Proliferation Press

A webpage devoted to tracking and analyzing current events related to the proliferation of WMD/CBRN.

A Russian Spy’s Death: What Americans Should Learn and Fear

Posted by K.E. White on December 6, 2006

by kwhite

Anne Applebaum’s While We Weren’t Looking at brings needed clarity to the mystery of who killed Alexander Litvinenko by radioactive poisoning.

Her article elucidates the reader on the shady underworld of post-Soviet spy-games, with former KGB agents now representing a dangerous free radical in the world of international crime.

Yet her most important point—which is almost glossed over in Slate’s presentation of the piece demands particular attention:

That we were surprised—are surprised—is both tragic and ironic: After all, for the better part of a decade now, we’ve been desperately looking for weapons of mass destruction and for these strange new enemies, the Islamic radicals who might be planning to use them. And now we’ve discovered that there really is nuclear material for sale, and that it really is being used, in the West, to kill people. And the killers aren’t strange, or new, or even Islamic at all.” (emphasis added)

Here, I believe, Applebaum skirts the main point to land her rhetorical punch.

Here’s the real worry:

Can U.S. officials really protect U.S. cities from a dirty bomb when we know 1) the materials exist on the open market, 2) are handled by individuals with questionable concern for human life, 3) are desired by individuals who are committed to harming America and 4) can successfully brought into our country.

Think the risk of a dirty bomb attack is unfounded?

Dirty bombs, or the conventional exploding of nuclear materials, do not constitute a Weapon of Mass Destruction– rather it has been called a “weapon of mass disruption.”

But to ground this semantic difference in the real world, let’s look to Peter D. Zimmerman with Cheryl Loeb 2004 article studying the dirty bomb threat:

“A careful examination of the consequences of the tragic accident in Goiânia, Brazil, however, shows that some forms of radiological attack could kill tens or hundreds of people and sicken hundreds or thousands.” (emphasis added)

And a June 2005 survey, which polled security experts on the WMD dangers facing America, by Sen. Richard Lugar found:

In general, respondents judged the probability of a major radiological attack over the next five years to be greater than the probability of a biological, chemical, or nuclear attack over the same time period. The average and median responses (27.1% and 25%) were higher for a radiological attack than for the other three types of WMD attack. Even within the limited time span of five years, 82% (68 of 83) said that there was at least a 10% chance of a radiological attack that affects a major portion of a city. (emphasis added)

Experts believe the dirty bomb threat is a real.

And Alexander Litvinenko’s death should show the American public the same.


An earlier edition of this article can read at Campus Progress.


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