How two students built an A-bomb
It's one of the burning questions of the moment: how easy would it be for a country with no nuclear expertise to build an A-bomb? Forty years ago in a top-secret project, the US military set about finding out. Oliver Burkeman talks to the men who solved the nuclear puzzle in just 30 months
Tuesday June 24, 2003
Dave Dobson's past is not a secret. Not technically, anyway - not since the relevant US government intelligence documents were declassified and placed in the vaults of the National Security Archive, in Washington DC. But Dobson, now 65, is a modest man, and once he had discovered his vocation - teaching physics at Beloit College, in Wisconsin - he felt no need to drop dark hints about his earlier life. You could have taken any number of classes at Beloit with Professor Dobson, until his recent retirement, without having any reason to know that in his mid-20s, working entirely as an amateur and equipped with little more than a notebook and a library card, he designed a nuclear bomb.
Today his experiences in 1964 - the year he was enlisted into a covert Pentagon operation known as the Nth Country Project - suddenly seem as terrifyingly relevant as ever. The question the project was designed to answer was a simple one: could a couple of non-experts, with brains but no access to classified research, crack the "nuclear secret"? In the aftermath of the Cuban missile crisis, panic had seeped into the arms debate. Only Britain, America, France and the Soviet Union had the bomb; the US military desperately hoped that if the instructions for building it could be kept secret, proliferation - to a fifth country, a sixth country, an "Nth country", hence the project's name - could be averted. Today, the fear is back: with al-Qaida resurgent, North Korea out of control, and nuclear rumours emanating from any number of "rogue states", we cling, at least, to the belief that not just anyone could figure out how to make an atom bomb. The trouble is that, 40 years ago, anyone did.
The quest to discover whether an amateur was up to the task presented the US Army with the profoundly bizarre challenge of trying to find people with exactly the right lack of qualifications, recalls Bob Selden, who eventually became the other half of the two-man project. (Another early participant, David Pipkorn, soon left.) Both men had physics PhDs - the hypothetical Nth country would have access to those, it was assumed - but they had no nuclear expertise, let alone access to secret research.
"It's a very strange story," says Selden, then a lowly 28-year-old soldier drafted into the army and wondering how to put his talents to use, when he received a message that Edward Teller, the father of the hydrogen bomb and the grumpy commanding figure in the US atomic programme, wanted to see him. "I went to DC and we spent an evening together. But he began to question me in great detail about the physics of making a nuclear weapon, and I didn't know anything. As the evening wore on, I knew less and less. I went away very, very discouraged. Two days later a call comes through: they want you to come to Livermore."
Livermore was the Livermore Radiation Laboratory, a fabled army facility in California, and the place where Dave Dobson, in a similarly surreal fashion, was initiated into the project. The institution's head offered him a job. The work would be "interesting", he promised, but he couldn't say more until Dobson had the required security clearance. And he couldn't get the clearance unless he accepted the job. He only learned afterwards what he was expected to do. "My first thought," he says today, with characteristic understatement, "was, 'Oh, my. That sounds like a bit of a challenge.'"
They would be working in a murky limbo between the world of military secrets and the public domain. They would have an office at Livermore, but no access to its warrens of restricted offices and corridors; they would be banned from consulting classified research but, on the other hand, anything they produced - diagrams in sketchbooks, notes on the backs of envelopes - would be automatically top secret. And since the bomb that they were designing wouldn't, of course, actually be built and detonated, they would have to follow an arcane, precisely choreographed ritual for having their work tested as they went along. They were to explain at length, on paper, what part of their developing design they wanted to test, and they would pass it, through an assigned lab worker, into Livermore's restricted world. Days later, the results would come back - though whether as the result of real tests or hypothetical calculations, they would never know.
"The goal of the participants should be to design an explosive with a militarily significant yield," read the "operating rules", unearthed by the nuclear historian Dan Stober in a recent study of the project published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Sciences. "A working context for the experiment might be that the participants have been asked to design a nuclear explosive which, if built in small numbers, would give a small nation a significant effect on their foreign relations."
Dobson's knowledge of nuclear bombs was rudimentary, to say the least. "I just had the idea that [to make a bomb] you had to quickly put a bunch of fissile material together somehow," he recalls. The two men were assigned to one of Livermore's less desirable office spaces, in a converted army barracks near the facility's perimeter. Bob Selden found a book on the Manhattan Project that culminated in America's development of the bomb. "It gave us a road map," Dobson says. "But we knew there would be important ideas they'd deliberately left out because they were secret. This was one of the things that produced a little bit of paranoia in us. Were we being led down the garden path?"
They faced one key decision, Dobson says: whether to design a gun-style bomb, like the one dropped on Hiroshima, that used a sawn-off howitzer to crash two pieces of fissile material together, or a more complex implosion bomb, like that dropped on Nagasaki. By now they were beginning to enjoy the challenge, so they went for the harder, more impressive option. "The gun device needed a large amount of material, and didn't make a very big bang," Dobson says. "The other one was more bang, less material."
Dobson and Selden had decided to assume that their fictional Nth Country had already obtained the requisite plutonium - a huge assump tion, since it would be, almost certainly, the hardest part - but there was plenty more to consider. "Obtaining the fissile material is really the major problem - that drives the whole project," says Selden. "But the process of designing the weapon - I'm always careful to point out that many people overstate how easy it is. You really have to do it right, and there are thousands of ways to do it wrong. You can't just guess."
As Stober's study noted, the two amateurs were ironically aided by information published as part of President Dwight Eisenhower's "Atoms for Peace" program, which spread word of the benefits of non-military nuclear power around the world. And Atoms for Peace was only the most prominent example of a fad for everything nuclear that propelled a huge amount of technical detail into the public domain.
Eventually, towards the end of 1966, two and a half years after they began, they were finished. "We produced a short document that described precisely, in engineering terms, what we proposed to build and what materials were involved," says Selden. "The whole works, in great detail, so that this thing could have been made by Joe's Machine Shop downtown."
