November 15, 2004

Nukes South of the Border Will Do, Thank You

Why take your nuke to town when just standing on the other side of the fence gets you all the way there?

Time Magazine is roiling the blogsphere with its warning of terrorist nukes to be smuggled into Mexico and from there into the the United States

Sharif al-Masri, an Egyptian who was captured in late August near Pakistan's border with Iran and Afghanistan, has told his interrogators of "al-Qaeda's interest in moving nuclear materials from Europe to either the U.S. or Mexico," according to a report circulating among U.S. government officials.

Masri also said al-Qaeda has considered plans to "smuggle nuclear materials to Mexico, then operatives would carry material into the U.S.," according to the report, parts of which were read to TIME. Masri says his family, seeking refuge from al-Qaeda hunters, is now in Iran.

And they would "carry material into the U.S.?" The question that occurs to me in that statement is: Why would they bother?

Once you have smuggled a nuclear weapon into Mexico what reason would you have to take another, bigger risk and try and get it across the border into the United States?

Wouldn't it be much simpler and more straightforward just to take the bomb to Juarez, get as close to the border as possible, and then detonate the device. Given the right set of conditions you could achieve your terrorist aims and never have to set foot in the United States. Why risk two security rings when you can risk only one?

Detonating a nuclear weapon in Juarez, Mexico is the same thing as detonating one in El Paso, Texas:

Walk seven blocks south from the heart of downtown El Paso and you’re on the bridge that empties into Avenida Juárez, the tourism center of Juárez, and you’re a few blocks from the city’s cathedral and main plaza. Nowhere else in the world are two major cities of two different countries so closely connected — or so easy to visit from either side. --El Paso Tourist Guide

What would be the advantages of Juarez/El Paso from a nuclear terrorist's point of view? There are several:

All of which goes to show that the security of the United States doesn't start at the border, but south of the border, down Mexico way. I don't know what Homeland Security is doing about this, but if I was in the organization, I'd be very concerned about the ports of Mexico right now and be looking very hard at truck traffic coming north towards El Paso.

Then, of course, there's the Canadian border.

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Posted by Vanderleun at November 15, 2004 9:51 AM | TrackBack
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

The coasts are vulnerable as well. In his 1939 letter to President Roosevelt about the threat posed by German research of nuclear fission, Albert Einstein wrote: "A single bomb of this type, carried by boat and exploded in a port, might very well destroy the whole port together with some of the surrounding territory." This danger still exists, and it's difficult to see how it can be defended against.

Posted by: Pat Berry at November 15, 2004 3:47 PM

Thanks for the warm fuzzies.

Posted by: Ron Deaton at November 15, 2004 4:33 PM

Mexico needs to be concerned. Very concerned. It isn't called the Global War on Terrorism for nada.

Posted by: Eagle1 at November 15, 2004 7:37 PM

TO: Vanderleun
RE: Not Good Enough

Sure, they could do a lot of damage. Kill a lot of people in a place like Juarez. However, it would not be as spectacular as doing NYC or DC or LA.

They seem to like the spectacular gesture, so, if they think they've got a fair chance of success, they'll go for the big one. And, considering how porous the border IS, I think they think they've got a fair chance.

Besides, even if they are detected bringing it across the border, if it's primed to blow, they could blow it upon discovery and still make a splash such as you describe.


[Are we living in a Clancy novel yet?]

Posted by: Chuck Pelto at November 16, 2004 2:59 AM

P.S. The biggest and fastest moving threat is an aircraft with a bomb on-board flying over one of the target cities; NYC, DC, LA, etc. The Coast Guard can check ships approaching our ports, but it's hard to check all the aircraft approaching our borders.

Posted by: Chuck Pelto at November 16, 2004 3:02 AM

And here I was worrying about fallout from a shipborne nuke in Galveston or Corpus Christi. Now you've made me REALLY paranoid. Of course, I'd miss all my vaporized in-laws in El Paso, but Juarez could use some urban renewal...

Posted by: slimedog at November 16, 2004 8:51 AM

Does anyone, including the terrorists, have any idea the mechanics in detonating a dirty bomb or god forbid nuclear warhead? It's not like setting off a firecracker. Also, how do they move it around without getting radiation sickness?

Posted by: jeff at November 16, 2004 10:05 AM

Think Vicente Fox would get tougher with controlling the border given your scenario?

Naw, me neither.

Posted by: Buddha at November 16, 2004 12:39 PM


Posted by: flannelputz at November 16, 2004 7:09 PM

Then, of course, there's the Canadian border.

For which, I may add, we are eternally grateful!

Posted by: Woody at November 17, 2004 8:55 AM

What about Tijuana? Granted, we probably aren't talking the same level of proximity, but San Diego is probably a more valuable target. Depending on the atmospheric conditions, the fallout could hurt many more people. Obviously, if they can be successful in getting a nuke on a boat and into new york harbor, or philadelphia, or boston, or baltimore, etcetra, it would probably say more, but even mexico city should be an attractive target. Mexico City won't harm the US directly, but there would be alot of distraction.

What about the electro-magnetic pulse of a nuke detonated at ground level?

Posted by: Marty at November 19, 2004 5:35 PM

But blowing up a nuke in Mexico would defeat the point of the action. The Al Quada terrorists want to make a point about US forgen policy, bias against Islam, bias against the palestintans.

The symbolism of attacking Mexico or France or anyone other than the US the UK and previously Spain would simply be that they're insane and hate freedom.

Posted by: Mesic at November 20, 2004 9:10 AM

They don't need to bring their own nuke...
take a look 2 miles up north the "biggs army airfield" in El paso....yes i guess that nuke's
launchers.... less than 10 miles from the mexican border...good luck pals !

Posted by: OMG at October 7, 2005 8:00 AM
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