Journalists, Diplomats, Others Urged to Evacuate City (fwd)

Eugen Leitl eugen@leitl.org
Wed, 19 Mar 2003 17:02:02 +0100 (CET)


---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 19 Mar 2003 10:37:40 -0500
From: Declan McCullagh <declan@well.com>
To: Tim May <timcmay@got.net>
Cc: cypherpunks@lne.com
Subject: Re: Journalists, Diplomats, Others Urged to Evacuate City

On Mon, Mar 17, 2003 at 08:59:31PM -0800, Tim May wrote:
> About the threat to Washington: I think it's relatively high. A nerve 
> gas attack on buildings or the Metro seems likely. (The Japanese AUM 
> cult had Sarin, but was inept. A more capable, military-trained 
> operative has had many months to get into D.C. and wait for the obvious 
> time to attack. And he need not even be a suicide bomber. A cannister 
> of VX with a reliable timer is child's play.
>

One big difference, it seems to me, is that the U.S. government was
recently up against Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups that did not
have the complete resources of a nation-state at their disposal (plus
other factors, like sufficient uninterrupted time to prepare a second
attack on U.S. soil after we began to target them post-911).

Now we're up against a possibly enfeebled nation, but a nation
nonetheless, with a leader who knows that his days are numbered so
there's arguably little downside to plotting terrorism. Plus other
Middle East nations that now might be inclined to lend covert aid if
it's entirely deniable.

I live in Adams Morgan in Washington, DC, which Mapquest tells me is
three miles north of the White House (because of one way streets) -- the
oh-so-brave denizens of 1600 have closed Pennyslvania Ave. It's
probably 1.5 miles directly.

It's hardly implausible to believe I might survive a 1 kiloton nuclear
blast, about what the "Davy Crockett" U.S. nuke, at around 50 lbs,
provided. It makes sense to think that Soviet suitcase nukes have a
similar yield.

The Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings were closer to 12-23 kilotons,
according to one source (http://www.danford.net/hiroshim.htm), and
there supposedly was a 50 percent survival rate at 1/8 of a mile from
ground zero -- while the bomb went off above ground as opposed to on the
ground.

I might gain an extra half-mile or so because it's more likely a
terrorist would attack the White House from the east, west, or south
as opposed to the north -- Pennsylvania Avenue is closed, and traffic
on H St. (further north) will be stopped or severely scrutinized
during any heightened alert status.

By way of comparison, the Tractor That Disrupted DC is about eight
blocks southwest of the White House. If it were any closer, the
Disgruntled Veteran Farmer would have been dispatched with extreme
prejudice by Secret Service snipers.

If the Capitol building is attacked, I live much further from that, so
I'm not as worried by the immediate impact of the blast, just the
aftermath.

That leaves just biological and chemical weapons, conventional explosives,
and dirty bombs.

> If I were Declan, I'd get out of Dodge.

Well, I don't think I'll be living here the rest of my life -- DC is
too tempting a target over the long term, as the U.S. empire spreads
and its enemies grow accordingly.

For the short term, DC is still an easier target than NYC if you're
bringing a bomb in by truck (NYC would be easier by boat). NYC has
bridges along which radiation sensors can be placed; DC, as Tim knows,
is geographically just a part of Maryland connected by hundreds of
residential streets.

But I wouldn't be surprised to see the next attack take place in a far
more distributed manner. Imagine a dozen Iraqi/Al Qaeda sympathizers
or agents making dirty bombs (or even conventional explosives) and
leaving them in gift-wrapped boxes in shopping bags at American
surburban shopping malls. They detonate simultaneously after 15
minutes or if they're moved or disturbed. The perp would have time to
escape and could take steps to mask himself from the inevitable
surveillance camera footage that would be broadcast by the FBI.

A week or two after that happens, you can imagine the AQ/Iraq axis
trying the same thing in the parking lot of a metroplex theater at
night (it's easy enough to leave a backpack under a parked car), in
the bathroom of a dozen crowded restaurants, and so on.

The U.S. would soon become accustomed to living in the same state of
seige and constant surveillance that Israel enjoys. And watch what
Congress will do to preserve our freedoms by giving more power to the
FBI and the Department of Homeland Security.

Imagine that approach being escalated by radio-controlled or
autonomous model helicopters or airplanes being sent from outside the
Beltway to blast into the White House or the House and Senate office
buildings. They'd be guided by GPS and carry only a modest payload, so
might not accomplish much unless their targets are outside. No more
Rose Garden press conferences after the first wave of the attack
occurs, I'd wager.

Yes, DC is not a good long-term place to live. It's too tempting a target.

-Declan