second later, a nuclear explosion erased the entire scene.
 Birds were incinerated midflight. Nearly 100,000 people--lawmakers, judges,
 tourists--became superheated dust. Only raindrop-sized dollops of
 metal--their dental fillings--remained as proof of their existence. In
 tenths of a second--less time than the blink of a human eye--the 10-kiloton
 blast wave pushed down the Capitol (toppling the Indian statute known as
 "Freedom" at the dome's top), punched through the pillars of the U.S.
 Supreme Court, smashed down the three palatial Library of Congress
 buildings, and flattened the House and Senate office buildings.

  The blast wave raced outward, decapitating the Washington Monument,
 incinerating the Smithsonian and its treasures, and reducing to rubble the
 White House and every office tower north to Dupont Circle and south to the
 Anacostia River. The secondary, or overpressure, wave jumped over the
 Potomac, spreading unstoppable fires to the Pentagon and Arlington, Va.
 Planes bound for Reagan and Dulles airports tumbled from the sky.

  Tens of thousands were killed instantly. By nightfall, another 250,000
 people were dying in overcrowded hospitals and impromptu emergency rooms
 set up in high school gymnasiums. Radiation poisoning would kill tens of
 thousands more in the decades to come. America's political, diplomatic and
 military leadership was simply wiped away. As the highest-ranking survivor,
 the agriculture secretary took charge. He moved the capital to Cheyenne,

  That is the nightmare--or one version, anyway--of the nuclear suitcase. In
 the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, this nuclear nightmare did not
 seem so fanciful.

  A month after September 11, senior Bush administration officials were told
 that an al Qaeda terrorist cell had control of a 10-kiloton atomic bomb
 from Russia and was plotting to detonate it in New York City. CIA director
 George Tenet told President Bush that the source, code-named "Dragonfire,"
 had said the nuclear device was already on American soil. After anxious
 weeks of investigation, including surreptitious tests for radioactive
 material in New York and other major cities, Dragonfire's report was found
 to be false. New York's mayor and police chief would not learn of the
 threat for another year.

  The specter of the nuclear suitcase bomb is particularly potent because it
 fuses two kinds of terror: the horrible images of Hiroshima and the suicide
 bomber, the unseen shark amid the swimmers. The fear of a suitcase nuke,
 like the bomb itself, packs a powerful punch in a small package. It also
 has a sense of inevitability. A December 2001 article in the Boston Globe
 speculated that terrorists would explode suitcase nukes in Chicago, Sydney
 and Jerusalem . . . in 2004.

  Every version of the nuclear suitcase bomb scare relies on one or more
 strands of evidence, two from different Russians and one from a former
 assistant secretary of defense. The scare started, in its current form,
 with Russian general Alexander Lebed, who told a U.S. congressional
 delegation visiting Moscow in 1997--and, later that year, CBS's series "60
 Minutes"--that a number of Soviet-era nuclear suitcase bombs were missing.

  It was amplified when Stanislav Lunev, the highest-ranking Soviet military
 intelligence officer ever to defect to the United States, told a
 congressional panel that same year that Soviet special forces might have
 smuggled a number of portable nuclear bombs onto the U.S. mainland to be
 detonated if the Cold War ever got hot. The scare grew when Graham Allison,
 a Harvard professor who served as an assistant secretary of defense under
 President Clinton, wrote a book called "Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate
 Preventable Catastrophe." In that slim volume, Mr. Allison worries about
 stolen warheads, self-made bombs and suitcase nukes. Published in 2004, the
 work has been widely cited by the press and across the blogosphere.

  Let's walk back the cat, as they say in intelligence circles. The
 foundation of all main nuclear suitcase stories is a string of interviews
 given by Gen. Lebed in 1997. Lebed told a visiting congressional delegation
 in June 1997 that the Kremlin was concerned that its arsenal of 100
 suitcase-size nuclear bombs would find their way to Chechen rebels or other
 Islamic terrorists. He said that he had tried to account for all 100 but
 could find only 48. That meant 52 were missing. He said the bombs would fit
 "in a 60-by-40-by-20 centimeter case"--in inches, roughly
 24-by-16-by-8--and would be "an ideal weapon for nuclear terror. The
 warhead is activated by one person and easy to transport." It would later
 emerge that none of these statements were true.

  Later that year, the Russian general sat down with Steve Kroft of "60
 Minutes." The exchange could hardly have been more alarming.