Agonisingly, though, at the moment they believed they had triumphed, Dobson and Selden were kept in the dark about whether they had succeeded. Instead, for two weeks, the army put them on the lecture circuit, touring them around the upper echelons of Washington, presenting them for cross-questioning at defence and scientific agencies. Their questioners, people with the highest levels of security clearance, were instructed not to ask questions that would reveal secret information. They fell into two camps, Selden says: "One had been holding on to the hope that designing a bomb would be very difficult. The other argued that it was essentially trivial - that a high-school science student could do it in their garage." If the two physics postdocs had pulled it off, their result, it seemed, would fall somewhere between the two - "a straightforward technical problem, but one that involves some rather sophisticated physics".
Finally, after a valedictory presentation at Livermore attended by a grumpy Edward Teller, they were pulled aside by a senior researcher, Jim Frank. "Jim said, 'I bet you guys want to know how it turned out,'" Dobson recalls. "We said yes. And he told us that if it had been constructed, it would have made a pretty impressive bang." How impressive, they wanted to know. "On the same order of magnitude as Hiroshima," Frank replied.
"It's kind of a depressing thing to know, that it could be that easy," Dobson says. "On the other hand, it's far better to know the truth." And the truth today, he is certain, is that terrorists - with a bit of luck and, crucially, access to the right materials - could easily build a nuclear bomb. "Back in the 50s, there were two schools of thought - that the ideas could be kept secret, and that the material could be locked up. Now? Well, hopefully the materials can still be locked up, but we all have our doubts about that." Obtaining sufficiently enriched fissile material could be difficult but, when it comes to creating the bomb, "It turns out it's not overwhelmingly difficult. There are some subtleties that are not trivial ... but an awful lot has been published. If you were a grad student today, and you reviewed the literature, a lot of pieces would fall into place."
It was, relatively speaking, easy - so easy that both Selden and Dobson seem to have emerged from the Nth Country Experiment deeply troubled by their own capacities. Selden stayed in the military, on a career that sent him from Livermore to the army's other major research base, at Los Alamos, and is still a member of the US Air Force Scientific Advisory Board; he has been closely involved in planning how the US might respond to a nuclear terrorist incident. Dobson, meanwhile, felt so uncomfortable that he left the sector entirely. "It was one thing to work on a project which was hopefully going to illuminate the decision makers so they could see that weapons were easily designed," he says. "It was a rather different thing to go in and say, 'OK, for example, let's make a thermonuclear device that's only four inches in diameter.' That's an acceleration of the arms race, and I didn't really want to do that."
Einstein was famously said to have commented that if he had only known that his theories would lead to the development of the atom bomb, he would have been a locksmith. Dave Dobson, having designed one, got a job as a teacher.
Guardian Unlimited | The Guardian | How to build an A-bomb
When everything seems like the movies
Yeah you BLOG bleed just to know you'r alive
How two students built an A-bomb
Under Bush, a New Age of Prepackaged Television News
By David Barstow and Robin Stein
The New York Times
Sunday 13 March 2005
It is the kind of TV news coverage every president covets.
"Thank you, Bush. Thank you, U.S.A.," a jubilant Iraqi-American told a camera crew in Kansas City for a segment about reaction to the fall of Baghdad. A second report told of "another success" in the Bush administration's "drive to strengthen aviation security"; the reporter called it "one of the most remarkable campaigns in aviation history." A third segment, broadcast in January, described the administration's determination to open markets for American farmers.
To a viewer, each report looked like any other 90-second segment on the local news. In fact, the federal government produced all three. The report from Kansas City was made by the State Department. The "reporter" covering airport safety was actually a public relations professional working under a false name for the Transportation Security Administration. The farming segment was done by the Agriculture Department's office of communications.
Under the Bush administration, the federal government has aggressively used a well-established tool of public relations: the prepackaged, ready-to-serve news report that major corporations have long distributed to TV stations to pitch everything from headache remedies to auto insurance. In all, at least 20 federal agencies, including the Defense Department and the Census Bureau, have made and distributed hundreds of television news segments in the past four years, records and interviews show. Many were subsequently broadcast on local stations across the country without any acknowledgement of the government's role in their production.
This winter, Washington has been roiled by revelations that a handful of columnists wrote in support of administration policies without disclosing they had accepted payments from the government. But the administration's efforts to generate positive news coverage have been considerably more pervasive than previously known. At the same time, records and interviews suggest widespread complicity or negligence by television stations, given industry ethics standards that discourage the broadcast of prepackaged news segments from any outside group without revealing the source.
Federal agencies are forthright with broadcasters about the origin of the news segments they distribute. The reports themselves, though, are designed to fit seamlessly into the typical local news broadcast. In most cases, the "reporters" are careful not to state in the segment that they work for the government. Their reports generally avoid overt ideological appeals. Instead, the government's news-making apparatus has produced a quiet drumbeat of broadcasts describing a vigilant and compassionate administration.
Some reports were produced to support the administration's most cherished policy objectives, like regime change in Iraq or Medicare reform. Others focused on less prominent matters, like the administration's efforts to offer free after-school tutoring, its campaign to curb childhood obesity, its initiatives to preserve forests and wetlands, its plans to fight computer viruses, even its attempts to fight holiday drunken driving. They often feature "interviews" with senior administration officials in which questions are scripted and answers rehearsed. Critics, though, are excluded, as are any hints of mismanagement, waste or controversy.
Some of the segments were broadcast in some of nation's largest television markets, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas and Atlanta.
An examination of government-produced news reports offers a look inside a world where the traditional lines between public relations and journalism have become tangled, where local anchors introduce prepackaged segments with "suggested" lead-ins written by public relations experts. It is a world where government-produced reports disappear into a maze of satellite transmissions, Web portals, syndicated news programs and network feeds, only to emerge cleansed on the other side as "independent" journalism.
