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The Physics of Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, and the Iraq confrontation. LBL Institute for Nuclear Astrophysics November 15, 2002. Richard A. Muller. email: Jason Consultant 1972-2002 DoD, DoE, FBI, CIA, NSA, Army, Air Force, Navy

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the physics of terrorism counter terrorism and the iraq confrontation

The Physics of Terrorism, Counter-terrorism, and the Iraq confrontation


Institute for Nuclear Astrophysics

November 15, 2002

Richard A. Muller


some of my experience on us security

Jason Consultant 1972-2002

DoD, DoE, FBI, CIA, NSA, Army, Air Force, Navy

3-4 weeks during summers, 2-4 weeks rest of year

reports on technical aspects of counter-terrorism (last 15 yr)

tracking terrorists, finding hostages, remote x-ray,

radiological weapons, nuclear power security, …

summer of 2001: UBL!!

Technical aspects of Special Operations Forces (PI)

Technical aspects of Navy Seals (PI)

Advisory team: bugging of U.S. Embassy Building in Moscow

DoD special report: Did South Africa test a nuclear weapon?

US National Academy: Technical aspects of arms control

(with Soviet Academy, including Sakharov!)

Some of my experience on US security:

september 11 2001

September 112001

September 11, 2001 - a date which will live in infamy - the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by an anonymous terrorist force that issued no demands.

They have awakened a sleeping giant and have instilled in him a terrible resolve

What explosives did they use?

How did they smuggle them on board?


Until they took over control of the planes, the hijackers had done nothing illegal.

Box cutters were allowed.

There was NO failure of airport security.

Guns weren’t necessary: pilots had instructions to cooperate.

(This policy had saved lives and airplanes in prior hijackings!)

September 11, 2001: the last hijacking of a plane in the US.

(I made this prediction on 9-11-01.)

u s use of fuel air weapon in afghanistan

U.S. use of fuel-air weapon in Afghanistan

Blu-82 Daisy-cutter

15,000 lb gasoline = 7.5 tons

originally developed to create helicopter

landing area in Viet Nam jungle

equivalent to 112 tons of TNT =

1% of Hiroshima bomb

understanding the terrorist mind

understanding the terrorist mind

What did Osama bin Laden want?

What were his goals?

What was his expected scenario?

bin laden s scenario 2001
bin Laden’s scenario(2001)
  • al Qaeda successful attack on US (WTC, Pentagon, White House) 
  • Osama bin Laden: credit for another miracle -- first Russia, now US! 
  • US attacks Afghanistan 
  • Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Iran enter war against US 
  • US is bogged down -- US bodies pile up 
  • hatred of US spreads throughout Muslim and Arab worlds 
  • US withdraws (after about 1 year) 
  • Public says, “Never again fight in Mid-East. No blood for oil. ” 
  • Osama takes over Saudi Arabia as new king 
it s tough to be a terrorist
It’s tough to be a terrorist…
  • Smart plan / low quality of suicide volunteers
    • Mohammed Atta: threatened the life of USDA official
    • Richard Reid: couldn’t ignite his own shoe
    • Jose Padilla: former Chicago street thug
    • Zacarias Moussaoui: flunked quizzes, didn’t want to learn landing

crème de la crème? No -- l’écume de l’écume

  • destroyed infrastructure
    • Virtually no sanctuaries
    • High secrecy is now a weakness. Is it safe? Whom do you call?
    • Charismatic leader has disappeared. (Almost certainly dead.)
what could terrorists still do

What could terrorists still do?

