[ RadSafe ] x-ray "WMD"

Thu Sep 3 08:40:51 CDT 2015

A 51-year-old man was convicted of attempting to acquire and use a "radiological dispersal device" that was basically an X-ray unit that was mobile, remotely operated, and capable of individual targeting. The goal was to give a lethal dose of radiation to persons entering or leaving mosques or Islamic community centers. He bought such a unit from an FBI "vendor" that was apparently realistic enough for him to believe it would work. (Of course they had given him a unit that wouldn't emit radiation. Earlier this week he became the first person convicted of attempting to acquire a radiological dispersal device under a statute passed by Congress in 2004.

                Strictly speaking, such a device would be a radiological exposure (or emitting) device (RED) rather than a radiological dispersal device (RDD); the latter term generally refers to a conventional explosive that spreads radioactive material over a large area, while the former generally refers to a single exposure source. The former Soviet Union reported criminal usage of single-source radiation emitters; most were gamma sources except for one californium-252 neutron source. Six incidents involved only a few victims, though two involved 13 and 23 persons (with 7 and 1 fatality respectively). Because this man (and his accomplice, who pleaded guilty several months earlier) intended to harm several individuals, he was convicted of conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction.

So here's the question...I think we discussed this last year when these bozos were first arrested. Is it a crime to plan to build something with the intent of causing large numbers of casualties, when the device itself just won't work? Don't get me wrong - these folks sound as though they are better off in prison than on the streets, and when this scheme failed they might well have tried something lower-tech that would have worked.

I know that people are arrested all the time for making "bombs" with inert materials provided by their FBI "mentors" but at least we know that bombs correctly constructed with the correct materials can, indeed, kill people. But as near as I can tell, this x-ray device would probably not have harmed anybody due to power requirements, the time requirements for delivering a high dose, and the inverse square law. To me, this sounds like arresting someone in possession of a magic wand who's trying to learn the right spell to kill people - there's no doubt about the evil intent, but is stupidity and lack of education really criminal?

Oh well - just some thoughts over my first cup of coffee of the day....


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