TCS Daily

How Likely Does It Have to Be?

By Robert McHenry - December 15, 2006 12:00 AM

Readers of a certain age, or with a particular antiquarian bent, may recognize these lines:

Last night I was dreamin'

Dreamed about the H-bomb

That was Bill Haley, and in those post-Korea, pre-Cuban Missile Crisis days he was able to dream up a dream that wasn't entirely a nightmare: In the aftermath of his Apocalypse Then, there were thirteen women and only one man in town, and he was that man.

I haven't literally been dreamin' about nuclear weapons, but I've been thinkin' about them more than a little bit. The press, the blogosphere, the commentariat - in whatever form you take your medicine - are divided on the great question: How likely is a nuclear attack on the United States by a rogue state or a non-state actor, i.e., terrorists? And I have no ready-made answer to my derivative but highly pertinent question: How likely does it have to be?

Right now, so far as we know, nuclear weapons are possessed by a few countries we can more or less trust, such as the UK, France, India, and Israel (China I can't figure; as for the "less," I'm looking mainly at you, Russia!) and maybe two we certainly can't. One of these is Pakistan, whose government is at present relatively stable but historically has not been, and whose military, and especially its intelligence service, is said to be deeply inhospitable to Western values and goals. The other, and the source of the "maybe," is North Korea, which may have tested a nuclear device back in October. For days afterward those who watch over such things puzzled over their seismograph tracings, trying to decide whether they had, indeed, recorded a nuclear "event" or whether li'l Kim had just dropped his teasing comb. The thing to remember here is that even a very small nuclear explosion is still one hell of an explosion. And then there's Iran, where scientists either are or are not building the cascades of centrifuges needed to extract weapons-grade fissionables that they either will or will not use to build bombs.

There's this issue of delivery. Pakistan has no aircraft or missile that could deposit a bomb on the United States. North Korea has one in development that could, if it ever works, reach parts of our western coasts. Iran, if it perfects its bomb, is nonetheless as of now shy of a long-range delivery system. But the worry is not so much about a direct attack from any state, which would lead - well, in a just world ought to lead - to a devastating counterattack. The issue is stealth delivery, by a state or by a terrorist organization helpfully armed by one of those (and here's where Russia is not to be trusted). And for this, experts say, ships are looking like the medium of choice. Pack one of these babies, however crude, into an apparently innocent container ship and aim it for America. No fuss, no muss, no fingerprints.

I live quite near some serious naval installations and not far enough from a major commercial port, and this gives me pause. More than pause. In fact, more pause than does the San Andreas Fault. I find that more and more I'm thinking about attractive but obscure little towns on non-navigable rivers somewhere inland - way inland, as in the middle of the continent. Is this silly, or cowardly? Or is it simple prudence?

Of course, the Department of Homeland Security would evidently have me believe that I'm at risk next to a popcorn factory in Indiana just as much as next to the Brooklyn Navy Yard. In fact the whole state of Indiana is apparently Ground Zero Number One. But then they also did a full search on my 85-year-old father-in-law before letting him on a plane back to Phoenix. So I think I'll keep my own counsel on this one.

"Thirteen Women" concludes thus:

I thought I was in Heaven

And all of these angels were mine

But I woke up and I ended the dream

'Cause I had to get to work on time

You got off easy, Bill.

Robert McHenry is former Editor in Chief of the Encyclopædia Britannica.



Risk assessment
There's also the hazard that an asteroid might strike the earth, possibly extinguishing all life. That would be a severe outcome, so even though the chance of it happening is exceedingly small, we devote some of our resource to assessing the danger.

And it's only right that we examine the various ways small groups of outlaws might smuggle nukes into the US. The chances are slim but the outcome would be catastrophic-- for those people in the blast zone.

However when we're allocating a limited amount of funds to every danger there is out there, we have to perform some triage. There's just not enough money to go around. So we have to decide whether we're going to put unlimited resources into this one, unlikely event as though it's he only danger confronting us.

Someone doing a risk assessment would note that overwhelmingly, actual terrorists prefer simple technologies-- the suicide vest, the IED, carrying box cutter onto a plane. Things like that. So if or when we have the next attack inside the country, it's more likely to be low tech. And it will be directed toward one of our exposed areas. It makes no sense to imagine that they must go to the expense and trouble of obtaining a nuclear device and figuring out how to detonate it once the shipping container is on the Brooklyn docks. That would be a little like smuggling in legions of ninjas to overrun the continent. Conceivable, but not likely.

The more obvious approach someone might take to do harm to this country would be to buy a Barrett Fifty, and some armor piercing, explosive ammo for it. Since it's all legal here there would be no reason to smuggle anything in. We'd be spending billions to guard all the entrances and exits, and it would be right here already, available for the kind of money a guy working the night shift could make.

