By Fr. George Welzbacher
August 8, 2010
In the late 1930's-1937, 1938, 1939-Hitler's Third Reich (established in January of 1933) was pursuing a program of massive rearmament in defiance of the Treaty of Versailles, the treaty that brought World War I to an end. In Great Britain's House of Commons Winston Churchill stood nearly alone in urging Parliament to undertake as swiftly as possible a major up-grading of Britain's own military power in response to the threat from the East. His repeated warnings went largely unheeded, though fortunately for Britain's survival the production of her top-of-the-line fighter planes, the Spitfires and the Hurricanes, was stepped up. It was those planes and their heroic pilots that kept Britain free during the year and a half before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brought the United States into the war. In France a pacifist socialist government turned a deaf ear to similar warnings from people like Colonel (later General) Charles de Gaulle, and nothing was done to counter the rising danger from Germany. The result? When Hitler's brand-new armored tank divisions, his prized Panzers, came sweeping down through Belgium in May of 1940, in an end-run around the Maginot Line, France's armies collapsed like a house of cards.
A similar situation prevails today. As Iran with fanatical zeal pursues its goal of acquiring an arsenal of nuclear bombs with the ICBM missiles needed for their delivery, our government, after squandering close to a trillion dollars of borrowed money on a euphemistically labelled "Stimulus" program, and finding itself now strapped for cash, is dragging its feet on anti-missile defense, relying instead on "sanctions" to block Iran's acquisition of nuclear bombs. Meanwhile our existing stockpile of nuclear weapons is rapidly aging and becoming less and less reliable every year even as our enemies actual and potential are arming themselves to the teeth with the latest high-tech weaponry. The aging bombers we are deploying in Afghanistan-some were built in 1961-require on the average some 48 hours of maintenance and repair for every hour of flight, and other equipment is wearing out as fast as our stressed out and over-extended personnel.
But probably the greatest danger to our security, apart from Iran's passing a nuclear bomb to Al Qaeda, is the very real possibility of attack by a high-altitude ELECTROMAGNETIC PULSE-AN EMP. A single atomic bomb detonated at a height of some twenty miles or so above the surface of the American Mid-west would create a "pulse" that would "reduce to toast from coast to coast" all of our electrical and electronic equipment that had not been specially (and very expensively) hardened. That would probably include your automobile and most certainly the computers that control the flow of our local water, gas and light. Not to mention communications. One quickly gets the picture. And such a bomb could easily be launched from a freighter flying a non-Iranian flag somewhere in the gulf of Mexico. Talk about an Achilles' heel!
All of which provides not simply food for thought but an urgent motive for an increase in prayer and in works of penance on behalf of our nation, faced as it is with enemies within and without. The clock is ticking.
A sober and thoughtful-and extremely well- informed-appraisal of the dangers emerging on our horizon was recently offered by two observers who know what they're talking about: James Woolsey, former director of the CIA, and Rebecca Heinrichs, a former manager of the U. S. House Bipartisan Missile Defense Caucus. May I share their report with you here. It appeared-where else?-in the Wall Street Journal for Wednesday, July 14, 2010.
* * * * *Iran and the Missle Defense Imperative
By: R. James Woolsey and Rebecca Heinrichs
The Wall Street Journal, Wednesday, July 14, 2010
In a June 27 interview on ABCs "This Week" CIA director Leon Panetta warned that it could be a mere two years before Iran is able to threaten other states with nuclear warheads mounted on ballistic missles. When discussing the new U.S. sanctions against Iran recently signed into law by President Barack Obama, Mr. Panetta said, "Will it deter them from their ambitions with regard to nuclear capability? Probably not."
Three months ago the Defense Intelligence Agency reported that by 2015 Iran, with help from North Korea or Russia, could field an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of reaching the East Coast of the United States.