 Kroft: Are you confident that all of these weapons are secure and accounted

 Lebed: (through a translator) Not at all. Not at all.

 Kroft: How easy would it be to steal one?

 Lebed: It's suitcase-sized.

 Kroft: You could put it in a suitcase and carry it off?

 Lebed: It is made in the form of a suitcase. It is a suitcase, actually.
 You can carry it. You can put it into another suitcase if you want to.

 Kroft: But it's already in a suitcase.

 Lebed: Yes.

 Kroft: I could walk down the streets of Moscow or Washington or New York,
 and people would think I'm carrying a suitcase?

 Lebed: Yes, indeed.

 Kroft: How easy is it to detonate?

 Lebed: It would take twenty, thirty minutes to prepare.

 Kroft: But you don't need secret codes from the Kremlin or anything like that.

 Lebed: No.

 Kroft: You are saying that there are a significant number that are missing
 and unaccounted for?

 Lebed: Yes, there is. More than one hundred.

 Kroft: Where are they?

 Lebed: Somewhere in Georgia, somewhere in Ukraine, somewhere in the Baltic
 countries. Perhaps some of them are even outside those countries. One
 person is capable of actuating this nuclear weapon--one person.

 Kroft: So you're saying these weapons are no longer under the control of
 the Russian military.

 Lebed: I'm saying that more than one hundred weapons out of the supposed
 number of 250 are not under the control of the armed forces of Russia. I
 don't know their location. I don't know whether they have been destroyed or
 whether they are stored or whether they've been sold or stolen. I don't

  Nearly everything Lebed told visiting congressmen and "60 Minutes" was
 later contradicted, sometimes by Lebed himself. In subsequent news
 accounts, he said 41 bombs were missing, at other times he pegged the
 number at 52 or 62, 84 or even 100. When asked about this disparity, he
 told the Washington Post that he "did not have time to find out how many
 such weapons there were." If this sounds breezy or cavalier, that is
 because it is.

  Indeed, Lebed never seemed to have made a serious investigation at all. A
 Russian official later pointed out that Lebed never visited the facility
 that houses all of Russia's nuclear weapons or met with its staff. And
 Lebed--who died in a plane crash in 2002--had a history of telling tall

  As for the small size of the weapons and the notion that they can be
 detonated by one person, those claims also been authoritatively dismissed.
 The only U.S. government official to publicly admit seeing a suitcase-sized
 nuclear device is Rose Gottemoeller. As a Defense Department official, she
 visited Russia and Ukraine to monitor compliance with disarmament treaties
 in the early 1990s. The Soviet-era weapon "actually required three
 footlockers and a team of several people to detonate," she said. "It was
 not something you could toss in your shoulder bag and carry on a plane or

 Lebed's onetime deputy, Vladimir Denisov, said he headed a special
 investigation in July 1996--almost a year before Lebed made his
 charges--and found that no army field units had portable nuclear weapons of
 any kind. All portable nuclear devices--which are much bigger than a
 suitcase--were stored at a central facility under heavy guard. Lt. Gen.
 Igor Valynkin, chief of the Russian Defense Ministry's 12th Main
 Directorate, which oversees all nuclear weapons, denied that any weapons
 were missing. "Nuclear suitcases . . . were never produced and are not
 produced," he said. While he acknowledged that they were technically
 possible to make, he said the weapon would have "a lifespan of only several
 months" and would therefore be too costly to maintain.

 Gen. Valynkin is referring to the fact that radioactive weapons require a
 lot of shielding. To fit the radioactive material and the appropriate
 shielding into a suitcase would mean that a very small amount of material
 would have to be used. Radioactive material decays at a steady, certain
 rate, expressed as "half-life," or the length of time it takes for half of
 the material to decay into harmless elements. The half-life of the most
 likely materials in the infinitesimal weights necessary to fit in a
 suitcase is a few months. So as a matter of physics and engineering, the
 nuclear suitcase is an impractical weapon. It would have to be rebuilt with
 new radioactive elements every few months.

  Gen. Valynkin's answer was later expanded by Viktor Yesin, former chief of
 staff of Russia's Strategic Missile Forces. Mr. Yesin was asked by
 Alexander Golts, a reporter at the Russian newspaper Ezhenedelny Zhurnal:
 "The nuclear suitcases--are they myth or reality?"

