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TA-ANALYSIS:"Suitcase Nukes" an Overview

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posted on Mar, 24 2004 @ 10:00 PM
Suitcase Nukes have been brought up in the Media lately, however most of us have been discussing this possibility for years. According to a recent article in the press, Ayman Al-Zawahiri has claimed Al-Qaeda posses Suitcase Nukes that were purchased on the Black Market. The idea of this being a reality is un-comprehensible. Here is an overview of “Suitcase Nukes.”

Former Russian Governor Krasnoyarsk Krai and former Russian Security Council Secretary, General (Ret.) Alexander Lebed, that an unknown number of these weapons (possibly as many as several dozen) could not be accounted for. These allegations, which came in late September 1997, brought the possibility of Portable Nuclear Devices (referred to as “Suitcase Nukes) being put in the hands of terrorists. Theses devices could represent the greatest threat if they are indeed in terrorist hands. Not only would the death of innocent lives, and the possible destruction of an entire city cripple any country that was attacked, the political, psychological, and economic repercussions it would have would be felt around the world. Security has not been what it now is, pre 9-11. Any number of these items could already be in the country.


A "suitcase" bomb is a very compact and portable nuclear weapon and could have the dimensions of 60 x 40 x 20 centimeters or 24 x 16 x 8 inches. The smallest possible bomb-like object would be a single critical mass of plutonium (or U-233) at maximum density under normal conditions. The Pu-239 weighs 10.5 kg and is 10.1 cm across. It doesn't take much more than a single critical mass to cause significant explosions ranging from 10-20 tons. These types of weapons can also be as big as two footlockers. The warhead consists of a tube with two pieces of uranium, which, when rammed together, would cause a blast. Some sort of firing unit and a device that would need to be decoded to cause detonation may be included in the "suitcase."

Another portable weapon is a "backpack" bomb. The Soviet nuclear backpack system was made in the 1960s for use against NATO targets in time of war and consists of three "coffee can-sized" aluminum canisters in a bag. All three must be connected to make a single unit in order to explode. The detonator is about 6 inches long. It has a 3-to-5 kiloton yield, depending on the efficiency of the explosion. It's kept powered during storage by a battery line connected to the canisters. 1" target='_blank' class='tabOff'/>

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Images Taken FromSteve Quayle


External radiation — occurs when either part of or all of the body is exposed from an external source, such as when a person is standing near the site of where a radiological device is set off and he or she is exposed to radiation, which can be absorbed by the body or can pass completely through it.

Contamination — occurs when radioactive materials in the form of solids, liquids or gases are released into the air and contaminate people externally, internally or both. This happens when body parts such as the skin become contaminated and/or if the harmful material gets inside the body via the lungs, gut or wounds.

Incorporation of radioactive material — occurs when body cells, tissues and organs such as bone, liver, thyroid or kidney, are contaminated.

Gamma radiation can travel many meters in the air and many centimeters once in human tissue; therefore they represent a major external threat. Dense material is needed as a shield. Beta radiation can travel meters in air and can moderately penetrate human skin, but clothing and some protection can help. Alpha radiation travels a very short distance through the air and can't penetrate the skin, but can be harmful if inhaled, swallowed or absorbed through open wounds.

Radiation in the first hour after an explosion is about 90 percent, with it going down to about 1 percent of the original level after two days. Radiation only drops to trace levels after 300 hours. 2

A single critical mass cannot cause an explosion however since it does not cause fission multiplication, somewhat more than a critical mass is required for that. But it does not take much more than a single critical mass to cause significant explosions. As little excess as 10% (1.1 critical masses) can produce explosions of 10-20 tons. This low yield seems trivial compared to weapons with yields in the kilotons or megatons, but it is actually far more dangerous than conventional explosives of equivalent yield due to the intense radiation emitted. A 20-ton fission explosion, for example, produces a very dangerous 500-rem radiation exposure at 400 meters from burst point, and a 100% lethal 1350-rem exposure at 300 meters. A yield of 10-20 tons is also equal to the yield of the lowest yield nuclear warhead ever deployed by the US -- the W-54 used in the Davy Crockett recoilless rifle.

Davy Crockett Warhead

A mere 1.2 critical masses can produce explosive yield of 100 tons, and 1.35 critical masses can reach 250 tons. At this point a nation with sophisticated weapons technology can employ fusion boosting to raise the yield well into the kiloton range without requiring additional fissile material.

The amount of fissile material that constitutes a "critical mass" varies with the material density and the type of neutron reflector present (if any). A high explosive implosion can compress fissile material to greater than normal density, thus reducing the critical mass. A neutron reflector reduces neutron loss and reduces the critical mass at a constant density. However generally speaking, adding explosives or neutron reflectors to a core adds considerably more mass to the whole system than it saves.

