The nuclear terrorism question

Last month’s “Atlantic”: featured an interesting piece that reminded me of my first class at Royal Military College entitled: “How to Get a Nuclear Bomb”: William Langewiesche flies the reader from one far flung locale to another, weighing the probability of successfully acquiring HEU and constructing a crude nuclear weapon against the impediments put in place by the US in the name of counter-proliferation and the War on Terror. The article provides some interesting sketches of HEU production facilities and possible shipping routes, all on a canvas of familiar criticism of the United States. It is all stuff we have heard before in related realms: lack of HUMINT effort; infatuation with technology; bureaucratic constipation. An example from the text:

bq. The problem is that U.S. agencies, when pressured by conflicting mandates and forced to work with corrupt and dysfunctional local governments, essentially throw up their hands at the complexity of it all, and abandon the fight in advance. … Faced with the need to put systems in place that will function day after day to identify unexpected nuclear smugglers, America turns to the uniformed agents of local governments, loads them down with air-conditioned buildings and gadgetry …

I do not mean to be overly critical of Mr. Langewiesche’s work. The article is engaging, the style fluid, and the content compelling. But it seems to be too broad in its complaints, and lacking in alternative solutions. The indepth reporting is reminiscent of James Fallows in the days of the so-called “Fighter mafia”:, except in Langewiesche’s tale there seems to be no “Boyd”: An alternative may be presented in Mr. Langewiesche’s upcoming book “The Atomic Bazaar”: (due May 2007), from which I assume most of this article comes from. This article surely makes me want to read the book (if only I had the time) and I look forward to see how it is received by any CA community nuclear specialists out there.

About Younghusband

Sir Francis Edward Younghusband (1863-1942) was a British explorer, army officer, military-political officer, and foreign correspondent born in India who led expeditions into Manchuria, Kashgar, and Tibet. He three times tried and failed to scale Mt. Everest and journeyed from China to India, crossing the Gobi desert and the Mustagh Pass (alt. c.19,000 ft/5,791 m) of the Karakoram mountain range in modern day Pakistan. Convinced of Russian designs on British interests in India, Younghusband proactively engaged in the nineteenth century spying and conflict over Central Asia between the British and the Russians known as the Great Game. "Younghusband" is a Canadian who has spent a number of years bouncing back and forth between his home country and Japan. Fluent in Japanese and English with experience in numerous other languages from Spanish to Georgian, Younghusband has travelled throughout Asia. He graduated with an MA from the War Studies Department at the Royal Military College of Canada, where he focussed on the Japanese oil industry and energy security issues. He has recently returned to Canada from Japan, and is working in the technology sector.
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One Response to The nuclear terrorism question

  1. Gollios says:

    One of Mr. Langweische’s sharpest criticisms of the Iraq war is the poorly planned nation-building and law-and-order actions in post-Saddam Iraq. It seems strange that he’s now decrying efforts to strengthen security at the borders in places like Georgia. Building a modern physical plant gives the U.S. much more leverage to insit that U.S. officials be allowed to observe and train the locals. As for ‘uniformed agents of local governments’–you start with what’s there, and try to improve their quality over time.

    I agree with your assesment of the article…it’s good, but flawed. I think the best piece he did was on the last flight of the Shuttle Columbia. I do have a question, though–what will all of these writers do in two years when Bush is out of office? They’ll have lost their ‘theory of everything’…