 Let's start by noting that "nuclear suitcase" is a term coined by
 journalists. Journalistic parlance, if you wish. The matter concerns
 special compact nuclear devices of knapsack type. Igor Valynkin, commander
 of the 12th Main Directorate of the Defense Ministry responsible for
 nuclear ordnance storage, was absolutely honest when he was saying in an
 interview with Nezavisimaya Gazeta in 1997 that "there have never been any
 nuclear suitcases, grips, handbags or other carryalls."

 As for special compact nuclear devices, the Americans were the first to
 assemble them. They were called Special Atomic Demolition Munitions (SADM).
 As of 1964, the U.S. Army and Marine Corps had two models of SADM at their
 disposal--M-129 and M-159. Each SADM measured 87 x 65 x 67 centimeters [34
 by 26 by 26 inches]. A container with the backpack weighed 70 kilograms
 [154 pounds]. There were about 300 SADMs in all. The foreign media reported
 that all these devices were dismantled and disposed of within the framework
 of the unilateral disarmament initiatives declared by the first President
 Bush in late 1991 and early 1992.

 The Soviet Union initiated production of special compact nuclear devices in
 1967. These munitions were called special mines. There were fewer models of
 them in the Soviet Union than in the United States. All of these munitions
 were to be dismantled before 2000 in accordance with the Russian and
 American commitments concerning reduction of tactical nuclear weapons dated
 1991. [When the Soviet Union collapsed, Boris Yeltsin reiterated the
 commitment in January 1992.] Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said at the
 conference on the Nuclear Weapons Nonproliferation Treaty in April 2000
 that Russia had practically completed dismantling "nuclear mines." It means
 that Russia kept the promise Yeltsin once made to the international

  Mr. Yesin added that all "portable" nuclear weapons were strictly
 controlled by the KGB in the Soviet era and were held in a single facility
 on Russian soil, where they were regularly counted before they were
 dismantled. The special mines that the press calls "nuclear suitcases" are
 no more. American officials, including Ms. Gottemoeller, insist that there
 is no evidence that any are missing, stolen or sold. American experts
 charged with monitoring the destruction of these weapons have repeatedly
 testified to Congress that no special mines are unaccounted for.

  What about the Russian army units trained to use the special mines? Is it
 possible that a few such weapons remain in their hands? According to Mr.
 Yesin, "they always used simulators and dummy weapons. Needless to say, the
 latter looked like the real thing--the same size and weight, the same
 control panel. Instead of nuclear materials, however, they contained sand."

  Despite Lebed's many changing accounts, his reputation for exaggeration,
 and the denial of nearly every Russian official with knowledge of Russian
 nuclear weapons, his tale lives on in breathless newspaper articles and Web
 posts. Perhaps the most amusing was an article in London's Sunday Express
 claiming that al Qaeda bought twenty "nuclear suitcases for 25 million
 pounds" (roughly $45 million) from "Boris" and "Alexy." What, not Natasha?

 Still, Graham Allison puts his faith in Lebed's story. How does Mr. Allison
 account for the high-level rebuttals? He makes two brief arguments.
 "Moscow's assurance that 'all nuclear weapons are accounted for' is wishful
 thinking, since at least four nuclear submarines with nuclear warheads sank
 and were never recovered by the Soviet Union." (One was recovered by the
 U.S. in 1974.) This is true, but beside the point; the subs were carrying
 nuclear missiles, not nuclear suitcases.

  Mr. Allison's more pointed rebuttal is this:

 The Russian government reacted to Lebed's claim in classic Soviet style,
 combining wholesale denial with efforts to discredit the messenger. In the
 days and months that followed, official government spokesmen claimed that
 (1) no such weapons ever existed; (2) any weapons of this sort had been
 destroyed; (3) all Russian weapons were secure and properly accounted for;
 and (4) it was inconceivable that the Russian government could lose a
 nuclear weapon. Assertions to the contrary, or even questions about the
 matter, were dismissed as anti-Russian propaganda or efforts at personal

  Mr. Allison is unfairly summarizing the official Russian view. There is no
 contradiction between points (1) and (2) because (1) refers to suitcase
 nukes, a journalist term for a weapon that never existed. The portable
 nuclear devices--the special mines that filled three footlockers and
 weighed hundreds of pounds--were destroyed as required by U.S.--Russia

  We don't have to take Russia's word for this; the disposal and destruction
 of these weapons were supervised by expert American officials like Ms.
 Gottemoeller. So point (2) checks out. As for points (3) and (4), Russia's
 claims have been independently verified by U.S. officials. If Mr. Allison
 has specific evidence of misplaced nuclear suitcases, he doesn't provide it
 in either the hardcover or paperback edition of his book or in his speeches
 to the Council on Foreign Relations or elsewhere.

