A few months ago the Australian Intelligence Service, which is active in the War On Terror, announced that ISIS in Iraq had gathered enough radiological material in its takeover of the hospitals and university in Mosul, Iraq, which housed radioactive isotopes for medical treatment and research, to be able to construct an effective ‘dirty bomb’ or radiological weapon. And if the radiological material is divided into halves or thirds it’s possible that there could be several dirty bombs in the making. This development portends potential catastrophe for ISIS’ principal target, which is the U.S.
Radiological weapons are little known by the public which has been exposed for decades, in cold war movies like Dr. Strangelove to techno-thrillers like Tom Clancy’s ‘The Sum Of All Fears’ and ‘Red October’, to the much more flamboyant and spectacular and apocalyptic danger of nuclear weapons. And although the atomic bombs that detonated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki put their definitive stamp on the nature of the post World War II superpower arms races it was actually the possible use of radiological weapons that characterized the bulk of the World War II experience. For example, both Great Britain and Nazi Germany had developed the capability to deliver dirty bombs to each other’s territories by manned bombers but both sides refrained from using them because of fear of retaliation, so the world’s first instance of a Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) doctrine occurred between those two powers at that time. And Imperial Japan was on the verge of mounting a dirty bomb attack against the U.S. mainland, delivered by long range submarines, by the end of the war and it was fortunate that the American atomic bombs precipitously ended World War II before disaster enveloped the U.S. West Coast. So none of this stuff is new for the world.
ISIS now has functioning dirty bombs, we can be sure, because it is child’s work to construct a dirty bomb once you have the radiological material (all you have to do is have conventional explosives at the center with the radiological material in plastic bags duct-taped around the conventional bomb or IED) and the aim is to detonate the bomb and the plume of gases and debris shot up into the air will spread on the breeze or wind and radioactive material will spread over several acres of the surrounding land, perhaps several square miles if the bomb is big enough, and contaminate that area with toxic levels of radioactivity for decades to come. So a dirty bomb is by far the easiest of the weapons of mass destruction, or mass economic impact in this case, to make…whereas chemical and especially biological weapons require a far higher level of technical expertise and specialized equipment, etc. If your aim is to just create a filthy mess that will devastate the targeted society the dirty bomb is the way to go.
To understand how dangerous the level of contamination can be all you have to do is look at one accident that happened about 20 years ago when some medical isotopes in Brazil were accidentally disseminated in powder form in one locality. The radioactive isotopes were in a small container the size of a talcum powder box, the box was accidentally disposed of in a garbage dump, the container was breached in the process, and it took a massive effort to clean up the affected area at a tremendous cost. An even larger contamination event happened with not radioactive material but anthrax spores in 2001 in the mail processing facilities in Virginia in the U.S. when anthrax spores were sent through the mail in America’s one and only terrorist biological attack. That one relatively small scale attack cost BILLIONS of dollars and well over a year to clean up…an early deadly warning of the tremendous costs and disruption that so-called ‘contamination attacks’ can impose on advanced societies.
But ISIS will not use its dirty bombs in any attack in Syria or Iraq. The effort would be wasted in that region where there is so much death and destruction that invisible, toxic contamination would have little psychological impact. No, the only juicy target big and valuable and important enough for that kind of attack is the Western world, primarily the U.S., the Great Satan. So we can be sure their long range plan is to launch that kind of attack against New York, or Washington, or any large metropolitan area in America.
And such an attack, when it comes, will probably create no direct fatalities, unlike 9/11 (the indirect fatalities and ruined lives, however, in the frantic evacuations from the city, in subsequent internal refugee or FEMA camps, in the economic dislocations, etc. will be something though). The impact of the attack, however, will be greater than 9/11 because of the long-lasting rippling economic conequences and fallout. Imagine what would happen if a dirty bomb detonated around Wall Street or any other blocks of downtown Manhattan, say. Radiation detectors would immediately register critically high levels of radioactivity and the news would quickly spread. Panic in New York would ensue as the inhabitants desperately tried to escape, evacuating most of the city. It would be absolute chaos, even without any immediate injuries or fatalities from the bomb’s explosive detonation.
Just imagine wall-to-wall 24/7 ‘Breaking News’ coverage on CNN, Fox and the 3 networks as breathless reporters record video of the mass stampedes of scared dishevelled New Yorkers on foot, in cars and buses in traffic jams streaming and stumbling out of New York. It really would be like ‘Fear The Walking Dead’ on AMC…only for real. Don’t you think that ISIS, with the cultural expertise of its foreign European and American recruits, realizes what immense shock value having those TV pictures flashing around the world for days and weeks to come would have on American morale and prestige in the world?
And instantaneously, if it happened during a working day, the stock markets would plunge catastrophically and would have to be shut down…for days, maybe weeks, on end as the extent of the damage were progressively elucidated by the responding emergency NEST teams, the U.S. government’s nuclear emergency first responders. Many square blocks of prime downtown New York real estate would have been rendered worthless in literally a few minutes (there might be a silver lining here in that the Trump Tower and the Donald’s real estate fortune would be trashed knocking the know-nothing blowhard into another bankruptcy ha ha ha) with the repercussions to the stock markets and the banks and insurance companies and the surrounding economy spreading out to engulf the interconnected economy of the entire country like having a boulder dropped into a swimming pool. With the explosion of one little dirty bomb, if strategically placed where the most valuable real estate of the country is, the Islamist terrorists would accomplish a multi trillion dollar body blow to the American economy and society.