Risk assessment
There's also the hazard that an asteroid might strike the earth, possibly extinguishing all life. That would be a severe outcome, so even though the chance of it happening is exceedingly small, we devote some of our resource to assessing the danger.

And it's only right that we examine the various ways small groups of outlaws might smuggle nukes into the US. The chances are slim but the outcome would be catastrophic-- for those people in the blast zone.

However when we're allocating a limited amount of funds to every danger there is out there, we have to perform some triage. There's just not enough money to go around. So we have to decide whether we're going to put unlimited resources into this one, unlikely event as though it's he only danger confronting us.

Someone doing a risk assessment would note that overwhelmingly, actual terrorists prefer simple technologies-- the suicide vest, the IED, carrying box cutter onto a plane. Things like that. So if or when we have the next attack inside the country, it's more likely to be low tech. And it will be directed toward one of our exposed areas. It makes no sense to imagine that they must go to the expense and trouble of obtaining a nuclear device and figuring out how to detonate it once the shipping container is on the Brooklyn docks. That would be a little like smuggling in legions of ninjas to overrun the continent. Conceivable, but not likely.

The more obvious approach someone might take to do harm to this country would be to buy a Barrett Fifty, and some armor piercing, explosive ammo for it. Since it's all legal here there would be no reason to smuggle anything in. We'd be spending billions to guard all the entrances and exits, and it would be right here already, available for the kind of money a guy working the night shift could make.

How much bang for the buck would a terrorist with a .50 cal get?

If disruption like the French underground wanted to inflicut upon Germany were the goal, it would not be too difficult for a handful to disrupt power grids across the USA.

But if a message needed to be delivered, something spectacular must be accomplished. An air burst of a nuke over the east coast could disrupt and be spectacular.

A small nuke in any city would be spectacular and destructive.

From what I have observed, our enemies want to send messages more than cause significant damage.

And people will spend significant amounts of time and treasure on messages.

Violence Policy Center: "Ban .50 caliber rifles"
That is the subtitle.

Of course there are hundreds of civilians who own Barrett .50 cal rifles for competitive shooting and I don't think have shot down any helicopters lately. If you check out the web site you will find that the rifles are not light. They weigh at least 30 lbs to absorb the recoil.

One other intersting note is that Barrett refuses to service or sell Barrett rifles from states that are trying to restict there use. This includes the state's police.

Two of the worlds largests buildings were destroyed by two commercial airliners. VPC is not advocating that airplane and aviation fuel sales be banned are they?

Certainly someone dedicated and motivated could use a .50 cal rifle to cause significant damage. But then again, someone dedicated and motivated could use a truck load of fertilzer to even more damage, and make a political point at the same time.

Snipers use the .50 cal for a reason. It can reach out and touch someone and allow the sniper to escape without detection. Terrorists want their victims to know who did it.

risk assesment
isn't it that (poor) assumption that lead to 9/11, i.e., that terrorists prefer simple tech.
i think they prefer whatever affords them the greatest destruction with the smallest work (and that would incline them toward greater technologies with greater destructive powers) so that they might maximize their 'influence'

More .50 cal 'risks'
"In response to the pervasive terrorist angle in the threat to transportation, French might have contacted somebody at the Transportation Security Administration.
Robert Johnson, their Chief Spokesman, might have been a good choice, who gave TSA’s official position as “We are aware of what is being said about .50caliber
rifles. We just don’t feel it is high on the list of potential dangers.”
As to the erroneous suggestion that the .50cal.
rifle is the “preferred weapon of terrorists” one need only consider the finding of the U.S. Department of State. The definitive annual publication “Patterns of Global Terrorism” notes clearly that explosives account for over 62 percent of all terrorist attacks, six times the lump sum of all firearmrelated attacks put together. There is, in fact, no mention of terrorist attack involving a .50caliber rifle. Bombs are the preferred weapon of terrorists, not 38pound rifles."

"At some point in her research she could have spoken to Ronald J. Hindenberger, Director of Aviation Safety for Boeing, (perhaps the world’s leading manufacturer
of commercial aircraft) who ranked the threat to aircraft from rifle fire as falling below the threat of
colliding with a duck. Since ducks have downed many planes and rifles nary a one, perhaps Ms. French
should turn her attention to the banning of unregistered waterfowl."

Detection Shield
A key element to defending the US from a terrorist nuclear attack is a Detection Shield. A Detection Shield would be ground, UAV and Satellite based. It could be designed to detect potentially any harmful substance…fissional materials, bio-weapons materials, explosive materials, etc…. The Shield would include all of the US and immediate vicinity. The first application of such a Shield should be fissionable material. While radiation from fissionable material can be blocked, the molecular identity of plutonium/enriched uranium cannot. A deployed Detection Shield would continually scan for the presence of fissionable material based on remote molecular identification processes. Suspect readings would be pursued by mobile interdiction teams.