  What about the testimony of Soviet defector Stanislav Lunev? Certainly his
 tale is cloaked in high drama. Mr. Lunev entered the congressional hearing
 room in a black ski mask and testified behind a tall screen. He described a
 portable nuclear device that was "the size of a golf-club bag" and
 testified that "one of my main directives was to find drop sites for mass
 destruction weapons" that would be smuggled into the U.S. using drug routes
 and detonated by special teams. Mr. Lunev did not testify that he saw those
 weapons, only that, as a TASS reporter working in Washington (his cover as
 a military intelligence officer), his job was to scout for "drop sites."

  I tracked Mr. Lunev down in suburban Maryland, where he is battling
 lymphatic cancer. Over the phone, he sounds like a bear of a man, with a
 charming Russian accent. He calls me "Riche," as in "Riche, you must switch
 off all recording devices." When I say I have no such devices, only a bad
 line, he agrees to call back. When he does, I ask him if he has ever seen a
 portable nuclear device. "No," he says.

  Then he asks if I have ever heard of Albuquerque, N.M. There is a museum
 there, he explains, that displays America's portable nuclear device, the
 SADM. "The Soviet model probably looks similar," he says, adding that he is
 not an expert in such things.

  Finally, there is Graham Allison's book. It is a serious and valuable
 work, with many practical suggestions for arresting the spread of nuclear
 technology. Still, Mr. Allison's concerns about a nuclear suitcase-sized
 device rest on three shaky pillars: that Lebed was right about the missing
 suitcase nukes, that Stanislev Lunev's account is persuasive, and that
 Russian nuclear security is lax.

  As we have seen, Lebed's changing story is highly questionable, and the
 nuclear mines have long since been dismantled. Mr. Allison himself concedes
 that nuclear suitcases might not be operative. Speaking at a Council on
 Foreign Relations conference in September 2004, Mr. Allison said that the
 weapons Lebed referred to are now at least seven years old and that "many
 of these would be beyond warranty," requiring extensive refurbishing to
 function at full power.

  Allison does not refer to Mr. Lunev by name, possibly because he does not
 know it. Mr. Lunev is not named in his congressional testimony and
 discovering his identity requires a bit of sleuthing. Mr. Allison does not
 cite Mr. Lunev's book or even acknowledge talking to him. (Mr. Lunev, a
 friendly and direct fellow, has never heard of Mr. Allison.)

  As for Mr. Allison's contention that the Russians do not keep their
 nuclear weapons as secure as we do, he is quite right. But the Russians
 probably do well enough. Allison cites a number of cases in which nuclear
 material--though not bombs--was stolen from Russian reactors. Yet in each
 of the cases he cites, the thieves were caught before they could transfer
 the material. And the small amounts stolen could not have been, even if
 combined, converted into a single bomb. And there is no evidence that any
 of the Soviet Union's "special mines" have gone missing.

  No one seriously doubts Osama bin Laden's intense desire for nuclear
 weapons, suitcase-size or otherwise. Michael Scheuer, the former head of
 the CIA's bin Laden station (and an outspoken critic of the Bush
 administration's conduct of the war on terror), said that the CIA was aware
 of "the careful, professional manner in which al Qaeda was seeking to
 acquire nuclear weapons" since 1996. There is a plethora of human and
 documentary intelligence to support Mr. Scheuer's conclusion. Perhaps the
 most chilling is a fatwa that bin Laden asked for and received from Shaykh
 Nasir bin Hamid al-Fahd in May 2003. It was called "A Treatise on the Legal
 Status of Using Weapons of Mass Destruction Against Infidels." The Saudi
 cleric concludes: "If a bomb that killed 10 million of them and burned as
 much of their land as they have burned Muslims' land were dropped on them,
 it would be permissible."