It is also a world where all participants benefit.
Local affiliates are spared the expense of digging up original material. Public relations firms secure government contracts worth millions of dollars. The major networks, which help distribute the releases, collect fees from the government agencies that produce segments and the affiliates that show them. The administration, meanwhile, gets out an unfiltered message, delivered in the guise of traditional reporting.
The practice, which also occurred in the Clinton administration, is continuing despite President Bush's recent call for a clearer demarcation between journalism and government publicity efforts. "There needs to be a nice independent relationship between the White House and the press," Mr. Bush told reporters in January, explaining why his administration would no longer pay pundits to support his policies.
In interviews, though, press officers for several federal agencies said the president's prohibition did not apply to government-made television news segments, also known as video news releases. They described the segments as factual, politically neutral and useful to viewers. They insisted that there was no similarity to the case of Armstrong Williams, a conservative columnist who promoted the administration's chief education initiative, the No Child Left Behind Act, without disclosing $240,000 in payments from the Education Department.
t r u t h o u t - "White House News Forgeries Widespread"
The War On Terror
Taking Stock of the Forever War
By Mark Danner
Not another simplistic discussion on whether we are safer in the post-9/11 era, Mark Danner reviews just where America and the world stand after President Bush announced he would rid the world of "evil" and fight the good fight against the "global war on terror."
Seldom has an image so clearly marked the turning of the world. The demise of the World Trade Center gave us an image as newborn to the world of sight as the mushroom cloud must have appeared to those who first cast eyes on it. The sheer immensity and inconceivability of the attack had forced Americans instantaneously to jump out of security, out of the everyday, out of life and had thrust them through a portal into a strange and terrifying new world, where the inconceivable, the unimaginable, had become brutally possible.
In the face of the unimaginable, small wonder that leaders would revert to the language of apocalypse, of crusade, of "moral clarity." Speaking at the National Cathedral just three days after the attacks, President Bush declared that while "Americans do not yet have the distance of history...our responsibility to history is already clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil." "The enemy is not a single political regime or person or religion or ideology," declared the National Security Strategy of the United States of America for 2002. "The enemy is terrorism—premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against innocents." Not Islamic terrorism or Middle Eastern terrorism or even terrorism directed against the United States: terrorism itself. Within days of the attacks, President Bush had launched a "global war on terror."
The US has now completed four years of this war. Four years after the attack on Pearl Harbor, US troops ruled unchallenged in Japan and Germany. During those 48 months, Americans created an unmatched machine of war and decisively defeated two great enemies.
By what "metric"—as the generals say—can we measure the progress of the global war on terror four years on?
The Birth of Al Qaedaism
Four years after the collapse of the towers, evil is still with us and so is terrorism. Terrorists have staged spectacular attacks, killing thousands, in Tunisia, Bali, Mombasa, Riyadh, Istanbul, Casablanca, Jakarta, Madrid, Sharm el Sheik and London, to name only the best known. Last year, they mounted 651 "significant terrorist attacks," triple the year before and the highest since the State Department started gathering figures two decades ago. One hundred ninety-eight of these came in Iraq, Bush's "central front of the war on terror"—nine times the year before. And this does not include the hundreds of attacks on US troops.
Al Qaeda, according to the president, has been severely wounded. "We've captured or killed two-thirds of their known leaders," he said last year. And yet however degraded Al Qaeda's operational capacity, nearly every other month, it seems, Osama bin Laden or one of his henchmen appears on the world's television screens to expatiate on the ideology and strategy of global jihad and to urge followers on to more audacious and more lethal efforts. This, and the sheer number and breadth of terrorist attacks, suggest strongly that Al Qaeda has now become Al Qaedaism—that under the American and allied assault, what had been a relatively small, conspiratorial organization has mutated into a worldwide political movement, with thousands of followers eager to adopt its methods and advance its aims. Call it viral Al Qaeda, carried by strongly motivated next-generation followers who download from the Internet's virtual training camp a perfectly adequate trade-craft in terror.
Nearly two years ago, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, in a confidential memorandum, posed the central question about the war on terror: "Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?"
The answer is clearly no.
As the Iraq war grows increasingly unpopular in the United States—scarcely a third of Americans now approve of the president's handling of the war, and 4 in 10 think it was worth fighting—and as more and more American leaders demand that the administration "start figuring out how we get out of there" (in the words of Senator Chuck Hagel, a Republican), Americans confront a stark choice: whether to go on indefinitely fighting a politically self-destructive counterinsurgency war that keeps the jihadists increasingly well supplied with volunteers or to withdraw from a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq that remains chaotic and unstable and beset with civil strife and thereby hand Al Qaeda and its allies a major victory in the war on terror's "central front."
Americans have managed to show ourselves, our friends and most of all our enemies the limits of American power. Instead of fighting the real war that was thrust upon us on that incomprehensible morning four years ago, we stubbornly insisted on fighting a war of the imagination, an ideological struggle that we defined not by frankly appraising the real enemy before us but by focusing on the mirror of our own obsessions. And we have finished - as the escalating numbers of terrorist attacks, the grinding Iraq insurgency, the overstretched American military and the increasing political dissatisfaction at home show—by fighting precisely the kind of war they wanted us to fight.
Freedom, Oppression, and Taking Sides
Standing before Congress on Sept. 20, 2001, George W. Bush told Americans why they had been attacked. "They hate our freedoms," the president declared. "Our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other." As for Al Qaeda's fundamentalist religious mission: "We are not deceived by their pretenses to piety. We have seen their kind before. They are the heirs of all the murderous ideologies of the 20th century. By sacrificing human life to serve their radical visions—by abandoning every value except the will to power—they follow in the path of fascism, and Nazism, and totalitarianism. And they will follow that path all the way, to where it ends: in history's unmarked grave of discarded lies."
