Pakistan and Radiation Bombs-A New Threat?
by Glenn Weiser
Metroland - July 6, 2000

Dirty bombs remain a serious terrorist threat - GW

Nerve gas? Strictly passé. Anthrax? Old hat. If you’re an Islamic terrorist these days, what’s topping your wish list is one of the new Pakistani portable radiation bombs, now available from some shadowy folks somewhere in the Hindu Kush Mountains and their Kazakhstani friends, who knew just when some unwanted nuclear material was about to fall off the back of a government truck. Martyrdom will be all the sweeter if it’s won with the very latest weapon of mass destruction, right?

Left - this wasn't on the truck, but you get the idea...

Well, according to a report carried in The News-India Times, a New York City weekly published for the Indian community, no one was laughing at the border of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan a few months ago when a Kazakh truck driven by an Iranian national through Uzebeki customs sent US supplied radiation detection equipment soaring to the 5,000 mili-roentgen/hour mark. That’s about 100 times stronger than allowed. A search by officials turned up 10 lead containers of highly radioactive material, thought to be either strontium 90, cobalt 60, or cesium 137 (no one really wanted to open one up for a quick check), which were then impounded. The contraband, addressed to the Amadjan Haji Muhammad Company of Quetta, Pakistan, had originated in Kazakhstan and was bound for the North-western frontier of Pakistan, a mountainous region that has long been a haven for Islamic guerrillas. The driver had a certification from Kazakh authorities stating the shipment contained 23 tons of stainless steel and scrap waste, and did not contain anything radioactive.

The article went on to quote Stephen Bryen, a former head of the US Defense Technology Security Administration, who said in an interview in the Washington Times that it appears that Pakistan may be building these bombs for its own use and possibly for others as well. Already a nuclear power, Pakistan should have no legitimate need for extra nuclear material, but if she were in fact sponsoring terrorism as has been suggested lately, the murky black markets of Central Asia might be able to meet her demands. According to Bryen, Iran could have been one possible customer for the bombs in light of the destination of the cargo and the driver’s nationality.

A device consisting of radioactive materials and conventional explosives could easily be used against Israel or even the US. It could be attached to the warhead of a missile or even delivered on foot. Bryen added that it is likely that such a bomb will soon be used by Middle Eastern terrorists.

In November of 1995 a radiation bomb was buried by Chechen terrorists in a Moscow park, but was dug up before it exploded. In that case, the surrounding earth would have mitigated the effects of a blast, but Bryen warned that a similar bomb detonated above the ground would spread radiation over a wide area and cause enormous casualties.

In gratitude for Uzbekistan’s interception of the deadly cargo, Secretary of State Madeline Albright traveled to Tashkent in April to thank the officers and students of the Customs College. Rueters quoted her as saying, “These (bombs) are a direct threat to our citizens and yours.” She also made sure to give them 60 more of the devices that had detected the radioactive material earlier.

But wait. This is old news, but how many people heard about it at the time? No one I mentioned this to including local newshounds, academics, and one high ranking elected official had been aware of it.

Why? For months the American media were wearing out their cameras and microphones pumping nonstop Elianmania into our living rooms, and it seems there just wasn’t enough time in the evening news for something that happened in a faraway country with an unpronounceable name that nobody’s heard of anyway. After all, Elian was the biggest story since Monica-the cutest kid since Shirley Temple to grace a TV screen, and the center of a drama that could tug any heartstring. And who wanted to talk about the possibility of thousands of people in a major city dying of radiation poisoning, which as I seem to recall is characterized by nonstop, uncontrollable vomiting and diarrhea, with everyone at the dinner table? (speaking of media ineptitude, the TV nuke flick The Morning After was criticized at the time for failing to accurately depict the effects of radiation poisoning)

So that’s why you’re reading about it here, long after the fact. Call it the Disneyfication of the media if you like. The erosion of American journalism has been an oft-debated theme lately as corporate giants merge, and the power to dispense news gets concentrated into fewer hands. And incidents like these-the failure of the media to adequately cover a developement as portentous as the possibility of an Islamic suicide bomber carrying out a horrific strike on an innocent populace somewhere with a weapon produced by a government that supports terrorism-shows how concerned we should be about the quality of the news we’re getting.

The writer wishes to thank News - India Times, a New York City weekly, for information used in this article
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List of Metroland Stories by Glenn Weiser                       ©2000 by Glenn Weiser. All rights reserved.

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