How would the U.S. economy and society react in the weeks and months in the post-explosion era? There would be a more serious financial meltdown than even in 2008 initiated by a many-years long complete devaluation of all that prime real estate to poverty levels until full decontamination, costing hundreds of billions of dollars, could be effected. Meanwhile there would be an acute recession, or even depression, as consumer spending, which accounts for 70% of the U.S. economy, dropped to depression levels. Unemployment would skyrocket and the already gigantic national debt would balloon to unprecedentedly dangerous levels as the U.S. would struggle to borrow the money necessary to get through the crisis. And the U.S. dollar would plummet aggravating an already severe economic downturn. And what would happen to America’s foreign military commitments? The troops still in Afghanistan and in many places around the world would have to be reduced to a skeleton level just as China and Russia and others are increasing their bellicosity around the world. It would be a complete disaster.
And the political pressure domestically would be so intense on any administration in office that a severe U.S. strategic bombing response, obliterating the ISIS strongholds in Raqqa and Mosul, etc., could not be avoided. And that of course would probably destabilize the Middle East completely leading to a widespread regional war which would only worsen the global economic situation as oil skyrocketed to maybe $150 per barrel. Only Putin and Russia and, paradoxically, ISIS and all the other Islamist extremists, would benefit from that over the next few years. Russia would benefit from the stratospheric oil price directly, and from the economic crippling of the U.S. and Europe indirectly, and the Islamist groups would only flourish in the extended growing chaos in the Middle East and North Africa and Somalia and Nigeria and southwest Asia, etc., and even if they lost many people in the intense U.S. bombing of their cities on balance they would gain more in potential recruits from the tsunami of newly created refugees…and all this resulting from just one dirty bomb successfully detonated in a major U.S. city.
All this, and a host of other deleterious consequences, would follow. And all of it would have been triggered by a cheap, little dirty bomb…and the entire terrorist operation to deliver it would probably cost ISIS no more than a few hundred thousand dollars…which is peanuts to them. So what’s stopping them from doing it?
The most difficult part of the operation for them is getting the bomb from its hiding place in a basement or cellar in some nondescript poor part of Raqqa or Mosul to its final destination in Manhattan or near the White House in Washington, or the Loop in Chicago, etc. The hard part is successfully smuggling it out of ISIS controlled territory onto an ISIS controlled cargo ship or fishing boat or pleasure boat to cross the Atlantic Ocean and make landfall in some little used harbor on the American coast, without being interdicted by the U.S. Navy or Coast Guard, and smuggling it into the U.S. where prepositioned agents, chosen for their un-Islamic physical appearance and whose covers haven’t been blown already by an FBI sting operation, are waiting with an SUV or panel truck with Nate’s Delicatessen logos on its sides ready to carefully drive it, obeying the traffic laws, into New York or Chicago, the bomb being covered under crates of hot dog buns or whatever, and with layers of lead radioactive shielding over it (like are put over your chest at the dentist’s when you’re getting X-Rays) to prevent radiation detectors, such as are positioned at the entrance to the Holland Tunnel and elsewhere in New York, from going off and alerting the authorities.
An alternative route might be to sail their ship to Mexico and get the bomb smuggled into the U.S. by the Mexican drug/human smuggler gangs…but that might more easily open them to betrayal. Or maybe sailing their ship into a little used Canadian Newfoundland cod-fishing outport. Once on Canadian territory they drive it to a cottage rented on Lake Ontario or Erie and on a nice summer day next year, in a small pleasure boat, they mingle with all the other pleasure boaters on the lake and wend their way to another friendly purchased or rented cottage on the American side in New York state or Ohio, etc. Any way they do it, once on the American side, if they have successfully escaped detection by coast guard or police patrols, or the prying eyes of a nosy neighbor, then that’s 95% of the problem…the remaining 5% is to drive it into the target city without a stupid accident or traffic stop.
Having already built the dirty bomb you can be sure that ISIS is working on its plans to preclude any lapse in operational security that could blow their operation, such as when some inquisitive local shoe-maker or kebab street vendor, etc., on the initial route to the Syrian coast or the Turkish smuggling areas, notices something suspicious and alerts government contacts that can then intercept the truck, or boat in their territorial waters, and make the bust and contact the Americans for a gigantic reward and American gratitude. Or maybe one of those small scale money transfer businesses, in a border area like Aleppo where Syrian government and rebel control overlaps and fluctuates, has a brother in law who happens to overhear a conversation at a tea shop about some unusual money transfers and he alerts the local gendermarie and subsequent investigation begins to unravel the dirty bomb plot in the nick of time. Or maybe someone in the ISIS organization defects with critical info that is put together, like a jigsaw puzzle, by Western intelligence agencies. Who knows how many ways ISIS might be foiled, especially in the present intensifying military atmosphere there.
But if ISIS gets past these initial obstacles the next hardest part is avoiding interdiction by the Coast Guard at the U.S. borders looking for drug smugglers, etc.,…and in between avoiding any chance naval patrols that might be suspicious of any anomalies or irregularities in the behavior or location of the terrorist transport ship. So these are the principal difficulties.
But really, with enough money and patience and careful planning such obstacles can probably be surmounted. And then one day catastrophe hits the U.S. This is asymmetric warfare at its most extreme and there is no mutually assured destruction doctrine in place, or that can be imagined, that could possibly dissuade Islamist Jihadist terrorists from making our worst nightmares come true.