The necessary technologies to build a Detection Shield do not currently exit. However, various technologies that could be useful already are in place…such as ground penetrating radar, back-scatter x-rays and the use of terahertz radiation.

A Detection Shield is likely the most effective and least costly method for defending against a catastrophic terrorist attack from inside or outside of the US. It should be a top long term project of DARPA and Homeland Security.

RE: Detection Shield
why dont we just build a huge bubble over the continental US?
a detection shield? really? that doesn't sound star wars-esque to you - meaning, you really think thats feasable within _our_ lifetimes? (not taking into account that i as a young man may live to see humans living 150yrs)
don't get me wrong, i'd love to see such a thing, i just dont see it happenning....

Not a pop gun
Sorry, I sent this first message without attaching the link:

You'll want to read all five pages or so. This weapon has great accuracy at 3,000 yards, and armor piercing, incendiary and explosive shells are legal and available. Its main use would be against tank farms, refineries and chemical plants, none of which are hardened (or can be hardened) against this type of attack.

I live down the road from a distribution center for the Dixie Pipeline, that takes natural gas from southern Louisiana and distributes it from Mississippi all the way up the east coast. Disruption? Naah.

Wrecking the inner city sites for such giant facilities, tying up traffic and causing massive releases of chlorine and the like in our downtowns would be an easy way to gain a high profile. And a kill of 3,000 more Americans would be an easy goal to achieve.

You could do all this on a drive by basis.

Tactical choices
The fact that Barretts are both easily obtained and popular in this country, yet have been responsible for no attacks is precisely my point. We have no defense against such an attack, yet none have occurred. Can it be that no one is trying?

There is some degree of threat from terrorists inside the country. But it does not appear to be a major threat. How come, if terrorists want to know who did something, they don't just blow up DuPont Chemical one day and then send an e-mail to Michael Chertoff? The plant is mammoth, going on for miles. A chain reaction there would, I think, be sufficiently showy.

Fertilizer in quantity, on the other hand, is effectively controlled. It's available in any farming community, where the farming supply stores have known all their customers for decades. But try showing up in a rented truck, or a van with New York plates, and attempting to buy a ton of ammonium nitrate. I don't think you'll consummate your purchase.

Maybe with a duck
I guess you're right, and we're safe. Those dumb Ay-rabs will never think to use a rifle, it's not their style. Only ten percent of their attacks use firearms, so the odds are with us.

Good lord, you're scraping the bottom of the rhetorical barrel, aren't you?

Remember a couple of years back everyone was worried about the terrible Ts parking near the airport runways and picking off commercial flights with SAMs? They could contrive no way to defend against such an attack, so they just stopped talking about it. We're still just as vulnerable to a SAM as we ever were. Yet it hasn't happened.

The Barrett isn't bulky, it's legal and it does the same thing as a SAM. Shooting wing tanks is child's play from any neighborhood near an airport. And dropping a plane at takeoff so it falls into an urban area, it seems to me, would satisfy any terrorist's need for drama.

Ducks aren't as good a tool. For one thing, not nearly so accurate or reliable. Any counterterror agent with a loaf of Wonder Bread can deflect one.

re: fertilizer/ammonium nitrate
have you ever driven through agi areas? seen the big white tanks in the field just _sitting_ there? you dont need to purchase the stuff to get it in _large_ quantity....

A corollary to Occam's Law
That was my thinking too. If you wanted to cause maximal damage with minimal effort, wouldn't you use the easiest means available? And didn't they in fact decide on box cutters, not anthrax or nukes?

Let's take a look at two possible approaches. Plan A would entail finding someone with a nuclear device they wanted to sell-- one that was fairly compact and came with detonator and instructions. I think this step alone would entail spending a chunk of change.

Then you'd have to map a route to get it into port inside a lead shield. To avoid inspection you'd want to place it inside a shipping container from someone on the approved list of shippers. It's a lot of expense and trouble.

Plan B, get on the internet and purchase the ammo and weapon directly. Pay through your PayPal account. Gas up your Chevy and drive down to your local refinery.

Which means would you think of first, assuming a desire to destroy America?

Now you're talking
A cloak of invisibility would be cool too. Then agents could sneak into Al Qaeda hideouts with invisible hand grenades, and blow them up as they plotted against us.

Of course it's kind of hard to detect a nuclear device from a range of three feet, if they've taken the precaution of cloaking it in a lead shield. And the total land area of the USA is a little over nine million square kilometers. From 60,000 feet up, I think our capabilities in that area are a little ways down the road yet.

Live with it
Robert, we can't run from the threat. We never could. Between immediate blast and fallout risks, there's really nowhere that is failproof insofar as being untouchable.

