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August 18, 2004

blast radii

I've been worried about terrorists using weapons of mass destruction since the mid-1990s, probably because my family and I live 3.25 miles from the White House. Even before 2000, there was plenty of alarming news about Osama bin Laden, if you looked for it in the mainstream press. For instance, on July 17, 1997, The New York Times reported:

Mr. bin Laden, whose fortune is estimated at more than $250 million, became involved with the resistance to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1970's. After the Persian Gulf war in 1991, he moved to Sudan, where he became more involved with anti-American Islamic groups.

"Osama is a very dangerous character," said Larry Johnson, a former State Department antiterrorist official now working as a private security consultant. "He has a lot of money, and he hates the United States."

Mr. Johnson said Federal investigators had information that showed Islamic fundamentalist groups, consisting mostly of legal noncitizen immigrants from the Middle East, had received money from Mr. bin Laden. ... Although it is not unusual for terrorist groups to raise money in the United States or to send money to supporters here, Mr. Johnson said, it is rare for foreign terrorists to carry out an attack in the United States.

"The level of terrorist activity within the United States is really very low," he said. Groups typically do not want to trigger the type of response that an attack in America would bring, he said.

"Osama," he said, "may not have the same constraint."


A few weeks before 9/11/01, there was an unannounced fireworks display for Mexican President Vicente Fox, and I was afraid that terrorist bombs were going off. Although I was as shocked and saddened as anyone by 9/11, I felt a small undercurrent of relief that Osama hadn't used atomic weapons. Now the publication of Graham Allison's Nuclear Terrorism has got me worried again. On the bright side, his site generates "blast maps" for any US address you choose, and I have determined that our own apartment is out of the range to be "ravaged by radiation and fires" should a 10-kiloton bomb explode outside the White House. I guess we should count our blessings.

Posted by peterlevine at 11:54 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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