Re: Media ignores Ballistic Missle Defense.

From: Charlie Stross (
Date: Mon Aug 27 2001 - 12:45:57 MDT

On Mon, Aug 27, 2001 at 09:30:32AM -0700, Brian D Williams wrote:
> I tend to agree with you on this. Of course the first successful
> terrorist attack with a weapon of mass destruction will probably be
> it's last since undoubtably the retaliation will mean complete
> elimination of said group.
Not neccessarily.

If I was Saddam Hussein circa 1990, smarting from the Iran/Iraq war
and wanting to get my own back on the Ayatollah, I couldn't think of a
better way than by mounting a botched A-bomb attack on New York using
confused Iranian expatriates as "useful idiots".

(Talk about leveraging one A-bomb into a strategic nuclear strike ..!)

The problem with the logic of retribution is that it hands any terrorist
group with a single A-bomb a tremendous force multiplier -- as long as
they're smart enough to use it as a tool of misdirection rather than a
blunt instrument.

(Luckily for us most violent terrorists are bloodthirsty idiots rather
than subtle thinkers.)

> >Why would a terrorist want to use ICBMs? Tell me why this is
> >likely.
> Terrorists no, rogue nations yes.
What's a "rogue nation" when it's at home?

Seems to me that it's a country with diplomatic goals different
from and incompatible with your own, and which isn't willing to
restrict its pursuit of them to those channels you deem to be

However, _no_ "rogue nation" has a goal that boils down to (a) whack
the United States with a nuke, and (b) sit around waiting to die.
It would basically require a collective leadership that is suicidal --
even North Korea doesn't meet that criterion. (Witness their rather
carefully stage-managed "we're lunatics and we're going to test IRBMs
until you give us some food aid" tactics in the late nineties.)

I figure the most likely _use_ of an A-bomb by a "rogue nation" (as
defined above) would be either to join the nuclear club -- seeking
legitimization by going public (and by the same token, not actually
shooting at anyone -- see India/Pakistan for recent example of this),
or to provoke a US retalliation against their own worst regional enemy.

In which case, their goal will be to have US security people _capture_
a nuke, in the hands of people who can convincingly be portrayed as
belonging to The Other Side, rather than actually setting such a nuke
off on US soil. (If they did that, and were found out later, they'd
get more than a slap over the wrist.)

This being the case, I have a strong suspicion that this very gambit
has actually happened more than once -- indeed, that it might be a
standard part of covert diplomacy. It's an intriguing explanation
for the way that Libya became a total Public Enemy #1 in the 1980's
without actually doing a hell of a lot (certainly not compared to
Syria) in the terrorism stakes. Mossad arranges for the FBI to capture
an A-bomb with "to Ronnie, with love from Muammar" painted on it in
1981? Something like that.

I guess the moral of the story is: don't believe what they tell you.
Nobody is dumb enough to think that setting off an A-bomb at a ball
game in the USA is going to do anything other than bring down the
full force -- in anger -- of the US government on them. So if any
such event occurs, look for the man busily pulling levers behind the

-- Charlie

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