A limited exception to this is that a thin beryllium reflector (thickness no more than the core radius) can actually reduce the total mass of the system, although it increases its overall diameter. For beryllium thicknesses of a few centimeters, the radius of a plutonium core is reduced by 40-60% of the reflector thickness. Since the density difference between these materials is on the order of 10:1, substantial mass savings (a couple of kilograms) can be achieved. At some point though increasing the thickness of the reflector begins to add more mass than it saves since volume increases with the cube of the radius. This marks the point of minimum total mass for the reflector/core system.

A low yield minimum mass or minimum volume weapon would thus use an efficient fissile material (plutonium or U-233), a limited amount of high explosives (sufficient only to assembly the core, not to compress it to greater than normal density), and a thin beryllium reflector.
We can now try to estimate the absolute minimum possible mass for a bomb with a significant yield. Since the critical mass for alpha-phase plutonium is 10.5 kg, and an additional 20-30% of mass is needed to make a significant explosion, this implies 13 kg or so. A thin beryllium reflector can reduce this by a couple of kilograms, but the necessary high explosive, packaging, triggering system, etc. will add mass, so the true absolute minimum probably lies in the range of 11-15 kg (and is probably closer to 15 than 11).

This is probably a fair description of the W-54 Davy Crockett warhead. This warhead was the lightest ever deployed by the US, with a minimum mass of about 23 kg (it also came in heavier packages) and had yields ranging from 10 tons up to 1 Kt in various versions. The warhead was basically egg-shaped with the minor axis of 27.3 cm and a major axis of 40 cm. The test devices for this design fired in Hardtack Phase II (shots Hamilton and Humboldt on 15 October and 29 October 1958) weighed only 16 kg, impressively close to the minimum mass estimated above. These devices were 28 cm by 30 cm….. It is quite likely, that should the suitcase bombs described by Lebed actually exist, that they would use this technology. It is clear that any of the 155 mm artillery shells, if shortened by omitting the non-essential conical ogive and fuze would fit diagonally in the package that Lebed describes, and the Swift device would fit easily. If the yield is as much as 10 kilotons, then the device would have to be fusion boosted.

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From the Jerusalem Report: October 25th, 1999

Master terrorist Osama Bin Laden has acquired portable nuclear devices, a U.S.-based expert on non-conventional terror believes. The only real question now is whether Bin Laden has "a few," as Russian intelligence seems to think, or "over 20," a figure cited by intelligence services of moderate Arab regimes. "There is no longer much doubt that Bin Laden has finally succeeded in his quest for nuclear ‘suitcase bombs," says Yossef Bodansky, head of the Congressional Task Force on Non-Conventional Terrorism in Washington. In a recent book, Bodansky reports that Bin Laden’s associates acquired the devices through Chechnya, paying the Chechens $30 million in cash and two tons of Afghan heroin, worth about $70 million in Afghanistan and about 10 times that on the street in Western cities.

Bodansky’s statements corroborate 1998 testimony by former Russian security chief Alexander Lebed to the U.S. House of Representatives. Lebed said that 43 nuclear suitcases from the former Soviet arsenal, developed for the KGB in the 1970s, have vanished since the collapse of the former Soviet Union a decade ago. Lebed said one person could detonate such a bomb by himself, and kill 100,000 people.

Among the others who recognize the threat is Ben Venzke, director of Tempest Publishing. The U.S. firm plans to release a detailed technical handbook on dealing with nuclear terror next year. The danger, says Venzke, is quite real, and is not confined to stolen Russian weapons. "It is really quite simple," he says, "to acquire radioactive material and combine it with an explosive or so-called dirty device."
Yael Haran

The most detailed and persuasive account of Osama bin Laden's interest (if not capability) in nuclear weapons is provided by the testimony of Jamal Ahmad al-Fadl, a native of Sudan and ex-bin Laden associate, in the trial of the earlier World Trade Center bombing: United States of America v. Osama bin Laden, et al. (S(7) 98 Cr. 1023) prosecuted February-July 2001 in United States District Court. At the trial al-Fadl recounted in detail his extensive but unsuccessful efforts to obtain enriched uranium for al Qaeda through contacts in Khartoum, Sudan during 1993-94 and afterward.

At one point a fee of $1.5 million was discussed, and plans were made to test uranium samples to see if they could be used to build a bomb (this testimony was delivered mostly during Day 3 and Day 4 of the trial. 3

2 Q What happened when you went to that street in Khartoum?

3 A Basheer, he told me, are you serious? You want uranium?

4 I tell him yes. I know people, they very serious, and they

5 want to buy it. And he told me did the money ready, and I say

6 what they need. They need the information about uranium, they

7 want to know which quality, which the country make it, and

8 after that we going to talk with you about the price. He say

9 I going to give you this information in a paper, and we need

10 $1,500,000, and everything go well we need it outside. We

11 need the money outside of Sudan.