On the other hand, the risk is manageable by most families, households, organizations, and/or communities. The federal civil defense program went south for a number of reasons, but not because of any realistic expectation of the unsurvivability of nuclear war.

Plenty of very smart people (and groups) these days are quietly installing their own NBC shelters. It's a pretty reasonable move to buy some very serious peace of mind. Short of being instantly vaporized near ground zero, you'll likely be very much in need of such a shelter wherever you are if "Jericho" happens.

A lot of folks talk about a plan to dig an expedient shelter should the need arise. Well, I say, why put off for tomorrow what you can do today. It takes more than a hole in the ground to be adequately prepared, but once you have a few ducks in order, life goes on ... now and into the future.

In response to your statement: "There's also the hazard that an asteroid might strike the earth, possibly extinguishing all life. That would be a severe outcome, so even though the chance of it happening is exceedingly small, we devote some of our resource to assessing the danger."

I would offer that the chance of an asteroid strike on earth is a certitude; but, that the chance of it happening in our lifetimes is exceedingly small. Same goes for the current extremist threats (jihadis, white supremacists, environmentalists, anti-abortionists, and religionists, activists, anarchists of all stripes) within any nation... they are practically, a certitude, but exceedingly small where you live or how it would directly impact your kith and kin.

I vote for aggressively preventing what threats we can and earnestly preparing for what we can't. And I will continue to try to pursuade those who feel that we should just accept terrorism as the new paradigm, that this is wrong.

A fresh look is needed
Here's an approach no one's thought of yet.

Instead of threatening the world into submission with our military might (not quite adequate, I'll point out, to subdue two medium sized countries at the same time) why don't we try to lead everyone by our good example?

Instead of using globalization to command the world by transforming developing nations into dependencies (as was tried in Latin America during the 1980s and '90s, turning them all now to the left) we might try working with them to find cooperative ways of helping them develop. The number one problem in the "developing" world (this term means "not developing") is the lack of jobs or other employment opportunities. Someone might want to start working on that. As my mother used to say, "Idle hands do the Devil's work".

Instead we devote what I think is an unseemly amount of resource to killing political opponents across the Islamic Crescent. This approach would seem to maximize the need for more and more defense until we are buried under a pile of angry people.

But what do I know? Just because everything is getting consistently worse under our current wise leadership doesn't mean they don't know what they're doing. It just means that if the goal is greater safety for Americans, it isn't working.

Guns kill people people, don't kill people
Roy has presented numerous anti-gun arguments. He argues that the risk posed by firearms ownership outweighs any benefits. It is like the gal who told me once homeowners who have guns stolen that are used in a killing should be liable for that killing. I posed the question that if her car was stolen and someone killed should she also be held liable? It is a fruitless argument.

RE: Occam
which would i think of first?

well one things for sure, it wouldn't be flying planes into a building.... yet thats what they hit upon _and_ made work

so yet again using this logic kind of fails

i think its pretty well known that these groups can raise large amounts of money when they want to (kidnapping for extortion for example)
so if money comes easy then thats the easy plan (path of least resistence), use the money to grease whatever wheels are necessary and purchase your suitcase sized nuke, use more money to get it into your 'approved source shipping container' and voila

not that i dont think large cal rifles _could_ be a problem (even to a lesser extent small arms fire, look at the DC sniper for instance) but we cant discount the idea of 'better' technology being used in certain cases (against us)

The problem
The issue here is how do you help people who live under tyrants? These nations leaders do not want their peoples free or advancing. They want minions. Sure they want our aid, like N. Korea, but then they use it to our detriment. Simple waving flowers and sending Ramsey Clark over (or James Earl Carter) to foster good will is like sending in Ghandi to slay the dragon. I understand your thinking but it is somewhat idealistic. I for one think the Saudi's could have used the trillions in oil to build a world class economy. Instead they spread discontent and Whabbi Islam. Sure they have a good life but last time I ordered semiconductors they didn't say made in Saudia Arabia either. "Better to rule in hell than to serve in heaven" is the mentality. In the Arab world it is more difficult. These people have been "ruled" for so many centuries that self determination is a alien concept. It will take generations and is that not what we are trying in Iraq you so often call a failure? It is a tough nut to crack.

Not my worst worry
I live in the farm country. It's mostly tobacco, cotton and soy around here. Someone breaks open one of those big white tanks, it'll make the six -o'clock national news by that evening.

Besides, most of the big white tanks around my neck of the woods are full of propane. We're on the Dixie Pipeline.

Agree totally
We should commit our resources toward preventing such threats as we can readily prevent, and what threats kill more of us every year. The art of determining which threats those are is know as risk assessment.