But Al Qaeda was not the Nazis or the Soviet Communists. Al Qaeda controlled no state, fielded no regular army. It was dedicated to achieving its aims through guerrilla tactics, notably a kind of spectacular terrorism carried to a level of apocalyptic brutality the world had not before seen. Mass killing was the necessary but not the primary aim, for the point of such terror was to mobilize recruits for a political cause and to tempt the enemy into reacting in such a way as to make that mobilization easier.
And however extreme and repugnant Al Qaeda's methods, its revolutionary goals were by no means unusual within Islamist opposition groups throughout the Muslim world. "If there is one overarching goal they share," wrote the authors of the Defense Science Board report, "it is the overthrow of what Islamists call the 'apostate' regimes: the tyrannies of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Jordan, and the Gulf states. The United States finds itself in the strategically awkward —and potentially dangerous—situation of being the longstanding prop and alliance partner of these authoritarian regimes. Without the US, these regimes could not survive. Thus the US has strongly taken sides in a desperate struggle that is both broadly cast for all Muslims and country-specific."
The broad aim of the many-stranded Salafi movement, which includes the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt and the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia and of which Al Qaeda is one extreme version, is to return Muslims to the ancient ways of pure Islam—of Islam as it was practiced by the Prophet Muhammad and his early followers in the seventh century. Standing between the more radical Salafi groups and their goal of a conservative Islamic revolution are the "apostate regimes," the "idolators" now ruling in Riyadh, Cairo, Amman, Islamabad and other Muslim capitals. All these authoritarian regimes oppress their people: on this point Al Qaeda and those in the Bush administration who promote "democratization in the Arab world" agree.
Many of the Salafists, however, see behind the "near enemies" ruling over them a "far enemy" in Washington, a superpower without whose financial and military support the Mubarak regime, the Saudi royal family and the other conservative autocracies of the Arab world would fall before their attacks. When the United States sent hundreds of thousands of American troops to Saudi Arabia after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, Al Qaeda seized on the perfect issue: the "far enemy" had actually come and occupied the Land of the Two Holy Places and done so at the shameful invitation of the "near enemy"—the corrupt Saudi dynasty.
But how to "re-establish the greatness of this Ummah"—the Muslim people—"and to liberate its occupied sanctities"? On this bin Laden is practical and frank: because of "the imbalance of power between our armed forces and the enemy forces, a suitable means of fighting must be adopted, i.e., using fast-moving light forces that work under complete secrecy. In other words, to initiate a guerrilla warfare." Such warfare, depending on increasingly spectacular acts of terrorism, would be used to "prepare and instigate the Ummah...against the enemy." The notion of "instigation," indeed, is critical, for the purpose of terror is not to destroy your enemy directly but rather to spur on your sleeping allies to enlightenment, to courage and to action. It is a kind of horrible advertisement, meant to show those millions of Muslims who sympathize with Al Qaeda's view of American policy that something can be done to change it.
US Helped to Create Global Terrorism
When the Soviet Red Army occupied Afghanistan in 1979, the United States believed supporting the Islamic insurgents would be an excellent way to bleed the Soviet Union. "It was July 3, 1979, that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul," Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter's national security adviser, recalled in 1998. "And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention." It was a strategy of provocation, for the gambit had the effect of "drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap. The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter: We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam War."
To the Saudis and other Muslim regimes, supporting a "defensive jihad" to free occupied Muslim lands was a means to burnish their tarnished Islamic credentials while exporting a growing and dangerous resource (frustrated, radical young men) so they would indulge their taste for pious revolution far from home.
Among the thousands of holy warriors making this journey was the wealthy young Saudi Osama bin Laden, who would set up the Afghan Services Bureau, a "helping organization" for Arab fighters that gathered names and contact information in a large database or qaida which would eventually lend its name to an entirely new organization. Though the Afghan operation was wildly successful, as judged by its American creators, it had at least one unexpected result: it created a global jihad movement, led by veteran fighters who were convinced that they had defeated one superpower and could defeat another.
The present jihad took shape in the backwash of forgotten wars. After the Soviet army withdrew in defeat, the United States lost interest in Afghanistan, leaving the mujahedeen forces to battle for the ruined country in an eight-year blood bath from which the Taliban finally emerged victorious. In the gulf, after the fantastically bloody eight-year war between Iran and Iraq, Saddam Hussein forced the Iranians to sign a cease-fire, a "victory" that left his regime heavily armed, bloodied and bankrupt.
To pay for his war, Saddam had borrowed tens of billions of dollars from the Saudis, Kuwaitis and other neighbors, and he now demanded that these debts be forgiven and that oil prices be raised. The particularly aggressive refusal of the Kuwaitis to do either led Hussein, apparently believing that the Americans would accept a fait accompli, to invade and annex the country.
The Iraqi army flooding into Kuwait represented, to bin Laden, the classic opportunity. He rushed to see the Saudi leaders, proposing that he defend the kingdom with his battle-tested corps of veteran holy warriors. The Saudis listened patiently to the pious young man—his father, after all, had been one of the kingdom's richest men—but did not take him seriously. Within a week, King Fahd had agreed to the American proposal, carried by Richard Cheney, then the secretary of defense, to station American soldiers—"infidel armies"—in Saudi Arabia. This momentous decision led to bin Laden's final break with the Saudi dynasty.
Terror is Recruitment
Terror is a way of talking. Those who employed it in such an unprecedented manner on 9/11 were seeking not just the large-scale killing of Americans but to achieve something by means of the large-scale and spectacular killing of Americans.
The 9/11 attacks were a call to persuade Muslims who might share bin Laden's broad view of American power to sympathize with, support or even join the jihad he had declared against the "far enemy." "Those young men," bin Laden said of the terrorists two months after the attacks, "said in deeds, in New York and Washington, speeches that overshadowed all other speeches made everywhere else in the world. The speeches are understood by both Arabs and non-Arabs—even by Chinese. In Holland, at one of the centers, the number of people who accepted Islam during the days that followed the operations were more than the people who accepted Islam in the last 11 years." To this, a sheik in a wheelchair shown in the videotape replies: "Hundreds of people used to doubt you, and few only would follow you until this huge event happened. Now hundreds of people are coming out to join you." Grotesque as it is to say, the spectacle of 9/11 was meant to serve, among other things, as an enormous recruiting poster.
