What's New

Previous Events

Current Events May

Since the first installment of this column, I have been making the point that nuclear weapons are a real and present danger. I make this point repeatedly because so many people I meet seem to believe that the problem was solved when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. Last month, I mentioned the Divine Strake. I mention it again this month because it is one of the most conclusive pieces of evidence to date that someone is planning to use a nuclear weapon.

As a review, let me just remind you that “Divine Strake” is the reverent nickname for a planned explosion of 700 tons of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil. This will yield a blast equivalent to about 600 tons of TNT. The blast will take place at the Nevada Test Site and is expected to throw dirt and dust 10,000 feet into the sky. The Western Shoshone, the sovereign nation on whose lands this test will be conducted, are objecting strenuously because they believe the dirt and dust thus strewn around their land will be radioactive due to the many underground nuclear tests that have been conducted at that site. The state of Nevada, breaking tradition to side with the Shoshone, is suing to have the test stopped. At this point, they have apparently won a three-week postponement from the original June 2.

On May 1, writing for Disarmamentactivist.org, Andrew Lichterman presented this new information:

On a media tour of the Nevada Test Site tunnel complex where the Divine Strake test is slated to take place, a Defense Threat Reduction Agency official implicitly acknowledged that the test data likely will be used to study nuclear weapons effects. According to the Las Vegas Sun,

“The detonation could simulate ‘a number of weapon concepts,’ said Doug Bruder, director of the counter-weapons of mass destruction program for the Defense Department’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA).

‘It could be nuclear or advanced conventional,’ he said. ‘A charge of this size would be more related to a nuclear weapon.’” Launce Rake, “Test blast linked to nuke weapons,” Las Vegas Sun, April 28, 2006.

But Bruder also continued the DTRA denials apparently aimed at diverting attention from the nuclear weapons effects testing purposes of Divine Strake, emphasizing that the test “‘does not replicate any existing or planned nuclear weapon.’” id. Bruder noted, however, that

“‘There are some very hard targets out there and right now it would be extremely difficult if not impossible to defeat [sic] with current conventional weapons. Therefore there are some that would probably require nuclear weapons.’” Las Vegas Sun, “Test blast linked to nuke weapons,” April 28, 2006

Here we have a person who is supposed to be working for the US government to “counter weapons of mass destruction,” and he is speaking openly about the possibility that the United States may be forced to use nuclear weapons to defeat some very hard targets. So the question is, will the US use a nuclear weapon in Iran or not?

Seymour Hersh recently suggested in the New Yorker magazine that it might. His article brought a quick response that the article was nothing but “wild speculation,” but President Bush has pointedly and unmistakably refused to take the nuclear option off the table. The Hersh article also stimulated a brief flurry of speculation among disarmament experts as to the likelihood that the US would actually use a nuclear weapon. Many are quite sanguine. Greg Mello of the Los Alamos Study Group rates the probability at less than 10%. John Burroughs of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy agrees, unless something goes very wrong during the bombing of Iran, at which point all bets are off.

What is notably lacking in all this is any sustained interest from the media or the public. The possibility that the US will bomb Iran with a nuclear weapon appears, and then disappears faster than bird flu. The lack of horror and outrage with which the use of nuclear weapons is being discussed is, or should be, disturbing because this is precisely the political climate required by those who intend to use those weapons.

Never happen? David Dionisi, former military intelligence officer, in his 2005 book “American Hiroshima” informs us that:

“Osama bin Laden has been thinking about how to inflict an innovative and symbolic American Hiroshima since long before the 9/11 attacks. This is one reason why Osama bin Laden did not allow the 9/11 highjackers originating from Logan airport in Boston to crash into the Indian Point nuclear power station 40 miles north of Manhattan. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the chief planner of 9/11, has provided information on why the nuclear power plants were spared. He is in U.S. custody and has revealed to the CIA that senior al Qaeda leaders wanted to include nuclear power plants in the 9/11 attacks. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed said Osama bin Laden was unyielding in his opposition to crashing airplanes into nuclear power plants. Osama bin Laden wanted nuclear facilities to be left alone ‘for now.’”

After explaining that bin Laden is probably saving nuclear power plants for when he has a nuclear weapon of his own, Dionisi goes on to say:

“Al Qaeda’s American Hiroshima target list requires a population density where a few nuclear weapons could kill four million Americans…. U.S. and the International Atomic Energy Agency experts see a ten-kiloton nuclear bomb as the most likely weapon configuration, because the blueprints for this weapon have been aggressively sold by Pakistan…. To kill four million Americans…. Even with ten-kiloton nuclear bombs that can kill a few hundred thousand people, al Qaeda would need many attacks. The optimal and most likely way to achieve the American Hiroshima four million killed goal, with the exception of obtaining a far more advanced and powerful nuclear weapon, is to detonate a few nuclear bombs at a few nuclear power plants.”

This is obviously true. The explosion at Chernobyl contaminated 77,220 square miles (according to the Washington Post, April 26, 2006) and rendered hundreds of square miles unlivable for centuries. Imagine several explosions much worse than Chernobyl taking place in or near highly populated areas like Manhattan, Washington D.C., Miami, Los Angeles, Philadelphia or Chicago. Imagine any of those cities being instantly and permanently evacuated. Imagine how the US would respond. Can there be any doubt that some unfriendly country or countries would be wiped off the map with nuclear weapons? And where would that lead? To a sudden collective insight regarding the foolishness and futility of nuclear violence? I suspect it would lead to a complete social and economic meltdown. The veneer of civilization would peel away as life plunged to the level of cutthroat competition for physical survival under circumstances none of us can actually imagine.

“But how real is the al Qaeda threat?” Dionisi asks, then answers:

“CIA Director Porter Goss was asked in 2005 by Congress if al Qaeda could have the essential ingredient for a nuclear bomb. Goss’s response confirmed that enough Russian nuclear material is missing that “those with know-how” could construct a nuclear weapon if they were to obtain it. The CIA has debriefed Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, a former official from Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program. Mahmood met with Osama bin Laden and confirmed that al Qaeda had succeeded in acquiring nuclear material for a nuclear bomb from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. In addition, former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft has reinforced this serious threat when he observed that the possibility that al Qaeda or its sympathizers could have a nuclear bomb is the greatest danger facing the United States in the war on terrorism. If you wish to see the long list of supporting intelligence that the al Qaeda American Hiroshima threat may be on the horizon, go to www.americanhiroshima.info.”

Based on Dionisi’s description of the al Qaeda threat, if the US uses a nuclear weapon in Iran, the probability of a nuclear weapon returning to the US at some future time increases to nearly 100%. However slim, the only hope for civilization as we know it is to carefully preserve the nuclear taboo. If the US is working hard to eliminate all nuclear weapons, even al Qaeda might hesitate to break the taboo. If al Qaeda uses a nuclear weapon in a world that has turned its back on nuclear weapons, even the US might find a way to respond without escalating the nuclear violence. If the US breaks the nuclear taboo, then suffers a revenge attack from al Qaeda, it is hard to imagine a happy ending.