Thursday, September 14, 2006

A joke at the Kremlin

Nathan Sharansky relates a conversation he had with Vladimir Putin in 2000 at the Kremlin in an LA Times article:

"Imagine a sunny and beautiful day in a suburb of Manhattan," he [Putin] said. "An elderly man is tending to the roses in his small garden with his nephew visiting from Europe. Life seems perfectly normal. The following day, the nephew, carrying a suitcase, takes a train to Manhattan. Inside the suitcase is a nuclear bomb."

The threat, Putin explained to me a year before 9/11, was not from this or that country but from their terrorist proxies — aided and supported quietly by a sovereign state that doesn't want to get its hands dirty — who will perpetrate their attacks without a return address. This scenario became real when Al Qaeda plotted its 9/11 attacks from within Afghanistan and received support from the Taliban government. Then it happened again this summer, when Iran was allowed to wage a proxy war through Hezbollah in southern Lebanon and northern Israel.

One consequence of the politics of the last five yeas will be to ensure that such warnings will on no account be taken seriously. 'A sovereign state attacking America through proxies? Don't be ridiculous. Those are stories that neoconservatives tell. If there were secret links between terrorist enabling states and terrorists we would have found out.' Now whether such accusations were ever true in the past is immaterial. They won't be considered true in the future. Not because there is some physical or factual bar to its existence but a political prohibition of its utterance.

But the really harmful consequence of  not recognizing proxy warfare and addressing it openly is that it creates a subterranean world of countermeasures. A black market in defense. The present war is one no one wants to know anything about; that polite society wants to pretend doesn't exist. Viewed from one angle the history of Western counterterrorism is the history of concealment, with counterterrorism nearly as well hidden as their quarry. It is about faceless groups of men in pursuit of even shadowier figures across a secret landscape. By day we live in genteel world where we speak deferentially of other cultures; listen politely to Amnesty International; pretend we believe in the United Nations; are aghast at the suggestion of asking a prisoner for more than his name, rank and serial number. But by night we sleep in a decaying jungle of creeping horrors, one in which a suitcase nuclear weapon is simply another grotesque, a nightmare which intrudes upon the waking world only in the ghostly setting of the Kremlin, as between an ex-spymaster and a former Zek. There we can somehow speak its name.

But how if Sharansky told Putin. "Yes, Vladimir. Imagine a wonderful dusk in Moscow, or Teheran, or Damascus. The work of the day is done; and strong, capable men lock their safes and wait for the limousines to carry them to the secret policeman's ball. There will be women, wine! Especially in Teheran there will be wine! And somewhere on those darkened streets a man may take a suitcase from a car and sets it very carefully in a bus station locker. Quietly. As if he were afraid to awaken something sleeping. Not from my country, Vladimir. But from some other, lawless country, one that doesn't want to get its hands dirty — who will perpetrate their attacks without a return address. What should we do about that Vladimir?"


Blogger Alexis said...

How is this a joke? It sounds like a realistic scenario to me. Mr. Putin seems to understand the situation.

I do wonder, though, why parts of that vast inventory of IED's (Iranian Explosive Devices) in Iraq haven't mysteriously wound up in Iran.

9/14/2006 11:31:00 PM  
Blogger Tarnsman said...

Two can play at the same game. It is just as conceivable that the nuke suitcase could show up in Tehran, Beijing, Moscow or anywhere else as easily as it could in Manhattan. The world imagines the worst of America. Perhaps it is time to bring reality to their imaginings.

9/15/2006 12:28:00 AM  
Blogger wretchardthecat said...


Maybe I laid on the irony too thick. But for many the Putin story will be a joke, a boogeyman tale told by a man with a macabre sense of humor. But as you say, Putin may be serious. And maybe I've grown too cynical, but I think many people have so closed there minds on this subject that they are unreachable by words.

9/15/2006 12:39:00 AM  
Blogger John Hawkins said...

Two can play at the same game...