The 9/11 attacks seem to have been intended at least in part to provoke an overwhelming American response: most likely an invasion of Afghanistan, which would lead the United States, like the Soviet Union before it, into an endless, costly and politically fatal quagmire.
For the jihadists, luring the Americans into Afghanistan would accomplish at least two things: by drawing the United States into a protracted guerrilla war in which the superpower would occupy a Muslim country and kill Muslim civilians—with the world media, including independent Arab networks like Al Jazeera, broadcasting the carnage—it would leave increasingly isolated those autocratic Muslim regimes that depended for their survival on American support. And by forcing the United States to prosecute a long, costly and inconclusive guerrilla war, it would severely test, and ultimately break, American will, leading to a collapse of American prestige and an eventual withdrawal—first, physically, from Afghanistan and then, politically, from the "apostate regimes" in Riyadh, Cairo and elsewhere in the Islamic world.
"Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training, and deploying against us?"
In Afghanistan, bin Laden would be disappointed. The US military initially sent in no heavy armor but instead restricted the American effort to aerial bombardment in support of several hundred Special Operations soldiers on the ground who helped lead the Northern Alliance forces in a rapid advance. Kabul and other cities quickly fell. America was caught in no Afghan quagmire, or at least not in the sort of protracted, highly televisual bloody mess bin Laden had envisioned.
But bin Laden and his senior leadership, holed up in the mountain complex of Tora Bora, managed to survive the bombing and elude the Afghan forces that the Americans commissioned to capture them. During the next months and years, as the United States and its allies did great damage to Al Qaeda's operational cadre, arresting or killing thousands of its veterans, its major leadership symbols survived intact, and those symbols, and their power to lead and to inspire, became Al Qaeda's most important asset.
"There is no War Here"
It was Oct. 27, 2003, and I stood before what remained of the Baghdad office of the International Committee of the Red Cross. In the distance, I heard a second huge explosion, saw rising the great plume of oily smoke; within the next 45 minutes, insurgents attacked four more times, bombing police stations throughout the capital, killing at least 35. Simultaneity and spectacle: Qaeda trademarks. I was gazing at Zarqawi's handiwork.
Behind me, the press had gathered, a jostling crowd of aggressive, mostly young people bristling with lenses short and long, pushing against the line of young American soldiers, who, assault rifles leveled, were screaming at them to stay back. The scores of glittering lenses were a necessary part of the equation, transforming what in military terms would have been a minor engagement into a major defeat.
"There is no war here," an American colonel told me a couple of days before in frustration and disgust. "There's no division-on-division engagements, nothing really resembling a war. Not a real war anyway."
It was not a war the Americans had been trained or equipped to fight. With fewer than 150,000 troops - and many fewer combat soldiers—they were trying to contain a full-blown insurgency in a country the size of California. The elusive enemy—an evolving, loose coalition of a score or so groups, some of them ex-Baathists from Saddam Hussein's dozen or so security agencies, some former Iraqi military personnel, some professional Islamic insurgents like Zarqawi, some foreign volunteers from Saudi Arabia or Kuwait or Syria come to take the jihad to the Americans—attacked not with tanks or artillery or infantry assaults but with roadside bombs and suicide car bombers and kidnappings. Iraq, bin Laden declared, had become a "golden opportunity" to start a "third world war" against "the crusader-Zionist coalition."
Amid the barbed wire and blast walls and bomb debris of post-occupation Iraq, you could discern a clear strategy behind the insurgent violence. The insurgents had identified the Americans' points of vulnerability: their international isolation; their forced distance, as a foreign occupier, from Iraqis; and their increasing disorientation as they struggled to keep their footing on the fragile, shifting, roiling political ground of post-Hussein Iraq. And the insurgents hit at each of these vulnerabilities, as Begin had urged his followers to do, "deliberately, tirelessly, unceasingly."
Allies & Insurgents
Insurgents in Iraq and jihadists abroad struck America's remaining allies. First they hit the Italians, car-bombing their base in Nasiriyah in November 2003, killing 28. Then they struck the Spanish, bombing commuter trains in Madrid on March 11, 2004, killing 191. Finally they struck the British, bombing three London Underground trains and a double-decker bus this July, killing 56. It is as if the insurgents, with cold and patient precision, were severing one by one the fragile lines that connected the American effort in Iraq to the rest of the world.
With car bombs and assassinations and commando attacks, insurgents have methodically set out to kill any Iraqi who might think of cooperating with the Americans, widening the crevasse between occupiers and occupied. They have struck at water lines and electricity substations and oil pipelines, interrupting the services that Iraqis depended on, particularly during the unbearably hot summers, keeping electrical service in Baghdad far below what it was under Saddam Hussein—often only a few hours a day this summer—and oil exports 300,000 barrels a day below their prewar peak (helping to double world oil prices).
Building on the chaotic unbridled looting of the first weeks of American rule, the insurgents have worked to destroy any notion of security and to make clear that the landscape of destruction that is Baghdad, should be laid at the feet of the American occupier, that unseen foreign power that purports to rule the country from behind concrete blast walls in the so-called Green Zone but dares to venture out only in tanks and armored cars.
The insurgents in Iraq have presided over a catastrophic collapse in confidence in the Americans and a concomitant fall in their power. It is difficult to think of a place in which terror has been deployed on such a scale: there have been suicide truck bombs, suicide tanker bombs, suicide police cars, suicide bombers on foot, suicide bombers posing as police officers, suicide bombers posing as soldiers, even suicide bombers on bicycles. While the American death toll climbs steadily toward 2,000, the number of Iraqi dead probably stands at 10 times that and perhaps many more; no one knows. Conservative unofficial counts put the number of Iraqi dead in the war at somewhere between 25,000 and 30,000, in a country a tenth the size of the United States.
