Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Is Lindsey Graham blowing hot air, or is the immediate threat to the US homeland "real"?

So, with the debates going on in the Senate Armed Services committee about ISIS or ISIL, and the remarks by Lindsey Graham (R-SC) that we could all be dead at home (link ).
It does sound as though the main issue for ISIL right now is its territorial aims in the “Fertile Crescent” (which isn’t very fertile now).  However, fighters with US or European passports might slip through (although they would be questioned).  It only takes a very small sleeper cell with bizarre ideology or vindictive motivation to do tremendous damage. Imagination as to scenarios that can occur is limitless.
Can we really “lose the country”?  Well, we almost did during the Cuban Missile Crisis, when Ii was an inpatient at NIH and not exactly fit to survive.  But with the Soviets there was a “red phone” (rather like the red chair in kindergarten that my father liked so much).  With a non-state or illegitimate state, there is no red line.  There might not be with North Korea, either.
The single most destructive event that I can imagine would be an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) from a high altitude nuclear blast, perhaps launched from a Scud (the kind that Saddam Hussein liked) smuggled onto a commercial ship offshore.  In the book “One Second After” (Books, July 20, 2012), William Forstchen and Newt Gingrich imagine a vessel in the Gulf with three missiles. Michael Maloof (“A Nation Forsaken”, April 13, 2013) imagines a blast from the Jersey Coast over Pennsylvania.  And the remake of “Red Dawn” (“cf” blog, Nov. 22, 2012) envisions a North Korean attack over the Pacific Northwest.  Let’s not forget Byron Dorgan’s blueprint for a cyberattack in “Gridlock” (Books, Sept. 5, 2013).
The idea is that if the power grid in the US were permanently destroyed by an enemy, the enemy could invade at gunpoint and round us all up.  That is sort of the idea of NBC’s “Revolution” although in that series the enemy is internal. 
Could this really happen?  George Tenet used to warn that North Korea really was capable of lobbing a nuclear warhead toward Alaska or the US Pacific Northwest.  As for the commercial ship idea, would NORAD intercept anything?  Would the Coast Guard be able to detect anything like this?
It probably will be possible eventually for terrorists to make a small nuclear weapon, which is why Iran and North Korea are possibly so dangerous (a lot more so in this regard than ISIL).  For an asymmetric actor to have the ability to fire one on a Scud a hundred miles up from a ship does stretch credibility.  I don’t have a sense that the administration takes an idea like this very seriously. Neither does the mainstream press, Roscoe Bartlett, Lindsey Graham and perhaps Newt Gingrich notwithstanding.
More likely is smaller weapons, possibly directed at individual communities, areas of cities, or even individuals, like smaller flux weapons or radioactive dispersion devices. These are probably harder to make from the Internet than The Washington Times would have us believe.  But it is this idea that sounds the most dangerous to me.
Needless to say, some of these possibilities can lead to a world that has no use for someone like me, and I can imagine at a personal level the terrorist gloats.  It’s usually not personal, but it could be. (I react to bellicose statements by enemies as if they were personal.)  Of course, personal complacency and indifference needs to be looked at from the bottom up, partly because bad things can happen, and people need to be able to accept some interdependence.

Note: The Wall Street Journal has a video about life in Ar-Raqqa under ISIS.

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