Indeed, many can play.

But what would be the result if a suitcase nuke went off in Tehran? Perhaps a mysterious jihadi group releases an Internet video fatwa against the Mullahs in Iran, with a vague "we have what they only seek" and a few days later (pick some random "meaningful date" from the Sunni calendar) the nuke goes off, decapitating the Iranian government.

What then? Good? Bad? Worse?

Or Gaza?

9/15/2006 12:45:00 AM  
Blogger Mad Fiddler said...

The great thing about a culture that honors freedom is that people are willing to declare where they stand on contentious issues.

This helps identify the idiots.

As an example... however great “West Wing” is as drama, its reason for being was pure wish fulfillment for the frustrated Left. It was conceived, initiated, populated and produced by a coven of extravagantly demented democrats (“EDDs”) who through it vicariously re-lived their lost dominion over the White House, week after week.

For most of its run the President was played by Martin Sheen, whose leftist activism has magnified his celebrity as much as his movie roles have done. In fact, most of the cast and backers seem to have Leftist credentials that place them between Daily Kos and DU.

In this pipe dream they get to play the saviors of the world, which charade has been denied them since Clinton gave higher priority to his pecker than to the concerns of civilization. In their play-acting they fight the foes of decency with all weapons at their disposal, unconstrained by the tethers by which they would hog-tie Dubya.

Likewise, the new film depicting George Bush’s murder may someday be judged on its merits. But for now it has to be studied as a clear statement of a tunnel-vision worldview that denies any evil but Republican evil. Its plot crystalizes the Left’s denial of fourteen centuries of Jihad, portraying instead some cloaked aspect of Amerikkka’s Vast Right Wing Conspiracy as the present peril of the world.

In Tom Clancy’s novel “The Sum of All Fears” arabs recovered a nuclear warhead from a crashed Israeli jet, and used it to build a terrorist bomb. By the time Hollywood money sensed Clancy’s story as a vehicle for Hotness Ben Affleck, CAIR had waged a vehement and successful campaign to coerce the industry away from depicting Islamic Arabs as terrorists. (Ironic, ain’t it?) Despite that thousands of terrorist acts around the world each year are done by Islamic Jihadists, Hollywood executives didn’t have to look far from their own favorite list of “usual suspects” to replace the Islamic Arabs with NeoNazis.

Well, sure, I accept that NeoNazis can be insane mass murderers.

But that tautology was clarified over six decades ago.

The threat we need to deal with now is that of the resurgent Jihad, which has only been dormant for a time.

Not the threat of a resurgent Reich, but Dar al Islam.

How might things have gone in World War II if Hollywood and the Left had spent the 1930’s striving to convince America that our chief danger was from, say, Quechua fanatics intent on re-establishing Atahualpa’s Inca Empire from out of the mists of time, and not from the Axis powers?

9/15/2006 12:53:00 AM  
Blogger summignumi said...

Yet Russia continues to build the very instruments in IRAN that would further this impossible event according to the left, China continues to protect NK while it supplies the very parts and assistance, Europe consistently counters the US even at its own peril. One ponders why? Is it the US out of all countries has more to lose then Russia, China or Europe? The chances are higher of a devastating detonation here in the US then in those place, Now think, who would benefit most form the super-power status destroying detonation in New York, Washington or any of the top four American cities? Islam would get the fame for sure but whom would really get their wildest dreams answered? Think what would happen if Wall Street, all major buildings and monuments in DC or downtown Chicago were incinerated (and its people)? Would the US stay the busy buddy policeman it is now? Would it become a hollow shell of a superpower so busy with its burnt dead to continue to be the unwavering pursuer of anti-democracies forces? Would the economic engine of freedom that keeps the world safe stay the economic engine it is? There are no other engines of freedom ready to step in or take up the slack. There are so many internal and external entities that would in one way or another get justification, satisfaction or just plain gain from such an event, for the US to let Iran, NK or any country that could make and distribute WMD to untraceable hands is to run the clock for such an event, it is the US that has more to lose if it is hit then all others, the US has more to lose if it is one of it allies that is hit. One must ask again, why do certain countries openly and covertly help those that would most certainly use their WMDs on us and even them? Why? The next six to eight years will determine what this century will be and the future of the US in it.