Attempting to Split a Country Apart
The Kurds in the north, possessed of their own army and legislature, want to secure what they believe are their historic rights to the disputed city of Kirkuk, including its oil fields, and be quit of Iraq. The Shia in the south, now largely ruled by Islamic party militias trained by the Iranians and coming under the increasingly strict sway of the clerics on social matters, are evolving their oil-rich mini-state into a paler version of the Islamic republic next door. And in the center, the Baathist elite of Saddam Hussein's security services and army—tens of thousands of well-armed professional intelligence operatives and soldiers—have formed an alliance of convenience with Sunni Islamists, domestic and foreign, in order to assert their rights in a unitary Iraq. They are in effective control of many cities and towns, and they have the burdensome and humiliating presence of the foreign occupier to thank for the continuing success of their recruitment efforts. In a letter to bin Laden that was intercepted by American forces in January 2004, Zarqawi asked: "When the Americans disappear—what will become of our situation?"
As Zarqawi described in his letter and in subsequent broadcasts, his strategy in Iraq is to strike at the Shia—and thereby provoke a civil war. "A nation of heretics," the Shia "are the key element of change," he wrote. "If we manage to draw them onto the terrain of partisan war, it will be possible to tear the Sunnis away from their heedlessness, for they will feel the weight of the imminence of danger." Again a strategy of provocation—which plays on an underlying reality: That Iraq sits on the critical sectarian fault line of the Middle East and that a conflict there gains powerful momentum from the involvement of neighboring states, with Iran strongly supporting the Shia and with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan and Syria strongly sympathetic to the Sunnis.
In the midst of it all, increasingly irrelevant, are the Americans, who have the fanciest weapons but have never had sufficient troops, or political will, to assert effective control over the country. If political authority comes from achieving a monopoly on legitimate violence, then the Americans, from those early days when they sat in their tanks and watched over the wholesale looting of public institutions, never did achieve political authority in Iraq. They fussed over liberalizing the economy and writing constitutions and achieving democracy in the Middle East when in fact there was really only one question in Iraq, emerging again and again in each successive political struggle, most recently in the disastrously managed writing of the constitution: how to shape a new political dispensation in which the age-old majority Shia can take control from the minority Sunni and do it in a way that minimized violence and insecurity—do it in a way, that is, that the Sunnis would be willing to accept, however reluctantly, without resorting to armed resistance. This might have been accomplished with hundreds of thousands of troops, iron control and a clear sense of purpose. The Americans had none of these.
A Bereft Bush Administration
The sun is setting on American dreams in Iraq; what remains now to be worked out are the modalities of withdrawal, which depend on the powers of forbearance in the American body politic. But the dynamic has already been set in place. The United States is running out of troops. By the spring of 2006, nearly every active-duty combat unit is likely to have been deployed twice. The National Guard and Reserves, meanwhile, make up an unprecedented 40 percent of the force, and the Guard is in the "stage of meltdown," as Gen. Barry McCaffrey, retired, recently told Congress. Within 24 months, "the wheels are coming off."
For all the apocalyptic importance President Bush and his administration ascribed to the Iraq war, they made virtually no move to expand the military, no decision to restore the draft. In the end, the president judged his tax cuts more important than his vision of a "democratic Middle East." The administration's relentless political style, integral to both its strength and its weakness, left it wholly unable to change course and to add more troops when they might have made a difference. That moment is long past; the widespread unpopularity of the occupation in Iraq and in the Islamic world is now critical to insurgent recruitment and makes it possible for a growing insurgent force numbering in the tens of thousands to conceal itself within the broader population.
Sold a war made urgent by the imminent threat of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a dangerous dictator, Americans now see their sons and daughters fighting and dying in a war whose rationale has been lost even as its ending has receded into the indefinite future. Of the many reasons that American leaders chose to invade and occupy Iraq - to democratize the Middle East; to remove an unpredictable dictator from a region vital to America's oil supply; to remove a threat from Israel, America's ally; to restore the prestige sullied on 9/11 with a tank-led procession of triumph down the avenues of a conquered capital; to seize the chance to overthrow a regime capable of building an arsenal of chemical and biological weapons - of all of these, it is remarkable that the Bush administration chose to persuade Americans and the world by offering the one reason that could be proved to be false. The failure to find the weapons of mass destruction, and the collapse of the rationale for the war, left terribly exposed precisely what bin Laden had targeted as the critical American vulnerability: the will to fight.
We cannot know what future Osama bin Laden imagined when he sent off his 19 suicide terrorists on their mission four years ago. He was wrong about Afghanistan, and there has been no uprising in the Islamic world.
One suspects, though, that if he had been told on that day that in a mere 48 months he would behold a world in which the United States, "the idol of the age," would be bogged down in an endless guerrilla war fighting in a major Muslim country; its all-powerful army, with few allies and little sympathy, would find itself overstretched and exhausted; its dispirited people demanding from their increasingly unpopular leader a withdrawal without victory—one suspects that such a prophecy would have pleased him.
Bin Laden has suffered damage as well. Many of his closest collaborators have been killed or captured, his training camps destroyed, his sanctuary occupied. But Al Qaeda was always a flexible, ghostly organization, a complex worldwide network made up of shifting alliances and marriages of convenience with other shadowy groups. Now Al Qaeda's "center of gravity," such as it is, has gone elsewhere.
In December 2003, a remarkable document, "Jihadi Iraq: Hopes and Dangers," appeared on the Internet, setting out a fascinating vision of how to isolate the United States and pick off its allies one by one. The truly ripe fruit, concludes the author, is Spain: "In order to force the Spanish government to withdraw from Iraq the resistance should deal painful blows to its forces...(and) make utmost use of the upcoming general election. We think that the Spanish government could not tolerate more than two, maximum three blows, after which it will have to withdraw."