This is by no means far-fetched. In early 2009, the Iranians successfully launched their first homegrown satellite into orbit. In March of that same year, General Michael Maples, then-director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told a Senate panel that Iran's successful satellite launch "shows progress in mastering the technology needed to produce ICBM-class ballistic missiles."
General Maples is right. If you can launch a satellite into orbit you are very close to being able to hit a target half way around the world. That's why the Soviet launch of Sputnik so shocked the U.S. intelligence community in 1957. When a country is the most active state sponsor of terrorism, and its leaders routinely endorse slogans like "Death to Israel" and "Death to America," we should take it seriously when they pursue the capabilities to make their dreams a reality.
A December 2009 missile launch proved Iran has already obtained the ability to reach Israel. Given President Malunoud Ahmadinejad's and other Iranian leaders' millenarian fanaticism, it would be most imprudent to rely on nuclear deterrence alone to protect us. If Tehran were to achieve a nuclear missile capability, it could hold American cities hostage-unless, that is, the U. S. builds a robust and comprehensive ballistic missile DEFENSE.
Our current missile shield will have 26 ground-based interceptors based in Alaska, in addition to the four based in California by the end of this year. These are part of an initial defense architecture designed to protect against missiles launched from North Korea. These interceptors could provide some protection from missiles launched from Iran toward our East Coast but the margin for error would be unacceptably small.
Moreover, once Tehran can build one or two functioning ICBMS, it can build many more. As Defense Secretary Robert Gates testified before a Senate panel on June 17, "If Iran were actually to launch a missile attack on Europe, it wouldn't be just one or two missiles, or a handful " We need a defensive system that has FULL coverage, especially of the U.S. HOMEL4ND, and that can add interceptors easily to cope with an Iranian ICBM buildup.
That's why the Bush administration proposed building a missile-defense site in EUROPE in ADDITION to those already in place in Alaska and California. This would provide cities on the East Coast, our troops abroad, and our allies in Europe added protection from an Iranian missile attack.
But last September the Obama administration SCRAPPED the Bush plan and replaced it with one called the Phased Adaptive Approach, which is LESS capable of dealing with threats against U.S. territory. This plan entails deploying mobile systems to Europe to intercept SHORT-range missiles. The Defense Department would GRADUALLY upgrade these systems, but the plan offers no added protection for the U.S. UNTIL 2020. That's almost certainly too little too late.
Our vulnerabilities don't stop there. If Iran were to launch a nuclear-armed missile from a ship near one of our coasts-say a primitive SCUD from a fishing boat-we would have very little warning and no protection. Defending the homeland against this threat would require a substantial deployment IN AND NEAR THE U.S. of the type of mobile systems that the administration plans to deploy in Europe.
Further, if the Iranians were to detonate even a PRIMITIVE nuclear warhead OVER the United States [i. e. twenty miles or so ABOVE our continent,] it could send out an ELECTROMAGNETIC PULSE destroying the electric grid and electrical and electronic systems across a wide swath of U. S. territory. Iranian militar writings show the mullahs RECOGNIZE the potential of this kind of attack. Depending on where it occurred and how large the warhead was, an EMP attack could cause large-scale fatalities and unimaginable economic devastation. Defending against this kind of threat requires defensive systems that can intercept an attacking ballistic missile WHILE IT IS STILL ASCENDING. But the Obama administration has NO specific plans to develop and deploy ASCENT-PHASE interceptors in Europe [i.e., much closer to the launch sites in Iran].
Given the growing Iranian threat, the Obama Administration should reevaluate its missile-defense strategy. The U. S. should deploy as many interceptors as possible in Alaska and should plan for an emergency deployment of a third site either in Europe or on the East Coast. Moreover, as Iran continues to improve its missiles, and the Whiite House negotiates agreements to host radars and other missile-defense assets in Europe, the administration should make contingency plans for rapid deployment of mobile defenses, including ascent-phase interceptors, to protect us here at home.
Aboveall the Obama administration should clarify to the U.S. Senate and the Russian government that neither the new U.S.-Russian Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty nor commitments made during the negotiation process will in any way limit our ability to protect ourselves against an Iranian nuclear attack.