9/15/2006 01:20:00 AM  
Blogger nikita said...

What should we do about that Vladimir?
I presume correct answer is "the same as we do from 1999, when this did happen in Moscow?" Only that Sharansky is too parochial to know that the war started long before it hit his country.

9/15/2006 04:16:00 AM  
Blogger Pyrthroes said...

Just after the Trade Center towers were completed, John McPhee (a prolific writer for The New Yorker) authored "The Curve of Binding Energy". Therein he and a nuclear-weapons engineer instrumental in developing the H-bomb walked the Twin Towers with a waste-basket containing a concealed basketball-- the size of a hydrogen warhead, according to the engineer.

Not once we they accosted or questioned, of course, though neither had made any effort to disguise themselves as businessmen or tenants. But even in the mid-1970s, nuclear terrorism, "proxy war" if you prefer, was very much on certain peoples' minds.

Against this, sorry-- there is no defense. The civilized world will either take stringent preventive measures NOW, or the basketball will come. What "measures"?-- well, beginning yesterday, the Nuclear Club is closed. Any Iranian, North Korean, or other regime found developing a nuclear WMD should be "outlawed" in the classic sense. No diplomatic pussy-footing: The Chief of State and his enablers are terminated by any means; their State scoured for any vestige of fissionable material; regardless of ideological, nationalist, or other yawps, that entity WILL NOT possess the basketball.

"Politically impossible"? Then so is civilization. Trading in anonymity, nuclear terrorists assume that because their origins are obscure, civilized communities must dither and waffle until culprits are "exposed". Not so. Extortion on this scale is preventable, before catastrophe takes everything down with it. Who grunts and fusses against "imperial hubris" in the face of McPhee's insights going back a generation deserves to perish utterly. The rest of us need not enslave ourselves to death.

To Putin, we say: For Great Russian chauvinistic purposes, you abet this ghastly threat at every opportunity. Has Lenin taught you nothing? "Who, Whom" he said, reviewing the morning's execution list. You are the "Whom", my friend. Who ya gonna call?

9/15/2006 05:56:00 AM  
Blogger Meme chose said...

A deep difference between the US and EU countries is that the vaporization of a single city would not destroy the US as a nation, as an economy or as a military power.

This is simply not true for most (all?) EU states, a crucial distinction which goes a long way towards explaining their craven attitude, as if they had already been defeated. Detonate a nuke in central London for example and the entire upper tier of every institution, profession and government department, and 90% of everyone and everything they really care about preserving are gone.

This is why if the jihadists are at all smart (an open question) an initial attack of this sort would never happen here in the US. The US has shown that it hits back hard (thank you, GWB); EU countries by contrast would fold up overnight like cardboard forts, and thus present the most inviting target.

9/15/2006 06:13:00 AM  
Blogger sammy small said...

Its time to dust off the hands of the Doomsday Clock, especially with the recent progress of NK and Iran in mind. Or is this organization run by lefty scientists who also don't see the danger.

9/15/2006 07:32:00 AM  
Blogger enscout said...


Sometime between 9/11 and the invasion of Afghanistan, I was discussing the US response to terrorism with another silverback friend of mine.

Both of us guessed wrongly that the US would conduct a covert/proxy type campaign against enemies everywhere. We thought it would take years to respond given the sorry state of the CIA at the time - maybe some initial excursions by military spec-ops but not an overt hot war.

The action in Afghanistan was a bit of a hybrid with Spec-ops and ground forces combined with air support and indigs. I think it was a show for the world to digest and a treat for our domestic community that was quite hawkish at the time.

