As soon as 63-year old Russell Defreitas was arrested in early June for an alleged plot to destroy JFK through fuel explosions, terror beat journalists couldn't resist their favorite hobby: telling stories about how everything in the US is at risk. The description "elderly patsy" immediately came to mind when eyeballing Defreitas, but AP described him, with no apparent sense of humor, as an "accused mastermind." "Unthinkable devastation" would have resulted, had his plan not been nipped in the bud.
The arrest of Defreitas, the news service nonsensically declared in papers nationwide, demonstrated the dangers inherent in "mundane targets." Terror experts were "overwhelmed" by the potential threats weighing heavily upon them. In New York City, the East River could be mined. If the reporter was to be taken seriously, the mines would blast the UN.
The huge ventilation towers along the Hudson River were a more ominous opportunity. They could be used for a poison gas attack on the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels with devastating results. Potential results are never be less than devastating, it would seem.
Since we Yanks do not care to know how things work, no editor considered for a moment that the river tunnel ventilators were designed to extract a poison gas - carbon monoxide - from the underground passages.
The ventilation system, designed by the Holland tunnel's original architect, consists of eighty-four fans, each eighty feet in diameter, distributed through tunnel ventilation towers, those allegedly menaced by poison gas attack, and they turn over the air every ninety seconds making sure motorists aren't asphyxiated. This would seem to indicate the tunnels aren't quite as vulnerable as advertised. However, the point in terror beat journalism is to assiduously avoid common sense.
In any case, more interesting - and therefore mostly ignored - was a report from Iraq by UNMOVIC at the very end of May. You remember UNMOVIC - the inspectors who were trying to ascertain if Saddam Hussein didn't have WMD's before we precipitated the current disaster.
In a report to the UN Secretary General at the very end of May, an appendix in the tome contained a lengthy discussion involving UNMOVIC's efforts to monitor the potential for chemical and biological attacks in Iraq now that it's a de facto failed state. Although the state of the country is not directly mentioned, it is described thus: "Given the current security situation in Iraq, it is possible that some non-State actors will seek to acquire toxic agents or their chemical precursors in small quantities."
This is built upon the news of chlorine attacks, the only part of the report which was noticed by some in the mainstream media. One can suppose the only reason this was noticed is because the current administration and Department of Homeland Security have been assiduously working to gin up fear over chlorine attacks in the US through the spring and early summer, and it is the duty of the press to contribute with any news that might support this.
"Iraq possessed an extensive chemical weapons-related cadre of scientists experienced not only in production but also in delivery and dissemination of chemical weapons agents. The number and current location of the remaining chemical weapons experts in Iraq is unknown..." continues the report.
"[The] United States-led Iraq Survey Group [ISG], searching for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, concluded that while the danger remains that insurgents may seek Iraqi expertise, [their number was low]."
UNMOVIC, however, disagrees a bit, which is what one would expect when reading older American reports, no matter how rigorous. The agency writes there are more former Iraqi weapons scientists listed in its file.
It is an embarrassing business, and therefore something to be looked at only briefly, when the UN's Iraq arms monitoring agency, belittled by the Bush administration in the run-up to war, returning with something in 2007 which contains a tacit admission its work is not over because the security situation in the country is failed.
Another very interesting part of the paper is a section on biological weapons production. In essence, it is a brief history of small scale biological attacks complete with an assessment that runs counter to official US bioterror assessments.
"It is widely believed," writes UNMOVIC, essentially referring to the opinions held in a predominance of American heads, "that non-State actors can obtain biological agents and toxins from countries with biological weapons or by isolation from natural sources. It is also believed that if they involve personnel with some training and widely available equipment, and that the agents are used against highly populated areas, they may have devastating effects. However, a careful analysis... leads to a different conclusion."
Production is not easy, UNMOVIC says, and the agency indicates it can monitor for evidence of small and large scale production of biological weapons. This must be cold comfort to US forces and the civilians in Iraq.
UNMOVIC details some things about the production of anthrax as part of its discussion of potentials in Iraq. Efficiencies in biological weapons production aren't what they are popularly cracked up to be.
"The amounts of the final preparation of biological agents... necessary to achieve mass casualties may seem small," states UNMOVIC. "Their production, however, inevitably requires pilot or industrial scale operations" and these can be hunted for although success is not absolutely guaranteed.
"The use [of a gram or less of some micro-organisms] may require the decontamination of buildings and the administration of prophylactics to many potentially affected people." (See UNMOVIC Report) ®
George Smith is a Senior Fellow at GlobalSecurity.org, a defense affairs think tank and public information group. At Dick Destiny, he blogs his way through chemical, biological and nuclear terror hysteria, often by way of the contents of neighborhood hardware stores.