Three months later, on March 11, 2004 - 3/11, as it has come to be known—a cell of North African terrorists struck at the Atocha Train Station in Madrid. One hundred ninety-one people died—a horrific toll but nowhere near what it could have been had all of the bombs actually detonated, simultaneously, and in the station itself. Had the terrorists succeeded in bringing the roof of the station down, the casualties could have surpassed those of 9/11.
The US has now completed four years of this war. Four years after the attack on Pearl Harbor, US troops ruled unchallenged in Japan and Germany. During those 48 months, Americans created an unmatched machine of war and decisively defeated two great enemies.
In the event, they were quite sufficient to lead to the defeat of the Spanish government and the decision of its successor to withdraw its troops from Iraq. What seems most notable about the Madrid attack, however—and the attack on Jewish and foreign sites in Casablanca on May 17, 2003, among others—is that the perpetrators were "home-grown" and not, strictly speaking, Al Qaeda.
"After 2001, when the US destroyed the camps and housing and turned off the funding, bin Laden was left with little control," Marc Sageman, a psychiatrist and former CIA case officer who has studied the structure of the network, has written. "The movement has now degenerated into something like the Internet. Spontaneous groups of friends, as in Madrid and Casablanca, who have few links to any central leadership, are generating sometimes very dangerous terrorist operations, notwithstanding their frequent errors and poor training."
We have entered the era of the amateurs. Those who attacked the London underground whether or not they had any contact with Al Qaeda manufactured their crude bombs from common chemicals (including hydrogen peroxide, bleach and drain cleaner), making them in plastic food containers, toting them to Luton Station in coolers and detonating them with cell-phone alarms.
One click on the Internet and you can pull up a Web site offering a Recipe—or, for that matter, one showing you how to make a suicide vest from commonly found items, including a video download demonstrating how to use the device: "There is a possibility that the two seats on his right and his left might not be hit with the shrapnel," the unseen narrator tells the viewer. Not to worry, however: "The explosion will surely kill the passengers in those seats."
In launching a war on Iraq that we have been unable to win, we have done the one thing a leader is supposed never to do: issue a command that is not followed. A withdrawal from Iraq, rapid or slow, with the Islamists still holding the field, will signal, as bin Laden anticipated, a failure of American will.
Those who will view such a withdrawal as the critical first step in a broader retreat from the Middle East will surely be encouraged to go on the attack. That is, after all, what you do when your enemy retreats. In this new world, where what is necessary to go on the attack is not armies or training or even technology but desire and political will, we have ensured, by the way we have fought this forever war, that it is precisely these qualities our enemies have in large and growing supply
Chronogram - The War On Terror - Oct 2005
Here is a full transcript of remarks by Cooper and Sauber, and their subsequent Q&A with reporters:
COOPER: Good afternoon. I just testified before the grand jury for about two and a half hours. I testified openly and honestly. I have no idea whether a crime was committed or not. That's something the special counsel's going to have to determine.
What I do hope is that the special counsel can conclude his investigation as quickly as possible. I think, today, we should all remember is Judith Miller's eighth day in jail. And the sooner this grand jury recesses, the sooner she can get home.
Now, today I testified -- and agreed to testify -- solely because of a waiver I received from a source last Wednesday. I'd like to explain a little bit about that waiver. We're going to hand out copies of the waiver agreement in a little bit.
I believe that once a journalist makes a commitment to protect the confidentiality of a source, only the source can end that
commitment -- not a court, not a corporation. That's the principle I've upheld for two years now. Now, when the U.S. District Court and then the Court of Appeals, and subsequently the Supreme Court, ordered me to testify, I refused to break my commitment.
And even when Time Incorporated, over my objections, handed my notes, my e-mails to the grand jury, when some of those materials began to leak into the public domain revealing my source, many people, including my good friend and lawyer here, Richard Sauber, urged me to testify. They said there was absolutely no confidentiality left to protect. I considered that at the time, but I disagreed.
Once a journalist makes the commitment of confidentiality to a
source, only the source can end that commitment.
So I'd like now to turn this over to my lawyer, Dick Sauber, here
and he can explain to you how we worked out this waiver agreement with Karl Rove's attorney last week.
SAUBER: I just want to go through some of the particulars about
why Matt came to testify today before the grand jury. And I'm going to give you some chapter and verse and maybe even more detail than you're interested in. I do want to make sure that everyone understands the basis on which Matt responded to the subpoena and came to the grand jury today.
Last Friday, July 1st actually, Time magazine turned over to the
special prosecutor the notes, which included Matt's notes and included the identity of his source and the substance of the source's conversation with Matt that were the basis of the online article that was eventually published.
We asked Mr. Fitzgerald if he would review the documents and give some thought to not calling Matt based on the availability of the documents. I was in Alaska on vacation at this time. I called Mr. Fitzgerald on Sunday, July 3rd, and he told me at that point that despite having received the documents from Time magazine, he wanted Matt to appear in the grand jury.
I immediately called Matt. Matt informed me that he was going to go into contempt and go to jail. And I made plans to come back to Washington.
I did come back on a red-eye flight from Alaska Tuesday night. I
stopped in Chicago to change planes on Wednesday morning, 6:00 a.m. Chicago time, and I picked up the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.
And, on my plane flight from Chicago into Washington, I read the account in the Wall Street Journal. I picked up a copy of the Wall Street Journal. And in there, right at the end of the article about this matter is the following statement: "Mr. Rove hasn't asked any reporter to treat him as a confidential source in the matter," Mr. Luskin said, who I understand is Mr. Rove's lawyer. "So if Matt Cooper is going to jail to protect a source, it's not Karl he's protecting."
I immediately called Matt from the plane and said, "You ought to take a look at this comment. I think it is interesting and I think we should give a shot of calling Mr. Luskin and seeing if we could get a specific waiver," which Matt authorized me to do.