So much can be said, pro and con, about the Iraq situation. Time will tell if it was a worthwhile endeavor.

What we cannot afford is to get shackled by events there. Yes, we may have disturbed a hornets nest but that situation needs to play itself out largely without any involvement by US.

To me, the bigger threat all along is a likelyhood of something similar to wretchard's scenario of rogue terrorists with portable WMD's - in our ports, slipping past customs, who knows... - all supplied by any one a quite a lengthy list of possible state sources: Russia, PRC, France (I wouldn't put it past them), Pakistan, now N Korea and in the not-too-distant future Iran.

Have we just been lucky - as the Dems claim? Either way, the need for better intel and an aggressive level of covert activity everywhere by US is, IMHO, now needed more than at any other time in our history.

9/15/2006 07:36:00 AM  
Blogger Tarnsman said...

One can only hope that the jihadists care about their civilization, people and faith as much as we do ours. What they should worry about and consider is the "Crimson Tide" scenario. The nuclear destruction of one or more American cities is bound to reap the whirlwind for the Muslim world. There will be overwhelming pressure for the President to respond in kind. While he/she might resist the calls for revenge, it is not inconceivable that an United States Ohio-class submarine commander and his crew might act on their own to avenge the destruction of an American city. Armed with 24 MIRV'ed Trident II D-5 ballistic missiles, such a rogue submarine would wreck havoc and destruction on a biblical scale on the Islamic world. Mecca and Medina would undoubtablly be targets number #1 and #2 as would every major city of the Muslim world. It would be the end of their civilization and perhaps even their faith. Given the capablities and mission of the US nuclear submarines it will be very hard to "retrieve" such a rogue vessel. The USN has eighteen of these bad boys in its inventory and thus there are eighteen "Crimson Tide" possiblities. And we haven't even factored in the "Doctor Strangelove" scenario for the USAF.
For those that don't think that the US isn't capable of striking out in blind rage I have three words for you: Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

9/15/2006 09:13:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Humility is a virtue seldom seen (in the U.S.), and it makes strategic surprise (for us) almost guaranteed.

We should be making common cause with Russia and China. Neither suffer from the decay of the rest of the West, and both will eventually insist on being our equals or betters in every weapon, of every type, including inventions that surpass ours (so there's no reason not to be generous now, especially since we haven't been able to produce the world's best technologists out of our own failing high-schools for more than a decade).

Better to ally now, before our own selfishness (butter over guns, unions over teaching) removes our ability to treat as equals (treat as in treaty).

Note that when international problems are hard and look unsolvable, one of the ways out is to make the problem bigger (meaning consider a new alignment of (the new) superpowers could easily deal with iran, nk, pakistan, and the like).

Not through disarmament, but re-armament, ABM and other offensive capabilities at an unchallengeable level developed and deployed by a new "big-3." Would even please the realists. Throw in energy stability in the same treaty. Agree on a framework for directing (financing) the U.N. etc.


Well, I can dream.

9/15/2006 10:39:00 AM  
Blogger Arthur Dent said...

A great way for the US to counter any possible rogue nuke threat on a city or cities is to make each state, city, community much more independent.

Katrina was a reminder of how important it is for each part of our nation from the family on up to plan for disaster.

The nation must plan how to smoothly continue functioning after the next natural or man made disaster.

9/15/2006 12:51:00 PM  
Blogger What is "Occupation" said...

Stated at Debka:

Once the occupiers are out, many of Iraq`s problems will be resolved," Iran’s Ali Khamenei tells visiting Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki Wednesday

Image a day, not to far in the future when all westerners are driven from the lands of islam.

Image a day when israel LEAVES the gaza and west bank.

Those that have sown the seeds of suicide bombers will be targeted by others sowing the same.

but wait, this quote is 2-sided we will also say:

Once the moslems are out, many of the world`s problems will be resolved,"

Becareful of what you wish for moslem world, you may just be ethnically cleasned out of the world as you seek your lands to be cleansed...

