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Al-Qaida ‘Scammed’ in Its Quest for Nukes?
Al-Qaida ‘Scammed’ in Its Quest for Nukes?

[Image: dsc_0122-660x992.jpg]In a press briefing yesterday, John Brennan, President Barack Obama’s adviser on Counterterrorism and Homeland Security, made an interesting claim: He said al-Qaida has been “scammed” in its efforts to obtain the material for building a nuclear device.
“There have been numerous reports over the years, over the past eight or nine years, about attempts throughout the world to obtain various types of purported material that is nuclear related,” he said. “We know that al-Qaida has been involved in a number of these efforts to acquire it. Fortunately, I think they’ve been scammed a number of times, but we know that they continued to pursue that.”
How, exactly, do you run a nuclear scam? Brennan hinted that it was a lucrative line of business for criminal groups in the former Soviet Union. “Sometimes they’re criminal gangs that have information that some material had come out from the, let’s say, the area of the former Soviet Union or some stockpiles and they will try to provide that material to other groups to sell,” he said. “As I said, a lot of it is scam, you know, red mercury, whatever else.”
As Danger Room’s Sharon Weinberger recently reported in Nature, “red mercury” (a fictional substance supposedly used in nuclear weapons) is one of the more common nuclear-smuggling scams. She quotes the former Soviet republic of Georgia’s top nuclear investigator, who cited the 2006 case of a Turkish citizen who tried to smuggle cesium-137 (a radioactive isotope that is used in cancer treatment) inside a red liquid and tried to pass it off as red mercury.
But there are also worries about criminals getting their hands on real stockpiles of fissile material. As part of the ongoing Nuclear Security Summit, the White House is touting a deal with Ukraine to eliminate its stockpiles of highly enriched uranium and convert its civilian nuclear reactors to run on low-enriched fuel. This is a so-called first-line-of-defense measure: eliminating or securing fissile materials at their source.

In countries like Georgia, the United States is also paying for a second line of defense: outfitting border-crossing facilities and ports with radiation-detection portals (pictured here) and other hardware to detect illicit nuclear materials obtained by traffickers. It’s only a partial solution, however. That detection equipment is only installed at legitimate border crossings, and can’t stop a smuggler who might be crossing a border illegally. In the case of Georgia, it can’t stop someone who may be crossing into a poorly controlled separatist republic.
In a speech this afternoon, Barack Obama is supposed to remind world leaders that actions speak louder than words when it comes to nuclear security. With world leaders crowding Washington for the summit, the capital is still under tight security: Danger Room’s D.C. bureau isn’t far from the Green Zone (aka the Washington Convention Center) and we can hear the helicopters buzzing overhead.
Photo: Nathan Hodge

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"Where is the intersection between the world's deep hunger and your deep gladness?"
In a comment to the above, what came to mind immediately was the movie "Deterrence".

The Internet Movie Database listing:

Here is a link to the NY Times review:

Trailer (after a very brief ad):

online streaming available through Amazon:

If you haven't seen the movie, and don't want to take the time, I'll give away the ending.

"Where is the intersection between the world's deep hunger and your deep gladness?"

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