 Fatwas are not enough. There are only three ways for al Qaeda to realize
 its atomic dreams: buy nuclear weapons, steal them or make them. Each
 approach is virtually impossible. Buying the bomb has not worked out well
 for al Qaeda. The terror organization has tried and, according to
 detainees, been scammed repeatedly. In Sudan's decrepit capital of
 Khartoum, an al Qaeda operative paid $1.5 million for a three-foot-long
 metal canister with South African markings. Allegedly it was uranium from
 South Africa's recently decommissioned nuclear program. According to Jamal
 al-Fadl, an al Qaeda leader later detained by U.S. forces, bin Laden
 ordered that it be tested in a safe house in Cyprus. It was indeed
 radioactive, but not of sufficient quality to be weapons-grade. One
 American intelligence analyst said that he believed the material was taken
 from the innards of an X-ray machine. It is not clear what it actually was,
 but the canister was ultimately discarded by al Qaeda.

  Al Qaeda's next attempt to buy bomb-making material involved Mamduh Mahmud
 Salim, a nuclear engineer. He was captured in Germany in 1998, before he
 could obtain any nuclear material. In a third case, al Qaeda paid the
 Islamic Army of Uzbekistan for some radioactive material. It turned out
 that the uranium al Qaeda received was not sufficiently enriched to create
 an atomic blast, though it could be used in a "dirty bomb."

  For what it is worth, there are actually no documented cases of the
 Russian Mafia or Russian officials selling nuclear weapons or material.
 Given that Russian gangsters have sold everything from small arms to
 aircraft carriers, this might seem surprising. Michael Crowley and Eric
 Adams, writing in Popular Science magazine, theorize that Russian security
 forces may be less tempted by money than is commonly assumed or that
 Russian mobsters find other illicit material more profitable than nuclear
 material. Whatever the reason, there is simply no known case of the Russian
 mob selling nuclear devices or parts to anyone, let alone to al Qaeda.

  What about theft? Stealing a bomb--or its component parts--is far more
 difficult than it sounds. The International Atomic Energy Agency maintains
 a detailed database of thefts of highly enriched uranium, the kind needed
 to make an atomic bomb. There have been 10 known cases of highly enriched
 uranium theft between 1994 and 2004. Each amounted to "a few grams or
 less." The total loss is less than eight grams, and even these eight grams,
 which have differing levels of purity, could not be productively combined.
 To put these quantities in perspective, it takes some 15,900 grams--roughly
 35 pounds--to make a highly enriched uranium bomb.

 Stealing highly enriched uranium is extremely difficult. Every nation with
 an active nuclear weapons program guards access to its breeder reactors and
 enrichment plants. Employee backgrounds are scrutinized and workers are
 under near-constant surveillance. Transporting radioactive material invites
 detection and is a constant danger to those moving it without shielding. If
 it were shielded, the immense weight of the small container would be a
 giveaway to authorities. Could terrorists storm a reactor and steal the
 radioactive material? Not likely. An investigation by Forbes magazine
 reveals the difficulties:

 Assuming attackers could shoot their way past the beefed-up phalanx of
 armed guards, traffic barriers and guard towers that now surround every
 nuclear plant, they'd still have to fight their way into the reactor
 building through multiple levels of remote-activated blast doors--where
 access requires the right key card and palm print--to get to the spent-fuel
 pond, says Michael Wallace, president of Constellation Energy's generation
 group, which operates five nuclear reactors. The pond where highly
 radioactive used fuel rods sit in 14-foot-long stainless steel assemblies
 cooling under 40 feet of water. Terrorists couldn't just grab this stuff
 and run because, unshielded, it gives off a lethal dose of radiation in
 less than a minute. To avoid exposure, terrorists would have to force
 workers to use a giant crane inside the reactor to load the assemblies into
 huge transfer casks, then open the mammoth doors of the reactor building
 and use another crane to lift the cask onto a waiting truck--all the while
 being shot at by the National Guard. It may be easier to steal radioactive
 material outside the U.S.--but not much.