9/15/2006 01:13:00 PM  
Blogger Tarnsman said...

metaphysician, you do know that LOW (launch on warning) is the unofficial doctrine of the US nuclear forces, right? That the President's "control" of the nuclear arsenal is tenious at best. Second, you do know that the Pentagon wants to mix warheads on the D-5 missiles (nuke and conventional), thereby allowing the boat commanders greater flexiblity in targeting their missiles. Third, you honestly believe that one or more of the US nuke boats on patrol don't have the launch co-ordinates for Middle Eastern targets, say for Tehran, all ready plugged in? Fourth, you honestly think that determined commander bent on revenge is not going to be able to find a way around the safeties, especially if his crew is with him, as well as perhaps with support from inside the chain of command? Many in the military will have only objective if New York, Los Angeles, San Fransico, or (pick a city) is nuked: turning the Middle East into glowing glass. Fifth, The President could easily do a "Henry the Second" and make a general comment that would give his "knights" the wink and nod to do what needed to be done. All deniable later on, of course. Finally, this is all probably moot anyway. An American city gets nuked and I have no doubt that the American people will DEMAND blood for blood. I don't see how politically the government will be able to resist such calls. The boat commanders, and the USAF pilots, will get their launch codes. Like I said, I only hope the jihadists care enough about their civilization and way of life not to risk American retribution

9/15/2006 01:54:00 PM  
Blogger geoffgo said...

BTW, OT & Mea culpa, but comments are closed on the next thread?

Another ROE issue. I closely paraphrase. Joe Biden just said on CNN that he's worked with these professionals for 30 years (10 on the IntelCom), and he says we don't need to pass the legislation that Bush requests, because these guys always act professionally, and if a situation exists (read emergency), where extraordinary measures may be required, then he knows these professionals will just do what they need to, and throw themselves under the train.
He just said that.

I wonder what that known-unknown level of "threat" has on the quality and quantity of the information collection efforts.

9/15/2006 02:55:00 PM  
Blogger Teresita said...

arthur dent wrote:

A great way for the US to counter any possible rogue nuke threat on a city or cities is to make each state, city, community much more independent.

Better yet, an end to cities altogether. If America is one vast homogenous suburb with no points of concentration for power, transportation, water, finance, defense, etc, there's nothing for al-Qaeda or Li'l Kim to hit. Already we have online public schools, so this is coming.

9/15/2006 05:19:00 PM  
Blogger Jack said...

"Anyway, it seems clear to me, that nuclear terrorism will invariably be more destructive to the Middle East than to Europe or America – just like the current batch of Islamic terrorism is."

I don't know about this, perhaps absolutely, but not relatively.

I had a conversation over some beers with an Army captain last night and he mentioned how hard it was to realize that so many people in the region were machiavellian, and that they'd screw over a friend if they had the choice. Whereas here it may be 90% good, 10% bad, there it is the opposite. Here we have institutions that allow trust and legality to dim primordial human characteristics.

With this in mind, we agreed that whereas it was a long trip from where they are to where we are, it is a much shorter trip from us to them. The Middle East is already a shithole, some more explosions isn't going to change all that much except accelerate them towards whereever they're going. What nuclear bombs would do here would be an even greater tragedy.

9/15/2006 07:49:00 PM  
Blogger geoffgo said...


Portability is of course variable. Suitcase nukes, while devastating for thoseinvolved, have small output. Panel-truck size can do a lot more damage.

Carried by tanker or container ship it needn't get through customs, per se, just in port in Houston, or 20 mile up the Hudson river. Horatio and his CSI team will have to commute from 10 miles away. And, it might be quite impossible to determine the source.

9/15/2006 10:20:00 PM  
Blogger NY GOPer said...

teresita said:
If America is one vast homogenous suburb with no points of concentration for power, transportation, water, finance, defense, etc, there's nothing for al-Qaeda or Li'l Kim to hit.