  • small airplane attack on stadium
  • simultaneous explosions in checked baggage
  • attacks in other countries (Indonesia)
  • one person uncoordinated attacks
    • shoe bomber
    • sniper? anthrax?
limitations of explosive detection
limitations of explosive detection
  • interior detection
    • currently based on high nitrogen in most explosives
    • high false alarm rate (one in twenty) from leather
    • search luggage, or destroy it?
    • not usable now. In future: electric quadrupole resonance
  • high resolution x-ray
    • look for wiring pattern
    • check computers carefully
    • currently in use on selected flights
  • sniffers
    • detects trace material on the outside of the luggage or on person
explosives sniffers ion mobility spectrometers
Explosives sniffers: ion mobility spectrometers

But … there is no adequate way to detect explosives!

useful measures

Useless measures

Useful measures
  • confiscate nail files, scissors, knives at airport
  • air marshals on flights
  • arm pilots
  • federalization of airport security workers
  • keep first-class curtains open in airplanes
  • associate passenger with luggage
  • check shoes
  • restrict passengers in terminal
  • ethnic/religious etc. profiling
  • international police work
  • infiltrate terrorist groups
easy prediction

easy prediction:

Saddam will NOT allow inspections.

calutrons at tarmiya
Calutrons at Tarmiya

Iraqi watch: At the time of the Gulf war, eight 1200mm units were in limited operation at Tarmiya, and preparations had begun for a second group of seventeen 1200mm separators. According to Iraq's declarations to U.N. inspectors, it managed to produce 640 grams of enriched uranium with an average enrichment of 7.2% at Tuwaitha and some 685 grams at an average enrichment of 3% at Al Tarmiya.

diamonds and u 235

Diamonds and U-235

What people pay for gem quality diamonds:

$5000 per carat =

$ 12,000,000 per lb

What Saddam paid to obtain U-235 for his bomb:

$144,000,000 per lb

For the right customer, U-235 is worth

12 X the value of gem quality diamonds

is u 235 available

Is U-235 available?

(Atom bomb requires about 20 lb)

Kazakhstan 1995

ship remaining U-235 to Russia

Qualify for benefits of 1968 Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty

1996: Oops … they find another 450 lb

Turkey 2001

Istanbul police seize 2 lb U-235 from smugglers

Asking price: $750,000

Why so cheap?

What fraction has been intercepted?

what could saddam do with one bomb
What could Saddam do with one bomb?
  • put in shipping container and send to US
  • drive it in truck to Washington DC
  • explode it
  • announce that he was responsible
  • threaten to attack another US city unless we withdraw from Mid-East
key technologies of the coming war

Key technologiesof the coming war

“We own the night!”

(motto of the U.S. Special Operations Forces)

  • RPV -- remotely-piloted vehicles

(also known as “UAV” -- unmanned air vehicles)

  • IR -- infrared vision and night warfare
  • SAR -- “synthetic aperture” radar imaging
pioneer unmanned air vehicle uav
Pioneer unmanned air vehicle (UAV)

When the Pioneer came over Faylaka Island, near Kuwait City, the defenders heard the obnoxious sound emitted by the two cycle engine, because the air vehicle was intentionally being flown low to let the Iraqis know that they were targeted. Recognizing that with the "vulture" overhead, there would soon be more of those 2000 pound naval gunfire rounds landing on their positions with the same accuracy, the Iraqis made the right choice and, using handkerchiefs, undershirts, and bed sheets, they signaled their desire to surrender.The remote pilot called his commanding officer and asked, “Sir, they want to surrender. What should I do with them?”


Primary Function: Airborne surveillance reconnaissance and target acquisition

Contractor: General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Incorporated

Power Plant: Rotax 914 four cylinder engine producing 101 horsepower

Length: 27 feet (8.22 meters)

Height: 6.9 feet (2.1 meters)

Weight: 1,130 pounds ( 512 kilograms) empty, maximum takeoff weight 2,250 pounds (1,020 kilograms)

Wingspan: 48.7 feet (14.8 meters)

Speed: Cruise speed around 84 mph (70 knots), up to 135 mph

Range: up to 400 nautical miles (454 miles)

Ceiling: up to 25,000 feet (7,620 meters)

Fuel Capacity: 665 pounds (100 gallons)

Payload: 450 pounds (204 kilograms)

System Cost: $40 million (1997 dollars)

Inventory: Active force, 48; ANG, 0; Reserve, 0


Thursday, February 7, 2002

CIA missile said to kill suspected al Qaeda leader

WASHINGTON - A missile fired by remote control from a pilotless CIA aircraft has hit what was believed to be a group of senior al Qaeda members in southeastern Afghanistan, killing at least one of them, U.S. officials said on Wednesday.