12 Q And the price was how much?

13 A He say he need $1,500,000. And he say this is for the

14 uranium. But he need commission for himself, and he need

15 commission for Salah Abdel al Mobruk.

16 Q What happened then?

17 A After that he tell me how you going to check it? I tell

18 him I don't know, I have to go to those people and I tell them

19 what you tell me and I give you answer for that.

Day 3

Trial Transcripts


In my mind there is not one iota of doubt that Osama has tried to acquire Nuclear Weapons. The questions remain on the validity of those who claim that he indeed has them. George W. Bush has raised the question of Terrorists gaining different types of WMD’s, "They're seeking chemical, biological and nuclear weapons," Bush told leaders of formerly communist states Tuesday in Warsaw, Poland. "Given the means, our enemies would be a threat to every nation and eventually to civilization itself." The White House had called Graham Allison, now director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. Allison tracked missing Nuclear Weapons for the Clinton Administration. Hey claims the threat is very real, particularly given evidence that bin Laden and his associates have tried to obtain nuclear weapons material. As for the nuclear suitcases, Allison's advice is to assume several dozen nuclear suitcases in Russia are missing. "I think the difficult thing for us all to come to grips with, that, my God, would people really want to kill thousands or tens of thousands of Americans," Allison said.

My biggest problem with the idea of terrorists possessing any type on WMD, still lies on security in The United States before the 9-11 attacks. The government apparently did not know that the 9-11 hijackers were already in the country, and the attacks that were to be carried out. Who is to say that they have not already brought WMD’s into the US? An article released today (March 24,2004) by News Max states the following:

New York and New Jersey ports will be the first to have technology to scan every truck leaving American ports, according to published reports.

Designed to detect nuclear weapons or traditional explosives possibly hidden in containerized cargo, the program will feature specialized scanners known as "portal radiation monitors."

The scanners are slated to be in place by the end of the summer at all cargo terminals operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, according to Commissioner Robert C. Bonner of the United States Bureau of Customs and Border Protection.

Additionally, by the end of the year, the new systems will be installed around the country at all port terminals receiving shipborne cargo, Bonner said.

Why has this not been in place until now? It seems to me that Osama’s terrorist network has had plans in the works for over a decade now. God only knows who, what, when, and where.

Related Articles

Federal law enforcement officials are investigating to determine whether sleeper cells or freelance agents of Saudi terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden may have smuggled small, portable nuclear weapons or radiological bombs into the United States.

The deepest concern centers on the chance that bin Laden has acquired and will use a finished nuclear weapon. Rep. Chris Shays, R-Conn., chairman of the House subcommittee on national security, told United Press International: "It's possible, and it's very scary." He added: "If you asked me if bin Laden really had these weapons, I would say, probably not, but, on the other hand, I wouldn't be the least surprised if there were a nuclear explosion in Israel or the United States."
US Investigating Whether Nukes In Country By Richard Sale

”What could be more devastating than two jars of nitroglycerine and more than 100 pounds of other explosives smuggled across the Canada-U.S. border by a suspected Algerian terrorist? Try a suitcase-sized atomic bomb. Better yet, try 84 of them.”
Finding Russia's lost radioactive luggage by Deroy Murdock

A hooded, former Soviet spy with tales of threats to U.S. security was the star witness at a congressional hearing this week in California. The one-time military intelligence colonel testified that suitcase-sized nuclear devices are hidden on U.S. soil.
Former Soviet spy: Small nuclear devices planted in U.S., CNN Correspondent Siobhan Darrow

Influential advisers at the Pentagon are backing the development of a new generation of low-yield nuclear weapons - so-called mini-nukes - in a controversial report to be published this autumn.The document, entitled Future Strategic Strike Force, has been produced by the Defence Science Board, which has a Pentagon brief to "transform the nation's armed forces to meet the demands placed on them by a changing world order".
Pentagon wants 'mini-nukes' to fight terrorists
By Julian Coman in Washington

A well-executed "dirty bomb" attack on a U.S. city could expose hundreds of people to potentially lethal amounts of radiation, researchers said yesterday in a Pentagon-funded study that sharply raises estimates of the human toll from such an attack.The study also predicts massive financial losses -- perhaps greater than those caused by the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks -- if a large dirty bomb were set off in the heart of New York or Washington. A dirty bomb uses conventional explosives or other means to spread radiation.
Study Raises Projection For 'Dirty Bomb' Toll By Joby Warrick

Intelligence agencies and nuclear inspectors are racing to close a vast international nuclear "supermarket" that has secretly supplied Iran, Libya, North Korea and perhaps several other countries for more than a decade.
The nuclear supermarket, By Anton La Guardia in Vienna, Ahmed Rashid in Lahore and Alec Russell in Washington

1. National Terror Alert

2. National Terror Alert


*Edited For Terror Analsyis

[Edited on 24-3-2004 by TrickmastertricK]


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