You are not entirely correct. Just look at the E coli outbreak in our spinach supply. The feds allowed our family farmers to pass away and be replaced by agro-conglomerates where food is picked by migrantes who lack the self interest that family farmers had for the quality of our foods has led to a new weakness within our country.
Hopefully measures can be created to correct the situation before an outbreak of something much worse occurs.

9/17/2006 02:31:00 PM  
Blogger Strabo the Lesser said...

The port hypothesis has been around since at least 1939, as this excerpt from a letter from Einstein to Roosevelt indicates:

" In the course of the last four months it has been made probable — through the work of Joliot in France as well as Fermi and Szilard in America — that it may become possible to set up a nuclear chain reaction in a large mass of uranium, by which vast amounts of power and large quantities of new radium-like elements would be generated. Now it appears almost certain that this could be achieved in the immediate future.

This new phenomenon would also lead to the construction of bombs, and it is conceivable — though much less certain — that extremely powerful bombs of a new type may thus be constructed. 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. However, such bombs might very well prove to be too heavy for transportation by air. "

Were I a dictator I would be in fear that in New Delhi or Seoul, or Jerusalem some group of pissed off scientists would get together with 10kg of plutonium to make the world a better place.

9/17/2006 05:23:00 PM  
Blogger Hey said...

The Us has some very, very cool toys that would be useful in attacking a port to devastating effect. Most of our current targets don't have major port cities, but some can be hit.

You put a special cargo container on a boat, ensuring that it is on top of the pile (very key). Inside you have a large number of Davy Crocket nuclear mortars. Arrive in port, computer retracts the roof, and the mortars fire after adjusting for orientation and distance. You get much better dispersal, higher blast efficiency, better elevation, and you don't need to use a huge weapon.

The US should have as policy that it will glaze the entire Mid-East (with a buffer for Israel) on any WMD attack on its interests. Nuke the usual suspect and then investigate.

As to figuring out where the material comes from... it's pretty easy. The signatures of the major players are known, as are the attributes of the U and PU sources of the world. One doesn't need a missile trace to track things back.

9/18/2006 02:39:00 PM  
Blogger Jay Manifold said...

NY GOPer said...

"Just look at the E coli outbreak in our spinach supply. The feds allowed our family farmers to pass away and be replaced by agro-conglomerates where food is picked by migrantes who lack the self interest that family farmers had for the quality of our foods has led to a new weakness within our country."

In reality, of course, the feds regulated "organic farming" in such a way as to require that modern technologies not be used, greatly increasing the risk to consumers; thus the outbreak. And the company name is even "Natural Selection Foods." Leno and Letterman couldn't make this up ...

Indeed, perhaps there should be an investigation of the potential of "organic farming" as a vector for bioterrorism.

9/18/2006 03:47:00 PM  
Blogger Terry Crane said...

Are you kidding - a joke? Soviets were behind 1967 and 1973 wars against Israel, fought in Vietnam, trained terrorists in Moscow.

9/18/2006 09:26:00 PM  
Blogger unaha-closp said...

'A sovereign state attacking America through proxies? Don't be ridiculous. Those are stories that neoconservatives tell. If there were secret links between terrorist enabling states and terrorists we would have found out.'

The 9/11 Commission Report had several pages redacted that are purported to say this very thing. Might be nice to see them some time?

Perhaps it would be nice to see them before a suitcase nuke is detonated?

9/18/2006 10:15:00 PM  
Blogger AST said...

While we're updating the Geneva Conventions we should address this problem and state tha using terrorist proxies is and act of war; that such proxies if captured are not entitled to Common Article 3 treatment, but will be liable to interrogation using coercive measures such as do not constitute torture or neglect endangering their health. I would say that they should be able to treat them the same as boot camp trainees without the drills, and allow sleep deprivation, cold, attention slaps and grabs.

9/19/2006 02:13:00 AM  

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