Saturday, December 24, 2005


This is just laughable:

In search of a terrorist nuclear bomb, the federal government since 9/11 has run a far-reaching, top secret program to monitor radiation levels at over a hundred Muslim sites in the Washington, D.C., area, including mosques, homes, businesses, and warehouses, plus similar sites in at least five other cities, U.S. News has learned. In numerous cases, the monitoring required investigators to go on to the property under surveillance, although no search warrants or court orders were ever obtained, according to those with knowledge of the program. Some participants were threatened with loss of their jobs when they questioned the legality of the operation, according to these accounts.

Forget the civil liberties aspect of this (passive monitoring is defensible in certain situations, and I have nowhere near enough interest to even try to find out whether it was justified in this case. I'm a techno and policy wonk, not a law wonk).

No, what bugs me about this is the sheer technical ignorance of such a scheme. Where to begin? It's like keystone cops with respect to misconceptions about what radiation is, how it is produced, how nuclear bombs work, the details of their construction and transportation, etc. No such thing as a suitcase nuke exists within the technical capability of the United States, let alone a group of secretive raghead nutjobs in a stripmall mosque. And monitoring of what energies of radiation? Does anyone in this bonehead, incompetent, utterly inept Administration even understand what radiation signatures to look for? Can they even distinguish between a nuclear bomb and someone who just had brachytherapy?

I'm just venting really - I'm not interested in drafting a basic Radiation Detection Physics lecture on the spot. But it is probably par for the course that the same crew in charge that has unlimited power to detain citizens, torture them, spy on communications without even FISA rubber-stamp warrants, deny habeus corpus to known innocents, and all the other assumptions of executive privelege in the name of our "security", couldn't even justify it's case against Jose Padilla or even acquit Sami al-Arian of anything despite his entire defense consisting of the single sentence, "the defense rests".

The War on Terror - at least on the home front - is just sound and fury and signifies nothing. I much preferred it when the grownups from the last Administration were in charge. Much like the FEMA director, the people in charge seem to be in over their head, and that means we are less safe, not more.

UPDATE: the detectors were worn on belts. There's no way that they could detect radiation from a nuclear device. It has to have been "dirty bomb" concerns, which the Padillacase was supposed to have been the signature case. If they could even point to a single case where these extreme measures actually resulted in a conviction of a terrorist, I'd be far less critical.


  1. I had to LOL at this story. The image of Muslims coming into the mosque and walking blindly past a nuclear warhead as if it was part of the furniture is an amusing one.

    I don't know what mosques in the US are like (I'm in Scotland) but the ones here are incapable of mobilising for anything in the world today, apart from a mosque extension if they are really active.

    Stories like this monitoring business just show how little understanding there is of Muslims. The country has a totally different image of what goes on in our mosques.

  2. It would be nice if they were concerned with the depleted-uranium related radiation they left in Iraq, especially near(and in) hospitals, mosques, etc.

    For that matter,I imagine the US soldiers would like to know what they've been exposed to as well. You'd think you could get the US press to be interested in that, at least.

  3. LOL. yeah I guess they're just walking around with a Geiger Mueller detector, or a Berthold. And anyone having any sort of recent procedure like a nuc med stress test, would be of suspect, since they'd be radioactive for at least 2 days!!! And what about those that've just had I-131 thyroid therapy?!?!? They'd be emitting high levels of radiation for months! Hmm...maybe they'd be smart enough to look at medical records of people before making any assumptions.

  4. Just wanted to toss in a few facts to clarify this discussion:

    U-235 and Pu-239 are alpha emitters. Alpha radiation can't penetrate a piece of paper, let alone the wall of a building. I don't believe that those responsible for this monitoring program would be unaware of this fact, and thus we can conclude that they weren't looking for fissionables.

  5. The goal wasn't to prevent attacks of "mass destruction". Given the way the media hypes damned near any terrorist attack these days, even a minimally destructive attack would have been trumpeted all out of proportion by press coverage, so the goal was to prevent any attack at all.

    Which is legitimate anyway.

    This screening would not have been able to differentiate between "legitimate" radiation signatures and illegitimate ones, or at least not definitively. That would have been left to further investigation to determine.

    I don't think it's valid to criticize this as a "placebo" program, a case of posturing, given that they tried to keep it secret. The current airline passenger screening program is posturing, but this wasn't.