Here's a good guide for distinguishing distant, unlikely threats from everyday common killers:

One very good way to save several hundred thousand American lives each year would be to put in better controls against faulty drug prescriptions, and drug administering mistakes. These kill a lot of us, and it is a problem very amenable to computer-assisted solutions.

I also think a good way to reduce deaths from angry fringe groups would be to promote greater equity on earth-- not try to destroy or occupy the territory of every population that disagrees with us. That would not only be a low cost approach, it would also save us about a hundred billion each year to implement.

Here's another one: thirty thousand deaths each year by gun misadventure (suicide, homicide and accident). Maybe there's something we could do there.

Or drunk driving (eleven thousand deaths). In Europe if you're convicted of a DUI your license is pulled FOR LIFE, no exceptions. No drunk drivers there-- ever. And it's not because people don't like to get really drunk.

So there's a lot we can do if we use our heads to think about things with, and not just as a counterweight to our asses. Fighting terror attacks in US cities is right up there, as solution #38 or so.

I agree
Our irresponsibility in this area is astonishing. Imagine the impact of few suicide bombers would have on a place like Ft. Hood, nevermind some sort of biological or chemical weapon.

It would be easy, and it would reverberate through the military in Iraq & Afganistan as well as the country. That something like this hasn't happened tells me that our enemies ability to project force is extremely limmited. Thier backyard may be expanding, however 99% of the time thier only a real threat in thier own backyard.

very possible...
Why just keep us agitated when a few well places attacks could bring on martial law and transform the U.S. into a police state?

If I were OBL and I had 15 people in the U.S. willing to die for our own unique interpretation of Allah, I believe I could bring about at least a temporary end to all that annoying liberty and representative government.

Which means his plans & capabilities are either more diabolicle and not yet ready or virtually nonexistant.

re: not worried
i doubt they'd break it open, rather just back up an old pickup (or an IH Scout if they want to remain inconspicuous - shameless plug) and drive off with it (or load it into a trailer so as to not be all too obvious) so they could use it where it'd do some _real_ damage

i'm just saying, its readily available, its not 'locked down' and controlled except in ways that give us the _illusion_ of safety

Check out the movie "Wanted, Dead or Alive"

Don't know much about guns or airports do you?
Why don't you test your theory and see how easy it is.

Actually, it is working...but that's not the point...

As we become more urbanized we are more deeply dependent on public utilities and transportation infrastructure. Whether or not the current generation of anarchists are willing and able to disrupt our society (or global society generally) we need to mathematically reduce our vulnerability.

When we have a biological system of large, mobile animals that constitute a single population then what could kill any of us might kill all of us. We need to partition our population into smaller sized, sustainable social units whereby any attack on a few such cells would be limited to damaging those in the immediate area. It is a matter of dispersing our biomass.

Humanity evolved and survived for 2.5 million years (Homo erectus) in small, self-sustaining economic and social units. If something terrible happened to one of these tribes that tragedy did not threaten the entire species. Such social units operated independently and these only interacted when they had some specific business to transact.

Today, we live in neighborhoods next to strangers. We depend on other people to supply us with energy, food and water. More strangers police our cities. We must travel some distance to shop, to work and to gather with trusted friends.

Having been broken down by financial capitalism into individual "human resource" worker units we are easy for the government and the corporate entities to manage or to mismanage. Good for their agenda. Bad for ours.

The corporate entities organize themselves into far more secure and sustainable physical campuses. But we are left to fend for ourselves and our families are vulnerable to many forms of disruption.

If the trucks should stop rolling we will be out of food in days rather than weeks. If the electricity is cut off we cannot generate our own. Someone far away supplies our potable water and we project the severe vulnerability of large reserviors. If the banking system shuts down, if gasoline trucks no longer deliver, if highway bridges are damaged, if gas mains are cut, if telephone exchanges are attacked...we are not going to do so well as rugged individualists. (Those characters with the parkas, the boots, the tents and the survival knives...they won't do much better out in the woods.)

There is a statistical certainty that some truly serious disruption will eventually occur. A determined effort by a handful of anarchists could take down one of these utilities and with follow-on attacks keep that utility off line almost indefinitely.

If the human biomass operates as a single organism then a nuclear weapon would do far less harm than a carload of dynamite deployed a few sticks at a time for ten years. If, however, we were living, working, governing and protecting ourselves in hundreds of thousands of sustainable (defensible) economic and social units spread all over the globe then the bad guys would need to expose themselves and take each campus on one at a time.

Right now, we have precious little defensible space and we are not living with people we know and trust.

Keeping safe
OK, it's very hard to stop a nutball with a nuke, or even a box cutter. The best way to be safer is to have fewer such nutballs. Terrorists from the Middle East hate America mainly because we support the most repressive regimes there -- Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Israel (Isreal is a democracy you say. True, they don't repress themselves, but the Palestinians in the occupied territories.)