  What about hijacking a plane and crash-diving it into a nuclear reactor?
 It would make a spectacular movie scene, but as Forbes explains, it would
 not cause much harm to those outside the plane:

 Assume that terrorists could get past tightened airport security and fight
 off passengers to get through new, improved cockpit doors and take control
 of a plane. Even then they'd have to crash the jet directly into a reactor
 to have any chance of breaking containment. In 2002 the Electric Power
 Research Institute performed a $1 million computer simulation to assess
 such a risk. Conclusion: A direct hit from a 450,000-pound Boeing 767
 flying low to the ground at 350 mph would ruin a plant's ability to make
 electricity but not break the reactor's cement shield. Reason: A reactor,
 smaller in profile than the Pentagon or World Trade Center, would not
 absorb the full force of the plane's impact. And, for all the force behind
 it, a plane, built of aluminum and titanium, has far less mass than the
 20-foot-thick steel-and-concrete sarcophagus enclosing a nuclear reactor.
 It would be like dropping a watermelon on a fire hydrant from 100 feet.

  Another problem with theft is fencing the goods. Most uranium thieves have
 been caught when they tried to sell the small amounts of radioactive
 material they have stolen. And the difficulties of theft do not end once al
 Qaeda gets its prize. Even if al Qaeda terrorists managed to steal a
 nuclear device or bought one from those standby villains of choice, Russian
 mobsters, they would still have to figure out how to break the codes and
 overturn the fail-safes. All Russian and American devices have temperature
 and pressure sensors to defeat unauthorized use. Since intercontinental
 missiles are designed to pass through the upper atmosphere before
 descending to their targets, the terrorists would have to find a laboratory
 facility that could mimic the environment of the outer stratosphere. Good
 luck. Council on Foreign Relations fellow Charles Ferguson told the
 Washington Post that "you don't just get it [a nuclear weapon] off the
 shelf, enter a code, and have it go off."

  So could al Qaeda make its own bomb? It appears that the terror network
 has tried and failed.

  In August 2001, bin Laden was envisioning attacks bigger than what
 happened on September 11. Almost a month before the attacks on New York and
 Washington, bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri met with Sultan
 Bashiruddin Mahmood and Abdul Majeed, two officials once part of Pakistan's
 nuclear program. Mr. Mahmood had supervised the plant that enriched uranium
 for Pakistan's first bomb and later managed efforts to produce
 weapons-grade plutonium. Both scientists were arrested on Oct. 23, 2001.
 They remain under house arrest in Pakistan. At their meeting with bin
 Laden, they discussed plans to mine uranium from plentiful deposits in
 Afghanistan and talked about the technology needed to turn the uranium into
 bomb fuel. It was these scientists who informed bin Laden that the uranium
 from Uzbekistan was too impure to be useful for bomb making.

 Al Qaeda will keep trying, no doubt. But there is no evidence that they are
 near succeeding. A wide array of documents and computer hard drives found
 in al Qaeda safe houses reveals a serious effort to build weapons of mass
 destruction. The U.S. military also obtained a document with the sinister
 title of "Superbomb."

  In addition, CNN discovered a cache of documents at an al Qaeda safe house
 that outlined the terror network's WMD plans. David Albright, a physicist
 and president of the Institute for Science and International Security, was
 retained by CNN to evaluate the al Qaeda documents.

  In "Al Qaeda's Nuclear Program: Through the Window of Seized Documents," a
 research paper for a think tank linked to the University of California at
 Berkeley, Albright concluded: "Whatever al Qaeda had accomplished towards
 nuclear weapon capabilities, its effort in Afghanistan was 'nipped in the
 bud' with the fall of the Taliban government. The international community
 is fortunate that the war in Afghanistan set back al Qaeda's effort to
 obtain nuclear weapons."

  For now, suitcase-sized nuclear bombs remain in the realm of James Bond
 movies. Given the limitations of physics and engineering, no nation seems
 to have invested the time and money to make them. Both U.S. and the USSR
 built nuclear mines (as well as artillery shells), which were small but
 hardly portable--and all were dismantled by treaty by 2000. Alexander
 Lebed's claims and those of defector Stanislev Lunev were not based on
 direct observation. The one U.S. official who saw a small nuclear device
 said it was the size of three footlockers--hardly a suitcase. The desire to
 obliterate cities is portable--inside the heads of believers--while,
 thankfully, the nuclear devices to bring that about are not.

 Mr. Miniter is author of "Disinformation: 22 Media Myths That Undermine the
 War on Terror" (Regnery, 2005), from which this article is excerpted. It is
 available from the OpinionJournal bookstore.

 R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah at ibuc.com>
 The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <http://www.ibuc.com/>
 44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
 "... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
 [predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
 experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'
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R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah at ibuc.com>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <http://www.ibuc.com/>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'

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