"It was a CIA Predator missile that was fired upon what was thought to be a senior al Qaeda official," said the official, who asked not to be identified. He said the attack took place on Monday night.

"At least one was killed and possibly others. It's not clear who the individual was," the official said, adding that bad weather in the region had prevented a mission to identify bodies.

The al Qaeda leader who was killed in the attack was taller than the handful of others surrounding him, leading to some speculation about whether the United States may have hit its most wanted man in the war on terrorism -- Osama bin Laden.

Bin Laden, whose height is estimated on the FBI's most wanted terrorist list to be 6 feet 4 inches to 6 feet 6 inches (193 cm to 198 cm), is blamed by the United States for the Sept. 11 attacks on America that killed about 3,000 people.

But another U.S. official said several al Qaeda leaders were tall, including Ayman al-Zawahri, bin Laden's top lieutenant.

U.S. officials believe it was an al Qaeda leader because of the manner in which the others around him were paying homage. "You can tell from overhead that one guy's the center of attention," the official said.

"The central figure had a close encounter of the worst kind with a Hellfire missile," he said.


Washington Nov 4, 3:07 PM (AP): US forces killed a top associate of Osama bin Laden in Yemen in a missile strike … a U.S. official said Monday. Qued Salim Siman al Harethi was one of several al Qaida members traveling by car in northwest Yemen when a Hellfire missile struck it Sunday, killing him and five others. … U.S. counter-terrorism officials have said that al Harethi, also known as Abu Ali, was al Qaida’s chief operative in Yemen … [He] is a suspect in the bombing of the destroyer USS Cole in Aden, Yemen, on Oct. 12, 2000.

infrared vision

Infrared vision

Special Operations:

“We own the night!”



isn’t what it used to be….

global hawk
Global Hawk

Global Hawk operates at ranges up to 3000 nautical miles from its launch area, with loiter capability over the target area of up to 24 hours at altitudes greater than 60,000 feet. It is capable of simultaneously carrying electro-optical (EO), infra-red (IR), and synthetic aperture radar (SAR) payloads, and is capable of both wideband satellite and Line-Of-Sight (LOS) data link communications.

jstars joint surveillance target attack radar system modified boeing 707 300
JSTARS(Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System)modified Boeing 707-300

Jstars can gather and display broad and detailed battlefield information as events occur, and relay it in near-real time to the Army's ground stations.

Radar includes SAR (synthetic aperture radar), wide area surveillance, moving target indicator (MTI), fixed target indicator (FTI), and target classification. The antenna has a 120-degree field of view covering nearly 19,305 square miles (50,000 square kilometers) and is capable of detecting targets at more than 250 kilometers (more than 820,000 feet).

In addition to being able to detect, locate and track large numbers of ground vehicles the radar has some capability to detect low, slow-moving airplanes, helicopters, and rotating antennas.

will baghdad be a pushover
Will Baghdad be a pushover?



but maybe not for the reasons you think.

the danger

the Danger

massive use by Saddam of biological weapons against U. S. troops, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and his own people

That is what Saddam believes prevented

the invasion of Baghdad.

Is it true?

possible solution:

convince Iraqi troops and commanders to disobey their doomed leader

a little bit of political science

a little bit of Political Science …

(for which I am not credentialed)

Who will be our strongest allies in the Persian Gulf region in 2004?



  • Afghanistan
  • Iraq




Large-scale terrorism unlikely in US

Key threat comes from Iraq nuclear

Hope: Iraqis hate Saddam, will overthrow

Invasion -- mode will surprise most people

Danger: Iraqi biological weapons

viewgraphs available at