You never can have absolutely no nutballs because some people are just crazy (Timothy McVey, David Koresh), but . . .

Bottom line -- we would be safer is we were a better citizen of the world.

Bill and the Comets
Two comments:

1. I am the proud owner of “13nWomen” and it came out about 6 or 7 years before the Cuban crisis. Bought it and ABC boogie when I was in the sixth grade. One was the flip side of the record that started Rock ‘n Roll.
2. You left out another method of stealth delivery. On foot. This method has been debated very much in the West since 19 illegal aliens blew up the Pentagon and the World Trade center. It would not be hard for a squad of infiltrators to bring the components of a nuclear bomb across our unguarded border and assemble it say in LA. It is why between 65% and 75% (depending on what poll you look at)of Westerners believe a fence along the Mexican border is the top priority in The War on Terror.

They hate us for being free and prosperous.

Why did people hate Jesus? What harm did he ever do to people? Jesus threatened the status quo.

The free world is intruding into the Muslim world upsetting their teapot. And they don't like it.

You are correct. There is a story in the UK Telegraph today (I think it was the Telegraph) about a 17 year old girl, yes girl, that so completely terrorized the neighborhood where she lived that people were mvoing away and she had been arrested 28 times. Yet she continued. She knew that nobody would stop her and that the justice system was impotent. Hence she was enabled. In my view she need to be severely disciplined, probably from a young age, but her parents both did nothing and were not held accountable either. This is the failure of liberalis/socialism. Accountablility is abolished in the name of compassion and understanding. Hence here in Washington State you have to be arrested 7 times for car theft to go to jail and the police here will not even look for your car (it is better for revenue to write traffic tickets). So we are 6th in the nation for car theft. If is appalling and we are a liberal mecca so it is a good indicator of defective liberal though. Now, I think if these thefts were subject to lets say, 5 years hard labor maybe we might see a drop? Of course for criminals hard labor is cruel and unusual in todays twisted thinking.

It's an important first step.
He wants us incapable of interfering with his plans and dreams. With all our attention focused inward, were unlikly to project power into his backyard.

Yes, however I don't think the analogy is suitable unless you envisioning a very small cat messing with a very very large mouse.

Instead I think we are a very fat cat trying to catch a very lean, mean and evil mouse.

We have enough on our plate...
Since 1991 we have imposed our novel "no one gets to annex his weak neighbor" policy. We have our hands full trying to implement this new rule. The 200 sovereign nations always assumed that military imperialism, given the opportunity, was a perfectly legitimate strategy. That is why everyone has a defense budget and a standing army!

Of course, during the 45 year long Cold War the prospect of actual warfare between major players (a fair fight to the death) with modern armies (including WMD) grew ever bleaker. Everyone has too much to lose and the United States has declared that no one has anything to gain (that he would be allowed to keep). So this imperialism part of sovereignty might be history.

The other 200 nations are not at all amused that we are willing to deny them such a fundamental right to military adventurism. Their position is that if they want to risk warfare then they should be allowed to keep the prize. This constitutes one of their sacred prerogatives as sovereign states and the United States is, therefore, a global bully. Just because we no longer want to conquer anyone ever again we call off the game? They don't like it.

We are a long way from extending our sense of right and wrong further into another nation's internal politics. The fact that Americans even talk about "helping people who live under tyrants" is a real problem. This is simply none of our business.

We promote global democracy but many of our smaller democratic friends suffer with pathetically weak central governments. We, ourselves, have a strong two-party republic and precious little democratic choice about our leaders.

Regarding the issue of living under tyranny many people in the world look at capital punishment, for example, as an abuse of American citizens, a violation of our civil rights and mankind's natural rights (life, liberty, health and property). If some foreign nation pressured us economically or invaded Texas to free the men on Death Row...we would not take kindly to that, would we?

America is not ready to start telling people how to organize their own societies. It is possible that we are not all that skilled at managing this culture. We keep letting our 15 year old kids reinvent American culture each generation. Perhaps they will stumble onto something that works for everyone. (It probably won't be "crystal blue persuasion" as it turns out. What were we thinking?)

Likely and unlikely threats
If you only have, say, a couple of hundred billion dollars to put into Homeland Security. to me it makes sense to prioritise your efforts according to what is the most likely avenue of attack. To me, thast would be the simplest plan, by the most readily available means. So I would look at the Barrett first, then IEDs placed in trash cans in public places, then suicide bombers (why haven't we seen any of them?), then SAMs, then chemicals or biologicals, then at the bottom of the list, tremendously difficult to obtain and fabulously expensive nuclear devices. Past that, they could contact aliens to invade us, or harness earthquakes and tsunamis, etc. But I wouldn't put all my eggs into the most remotely conceivable basket.

