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Regulators Stop Dirty Bomb Plot – sorta

July 17, 2007

DirtyBombA bit of scary news came out the other day, a “terrorist” organization successfully secured a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), then purchased 45 moisture density gauges, which contain americium-241 and cesium-137. Only after the devices were ordered were federal regulators able to put a stop to the nefarious plot.

The regulators who stopped it? The General Accounting Office (GAO). The nefarious plotters? The GAO.

In an investigation to test the defenses of the NRC, the GAO set the plan in motion earlier this year. The ruse?

The investigators didn’t have to work hard. They merely posed as businessmen from West Virginia. Armed with nothing more than a P.O. box at Mail Boxes Etc. a phone and a fax, the investigators applied for a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. It was a straightforward process that took less than a month. No in-person interviews. No NRC visits to the sham company to make sure it checked out. Only a minor background check.

Having secured a limited license that allowed for the fake company to only secure a limited amount of radioactive material. The license, however, is printed on standard paper, with few security measures built in. The investigators simply removed their limit and began ordering the moisture density gauges. Having beaten the regulatory system, the team from the GAO called off the order believing that they had proven it possible for a potential terrorist to secure materiel to be used in making a “dirty bomb.”

The NRC’s reaction, though, is where the outrage comes in. When confronted with the report, here are the NRC spokesmen reactions:

“NRC commissioner Edward McGaffigan Jr. said in an interview yesterday that the agency, while concerned about any security weakness, has had to allocate finite resources to what it thinks are the biggest potential threats to public safety. He said terrorists have looked for relatively simple ways to cause massive death and damage. Devices such as the moisture gauges, he said, pose a relatively low-level risk because they require a vast amount of work to fashion into a dangerous weapon.”

And from the New York Times:

“Why would I not blow up a chemical tanker on a train with chlorine in it or other toxic materials, at a tiny fraction of the cost before doing this very elaborate exercise?” Mr. McGaffigan said.

A nuclear commission spokesman, David McIntyre, said the agency had not inspected the offices of the bogus company before issuing a license because the portable devices the Congressional auditors were trying to buy are considered a lower-level threat than that posed by more dangerous radioactive materials, which it regulates more strictly.

Apparently, we now only take care of the radioactive materials that are easy to make a bomb out of. The fact that these dismissals came from an NRC spokesperson, even if they are now cleaning things up, shows a reckless disregard for the current world order. Not to mention the fact that the Department of Justice is currently prosecuting a “would-be terrorist” for attempting to build and detonate a “dirty bomb.”

Sources: here and here.

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