* * * * *
Mr. Woolsey is a former director of Central Intelligence and a board member at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, where Ms. Heinrichs, a former manager of the House Bipartisan Missile Defense Caucus, is an adjunct fellow.
* * * * *
And then there is Al Qaeda. An Iran disposing of nuclear weapons might well forget Shiah-Sunni theological quarrels in the interests of humiliating a common foe. A bipartisan report from a Democratic Congresswoman (Jane Harman) and a Republican Senator (Susan Collins) highlights the danger of an Al Qaeda attack with a NON-nuclear "DIRTY bomb" on a major American target, quite apart from the possible acquisition of an atomic weapon. From the Journal's July 22nd edition comes this sobering report.* * * * *
Denying terrorists access to RADIOLOGICAL materials that can be used in a dirty bomb attack-one that could bring our economy to a standstill and render areas UNINHABITABLE FOR DECADES -is a major security challenge.* * * * *
Should a dirty bomb or multiple dirty bombs be detonated in any American City, port complex, airport or train station, the result could be loss of life and widespread panic. Billions of dollars would be spent in clean-up and medical costs, not to mention lost wages and serious interruptions in the flow of commerce and everyday life.
We know that terror groups remain highly interested in such devices. Al Qaeda's senior leadership has publicly expressed a desire to acquire weapons of mass destruction, including RADIOLOGICAL weapons, with which to attack the United States. Since September 11, U. S. officials have recovered many documents detailing Al Qaeda's pursuit of these weapons.
In 2006, Abu Hamsa al-Muhair, then the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, called for nuclear scientists and explosive experts to help his organization in making biological and radioactive weapons.
That same year, British citizen Dhiren Barot pleaded guilty to conspiring to detonate a radioactive dirty bomb. He planned to target underground parking garages in the U.K. and U.S. Institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the New York Stock Exchange, and offices belonging to Citigroup and Prudential Financial.
Just two weeks ago, Adnan el-Shukrijurnah, an American citizen on the FBI's most wanted list, was named as an accomplice in the New York subway bomb plot with Najibullah Zazi. Currently at-large, Shukrijumah-a trained nuclear technician allegedly tasked by al Qaeda with carrying off an "American Hiroshima"-once sought radioactive material from a university in Ontario, Canada. News reports allege that this was an attempt to construct a dirty bomb.
President Obama has rightly focused on the threat of NUCLEAR terrorism by pledging to locate and safeguard loose nuclear material in the world within four years. This critical goal served as the theme of an April Nuclear Security Summit convened by the president in Washington with over 40 countries in attendance.
But an exclusive focus on "loose nukes" could mean missing the threat we face in our own backyard.- the dirty bomb, which is far easier to assemble from ingredients that are widely available in this country. Highly dispersible radiological materials like cesium-137 or cobalt-40 are used every day in medical procedures at hospitals and in universities. These components of modern medicine are underprotected.
Many hospitals are eager to upgrade security for these radiological elements- provided they receive the resources to do so. But the clock is ticking. Entry to most hospitals is easy. Radiology departments usually control access, but a basic tool kit can be used to break into a blood irradiator and seize a substantial amount of radiological material. Once combined with a simple explosive device, you've got a crude radiological weapon. While there have been a handful of successful pilot projects to make these ingredients secure, they simply don't go far enough.
Despite those chilling facts, the White House has SLASHED the domestic radiological protection budget over the past few years. The current budget proposal would cut these domestic resources BY HALF. At the same time it would more than double funding for "loose-nuke"programs.
This policy is penny wise and pound foolish. We cannot allow a dirty bomb to become America's achilles' heel because we've lost sight of that threat.
* * * * *Ms. Hartnan is a Democratic congresswoman from California and chair of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence and Terrorism Risk Assessment. Ms. Collins is a Republican Senator from Maine and ranking member on the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.