Look up the most commonly attempted incidents worldwide. They are overwhelmingly IEDs and suicide bombers.

And you might not have thought of them flying planes into buuildings. But they did. In fact that was the subject of the famous August 6, 2001 memo, entitled "Terrorists determined to attack in US". The president was briefed on the possibility of someone flying planes into buildings, a month before it actually happened.

Of course, as Condi testified to the 9/11 Committee, he was not apprised that this was "actionable information". So he took no action on it.

So we've examined several thousand terrorist incidents worldwide over the past thirty years. Not one of then employed a nuclear device. Only one employed biological means-- the famous botulism in the salad bar in Antelope Oregon (that was the Rajneeshis). And one employed sarin-- the Tokyo strike by Aum Shinrikyo.

One Al Qaeda group was intercepted in the process of making a binary cyanide gas dispersal device. Experts said it would not have worked but would have self destructed. I think most of our resources should go toward anticipating an eventual attack by tried and true methods-- blowing stuff up in crowded places.

You forgot to blame male pattern baldness, breast cancer and global warming on Liberalism
I'm not sure how or why a 17 year old girl rendered a whole neiborhood and local law enforcement impotent, nor do I see what Liberalism had do with the subject other than that these people were not liberal enough to insure that the rights of all citizens were protected.

I also fail to see any direct corelation between liberalism (a political view) and an inability to discipline children. Perhaps it's because on average Liberals tend to be better educated and the current trend among the "experts" is the idea that strong discipline is somehow backwards. It's a stupid idea that has nothing to do with the liberal "value" of protecting human rights.

Liberals abolish accountability in the name of compassion and understanding, conservatives abolish accountability in the name of profit and progress. Both statements are equally assinine. Defending human rights, struggling for justice, even focusing on rehabilitation does not relieve an individual of accountability for thier actions.

What's the crime rate in the most "Liberal" countries on earth? How about the most socialist? If that's not enough go to a Liberal country like Germany and screw around with the Polizei.

Foreign interventions
"The issue here is how do you help people who live under tyrants?"

The issue to me is WHY do you help them? We have the perfect example of how out style of "helping" people has backfired disastrously. More people have been violently killed to date by our methods than were killed by Saddam during a 25 year reign. This kind of help no one needs.

We have been helping Israel survive for forty years (since 1967) and made innumerable enemies that way-- including Osama. And we helped the mujahedeen resist the Russians-- creating blowback in the way of the Taliban.

Let's not help any more people. We can't afford any more enemies.

Re the DPRK, you conveniently forget that the arrangement we made (to provide them with heating fuel in exchange for their shelving their enrichment program) was working, for as long as we acted in good faith to uphold it. The price would have been constant inspections-- not a bad deal. But in a show of nastiness Bush cancels the heating oil order during the month of November, 2001. He WANTED them to make threats and resume their program, which they obligingly did.

It was all so he could have another enemy, and justify our swing toward cancelling the bill of rights and going onto a permanent wartime state of emergency.

You'll note that following 9/11 the fully prepared text of the Patriot Act appeared on everyone's desk, ready for signing? They were just waiting for a pretext to drop it on us. Don't tell me someone stayed up all night and wrote out a thousand pages of law.

If we stay inside our borders and don't cause trouble, we're naturally popular. Everyone wants to be like us. They're inclined to love the Yanks. But that doesn't sell war materiel. And so we have moved to what the Cheney crowd hopes will be a permanent wartime economy. Times have never been better for him and his friends.

Besides, borders are relatively easy to defend. When the whole world is our stage, we're incapable of policing even two medium sized countries. It's a losing game we're playing. Stick around and see.

Crime and Punishment
Go read the trends on punishment in the UK for crimes such as theft, etc. I don't think one could claim the British Government is Conservative now can you?

Geesh, I have already forgotten the context to this post. Busy day getting read for Christmas (you know, the birth of Christ ). You may be surprised but I agree with staying inside our borders unless we are attacked. I certianly think we screw with people to much. Missiles in Asprin factories don't help much at all do they? However, we cannot at this time abandon lets say Tiawan or Israel now can we? It is a mess isn't it?

Looking at both sides of the coin
Forest-- You have a fine idea. In fact many of the people I know are into permaculture, sustainable agriculture and living locally. The concept has everything going for it.

Except for one big thing: ain't never going to happen. People nowadays are used to living in huge agglomerations called nations. And they generally place their faith in militarists to "know what's best" for them. So we have superpowers, and military buildups utilizing enormous amounts of energy and wealth, designed for the sole purpose of intimidating people to put up with oppression... or just blowing them up in batches.

And you're right, we are more vulnerable to supply-line disruptions and subversive attacks that way. But that's the way we are. So most of the alternative people now are taking it as a given that sooner rather than later, something dreadful is going to occur to the larger society. And they are putting their energy into creating little out of the way islands, from which the planet can hopefully be repopulated some day.

