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Between the Lines

May 24, 2004

The age of the backyard nuke

Looks like it's officially here. Any advanced technology eventually becomes commonplace. Usually, this is a good thing. It's called progress. But the arrival of the possibility that Islamic terrorists or another Timothy McVeigh can build their own nuclear weapons means what the reality that they will do so is not far off, barring extraordinary effort on our part.

The Washington Post reports that a couple of years ago Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware asked scientists testifying before his committee if it was possible to build a nuclear device from parts available on the open market. They said it was. He asked them to prove it.

A few months later they showed up with the weapon, minus the nuclear fuel needed to make it work. The scientists "explained how literally off the shelf, without doing anything illegal they actually constructed this device," Biden said.

It is only a matter of time before the one missing component, highly enriched uranium or plutonium, also becomes available. Fissile material now exists in more than 40 countries, according to a new report, and all too often it is inadequately secured.

The report notes that the U.S. has done more than any other country over the last dozen years to prevent nuclear material from falling into the hands of terrorists but says that we haven't done enough yet.

As Sam Nunn, the former Georgia center who heads the nonprofit that funded the new study, said, "If one of the great cities of the world goes up in smoke it will make our retroactive rearview-mirror look at Sept. 11 look like a waltz."

It is hard to imagine a higher priority. And given how far behind the curve congressional hearings usually are, I shudder at what likely is already underway out there somewhere.

Posted by tbrown at 12:45 PM


But right now, Iraq is boiling on the front burner

So this evening, President Bush will deliver the first of several addresses leading up to our hand over of some authority over the country to an interim Iraqi government on June 30. He's expected to outline a five-step process that he sees as necessary to lead to an independent and stable Iraq.

One thing that won't change is the U.S. presence, which is expected to remain at about the same level through next year. Dan Froomkin at the Washington Post (free site registration may be required) has a good roundup of links.

Posted by tbrown at 12:44 PM


Ever heard of the Bay of Goats?

That's apparently the snarky CIA label for a failed coup attempt against Saddam Hussein in the mid-1990s organized by Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi exile and one-time Pentagon favorite to replace Saddam who is now accused by some of spying for Iran.

Political Animal has a helpful timeline on Chalabi (who, of course, maintains he's being unfairly smeared).

Blogger Mark Kleiman has an instructive Chalabi quiz here (scroll down for the answer).

Posted by tbrown at 12:43 PM




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