See Lee Benson, Utah section.
So -- wondering why the imminent death of millions and the end of the United States as we know it isn't worth the front page -- the curious reader turns to Benson's column in the Utah section of the Deseret News in Salt Lake City.
WHAT'S IN that column, an interview with "terrorism expert" Daniel J. Hill is enough to challenge one's continence:
The man who predicted 9/11 is worried that its sequel is imminent.ANYWAY you cut it, what we have here is a staggering act not of terrorism, but instead of journalistic incompetence and irresponsibility. This goes double in an age when people are so gullible as to seriously believe Barack Obama is a card-carrying Muslim communist who isn't the real president because he really was born in Kenya, not Honolulu.
"Muslims that I talk to say things like, 'America thinks they're safe now. They've forgotten about 9/11. But watch, Daniel. Stay near your TV. It's going to be bigger than 9/11,' " he said.
Hill said the next terrorist attack will involve suitcase nuclear bombs that will be detonated in small, low-flying two-seater private airplanes manned by men hanging onto the belief that, like the 9/11 hijackers, they are about to die as martyrs and enter paradise.
He is not alone in suggesting such a scenario. A 2007 book, "The Day of Islam," spells out the details, as do any number of Internet sites about a plot called "American Hiroshima."
The nukes, he said, will be detonated over New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Miami, Houston, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
I asked Hill, "Why now?"
"Eight years from 1993 to 2001, eight years from that 9/11 to this 9/11," he said. "Symbolism. They're big on symbolism."
"Ramadan started two weeks ago Saturday," he said, referring to the Muslim holy month of fasting. "It always hits around Ramadan."
Eight years ago, Hill predicted the attack would come on Oct. 16 — almost in the middle of that year's Ramadan (the timing of Ramadan varies from year to year). He was about a month off.
"I don't know the second, hour or day. I just know they have the means, will, motivation and desire to do it," he said, noting that it's believed that years ago the suitcase nukes, acquired from former USSR operatives, were smuggled into America across the Mexican border.
Let's look at this a second.
The Deseret News thinks it's sitting on a story, from a "credible" source, that a nuclear attack upon seven American cities may be days away, and it gets 17 column inches in a column in the freakin' Utah section? Really?
Not only that, the editors of the Deseret News, are going to go with a -- sorry -- "atom bomb" of a story about an imminent American apocalypse, and it's 17 single-sourced inches by your local columnist, who couldn't be bothered to spend a little Google time fact-checking the thing? Really?
THE EDITORS of the Deseret News are going to risk scaring the poo out of readers -- and especially the populations of New York, Washington, Houston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Miami -- without even bothering to also interview a few terrorism and nuclear-weapons experts on the phone to see whether they've heard the same things? To see whether it would be possible for al Qaida to acquire "suitcase" nukes and smuggle them into the United States?
If you're a newspaper columnist or newspaper editor, you're going to herald the possible End of the World as We Know It -- or at least as New York, Washington, Houston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Miami know it -- without even checking to see whether "suitcase" nukes even exist . . . especially ones that can fit into a two-seater Cessna?
The J-school grad in me looks at this kind of glow-in-the-dark yellow journalism and isn't surprised that the newspaper industry has about had it. Especially if one thinks the Deseret News is typical.
The cultural realist in me looks at the whole mess and wonders why the Deseret News isn't making more money.
And the Catholic in me is pretty sure he knows why Mormons don't drink. If this is what's turned out by stone-cold sober columnists for a newspaper published by a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Lord knows what they'd come up with drunk as a skunk.
(Hey! I know what you're thinking. Don't go there.)
OF COURSE, Benson's missive on the predicted hell bombing of the United States isn't even original. It's just more regurgitated paranoia and fear-mongering from the depths of the lunatic right. World Net Daily, otherwise known as Birther Central, has been all over this for years. And all the Art Bell types republish it.
Sad, because it doesn't take much Internet effort to track down some thorough debunking of this stuff. Like this 2005 piece by Richard Miniter on Opinion Journal.com:
THE WORST PART of the Deseret News' irresponsible, unvetted fear-mongering is that it really might happen some day -- maybe even as soon as Daniel Hill thinks . . . though the "suitcase nuke" thing strains credibility to its breaking point. At least for now.
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 for?
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.
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.
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 know.
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 tales.
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 bus"
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.
Because al Qaida really is still out to get us, the subject deserves a thorough, sober examination. One quite unlike the single-source bit of hackery from a credulous local columnist buried inside a middling newspaper in Salt Lake City.