So let's just assume that one day the cheap oil will run dry, and that the world will have twice as many people as it does today, all of them dependent on a society that will be breaking down utterly from conflicting demands. There won't be enough cropland to provide both food and biofuel, and the very rich will own almost everything... compelling the have nots to make a very ugly war of survival on them. And the water will run short. So we will see a population crash of monumental proportion.

At that point we can take an inventory, and see what we still have left. Or, in a contrasting vision, everything will just continue to get better and better until we're all so rich we just can't stand it any more. :)

Realistic Threat Evaluation
I think the first step shoud be (and probably has been) to objectively and scientifically evaluate real threats.

Most of your sources regarding .50 cal are from those who want to ban the firearm for other reasons: 'it is a big bad gun'.

Gunpowder, galvanized pipes, shotgun shells, and a wide variety of household chemicals can be used to make very effective pipe bombs. Where is the organized efffort to ban the sale of galvanized pipe at Home Depot?

I'm thinking that since the OKC bombings every country cousin has become well aware of the potential for harm if any significant amount of ammonium nitrate was stolen. The first thing they'd do would be to contact the FBI or BATF.

But yes, if you don't mind alerting the nation via the evening news, you would find it not too difficult to steal.

Put down the bomb, Abdul
You're saying you get your ideas about terrorism from old Hollywood thrillers? This explains a lot about your belief system.

The good guy never dies. And he always gets the girl too. Except when the movie is for the under-14 set. Then he never gets the girl. He kisses his horse instead.

Standard lunatic ravings
A. "They hate us for being free and prosperous."

B. "The free world is intruding into the Muslim world upsetting their teapot."

So which is it? Personally, I would think it was more likely they took offense at our intrusion into their world, with a plan for controlling it. I know I would feel that way.

I grew up watching the planes take off. You wouldn't need a rifle with a 3,000 yard range to plug holes in their wing tanks from any airport in the country. You could do it from five miles off airport property, while they were still gaining altitude.

Easy to evaluate your argument
I notice you're not saying any of the information on the web site is incorrect. Because you know that it isn't.

It's hard to deal with someone who isn't dealing his argument from the top of the deck. Instead, you pull in ridiculous sallies about pipe bombs, knowing full well a pipe bomb is not an effective weapon unless it goes off in the proximity of a human being.

Long range, armor piercing, incendiary rounds and lightweight, easily obtained, accurate delivery systems are a problem. If you choose to obfuscate, go ahead.

Did you check out this movie?
The one with Gene Simmons?

Playthings of the gods
Yes, it's a big mess. The best you can say about Bill Clinton is that after Khobar he had to do something. So he took out a school in Afghanistan, killing a handful of kiddies. And then, feeling bad, he stopped doing that.

Our current leadership found out three years ago there were no WMDs in Iraq, and we're still presiding over chaos and bloodshed. We'll keep killing and killing until people who played no part in the original outrage are forced to say "uncle" to us. Very impressive.

In East Asia there's a reigning body of opinion that says we're making it much worse for Taiwan than it would be without us. Every Chinese with an IQ above 90 understands that mainland China will never crush Taiwan... nor will Taiwan ever truly become independent. Instead what has been happening for years is a mutual accomodation. A formula will be found in which their differences are finally resolved, much as they have been in Hong Kong.

But saber rattling with the United States muddies the situation, and greatly increases the chances that a wrong move in the game will result in a military action that engulfs all the players. Our best move there is to let it be. But of course, "we can't let that happen".

Re Israel, yes, both American political parties are in some kind of psychic debt to the Israelis, who can do anything at all and yet be blameless.

But if it lasts another hundred years, Israel will never be let off the hook for the pain it has caused. So this commitment of ours is just a liability without end, and with no possible payoff.

Zeus must be laughing at us poor mortals, for allowing ourselves to become trapped in these simple conundrums.

Oh, I think we reign them in a lot. To claim that the Arabs are somehow innocent in all this is foolish. They bring most of it on. I notice now the two main factions in Palestian are now fighting. In the Mid-East they live for blood and turmoil. It is cultural and I think they enjoy it. Frankly, I think peace in the middle east is a fantasy.

I have never read that Taiwan wants us to stop defending them. I did read something that surprised me the other day. With all my readings and study I did not know that Stilwell, US Commander in China in WW2, depised Chiang Kai-shek. After years of working with him he stated he was a back stabbing liar. Strange world we live in. I often wish I had been born in the past. Today there is so much uncertainty and the internet brings it all home every day. I used to have a neighbor that had no internet, no newspapers and not TV or Radio. He stated ignorance is bliss. I think he had a point.

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