I arrived in Washington early Wednesday morning. I put in a call to Mr. Luskin and asked him for a specific waiver. He called me back close to 12:30 that morning, an hour and a half before we were due back in court, which was scheduled for 2:00 o'clock, and he dictated to me a letter that he would be willing to agree to, which I typed up and sent to him.
He initialed it and sent it back to me probably around 1:00 o'clock, and we came to court.
We are going to pass out copies of the letter, but I just want to make clear the specificity that Matt especially wanted in the letter. If you recall, Matt has made the point that the general waivers were things that he could not and did not want to rely on.
So I asked Mr. Luskin if he would agree to the following language, which he did, that: "Consistent with his written waiver of confidentiality he previously executed, Mr. Rove affirms his waiver of any claim of confidentiality he may have concerning any conversation he may have had with Matthew Cooper of Time magazine during the month of July 2003."
Matt and I discussed that once we got this letter. We felt that this was sufficiently personal to Matt. It was sufficient, in Matt's estimation, to cover precisely the conversation that he and Mr. Rove had concerning the article that he published.
And we subsequently came into court. Matt made his statement. In the reliance of this express and personal waiver from Mr. Rove through his attorney, Matt went and testified in the grand jury today.
We're happy to try to answer any questions. Just to clarify, we're not going to answer any questions about the substance of Matt's testimony today, but we're happy to try to answer any other questions that people have.
Q: Does the waiver limit it only to testimony before the grand jury?
COOPER: Yes, absolutely. I am free to talk about what happened in the grand jury room today. And it is my hope to get back to being a normal journalist on the other side of the microphones. I hope to go back to Time magazine and write up an account of what took place here today and my story. But that's something (inaudible) to try to do in the coming hours and days. But I'm not going to do it here, right now.
Just to clarify, for those of you who are not familiar with grand jury rules...all that goes on in the grand jury room is secret, but the witness, him or herself, is free to talk about it. I'm free to talk about it. And I fully plan to. I'm going to talk about it in the pages of Time magazine where I still work.
SAUBER: Let me try to address that to some extent, if I can. For the last year or so, Matt has been a subpoenaed witness in a grand jury investigation. I advised him and he accepted the advice that he should not have private conversations with other people who may be witnesses in the grand jury proceeding. I was concerned about the perception. I was concerned about what Mr. Fitzgerald might think. And so it was on my advice that he did not personally contact his source.
For me to contact Mr. Rove's lawyer at the time, prior to the time that Mr. Rove had been identified as Matt's source, would have actually been a breach of confidentiality. My conversation with Mr. Rove was not privileged and would not have been privileged -- with Mr. Rove's attorney.
There was no indication that we had that Mr. Rove or his lawyer were interested in receiving such a request. And it was really only in the last few days, when Mr. Luskin started making some of his comments, especially the one that I just quoted to you that was in the Wall Street Journal that led us to feel that we were on firm footing picking up the phone and calling and saying, "Based on your public comments, we would ask for an express and personal...," and that's what we did.
COOPER: Well, I believe my testifying before the grand jury is over. I was dismissed and then I was told there is no reason to expect that I would be called back. I think this decision to go out and subpoena journalists has been an unfortunate one.
I'm glad I got personal waivers that allowed me to do this. I do hope now though that the prosecutor really can get this done quickly, because it is crazy to have Judith Miller in jail. And the sooner this grand jury is disbanded, the sooner her contempt order is going to be over.
Q: What was it about Karl Rove's waiver to you on the day -- on Wednesday of last week that rehabilitated that waiver which you thought was (inaudible) in the first place?
COOPER: I'm not sure about "rehabilitated." I think we thought the waiver we got was qualitatively different. It was not a blanket waiver to everyone, covering every conversation in a sort of utterly generic terms that were distributed by a government employee to everyone.
We thought this was specific and directed to me, an individual, and that this was a qualitatively different thing. I think Dick can elaborate.
SAUBER: Let me just add one other thing. When I first called Mr. Luskin to ask him for the waiver, I said to him specifically, "If the answer is no, I want you to know that we are not going to go out and publicize the fact that we asked for a personal waiver and you said no. Don't feel as if we are trying to set you up, that we're trying to create some sort of public issue. I'm calling to ask, based on the comment I just read in the Wall Street Journal that you made, whether or not your client, through you, would give us a specific and personal waiver," and he did.
Q: Was the special prosecutor involved in those discussions last Wednesday?
SAUBER: From what I read in the paper, apparently Mr. Luskin called Mr. Fitzgerald, but I have no knowledge of that.
Q: Could you tell us just when you first learned that Valerie Plame is Joe Wilson's wife? I mean, we're talking a lot about process here. I'm not asking you to reveal who told you that, but when did you first learn that?
COOPER: Yes, as I said earlier, what took place in the grand jury room, all these kinds of questions, I'm going to address as a journalist, which is what I'd like to get back to being and go back and write that up and tell that story in my voice and hopefully in the pages of Time magazine soon.
But I'm going to save it for that. I'm not going to scoop myself today.
Q: (Rove) saying, "I never revealed," "I didn't know her name," "I didn't reveal her name," "I didn't talk about her" -- did you feel that he was being accurate?
COOPER: I don't want to get into that.
SAUBER: It's a law enforcement question. We just don't know and we're not going to comment on it.
Somebody did have a question about who signed the letter. My colleagues who are here are going to pass out copies of the letter. The letter is from me to Mr. Luskin. It's initialed by Mr. Luskin and sent back to me.
One of the issues in the letter that you'll see is that I asked Mr. Luskin to represent that he had spoken to his client and that his client had approved the express mention of Matt and their conversations in the letter, and that's what (inaudible).
COOPER: Yes, I'm sorry, I really don't want to scoop myself. I'm still a journalist. So, really, I want total chance guarantee on this thing. That's why we're trying to talk about the waiver now, and fully plan to write about my experience in the grand jury session and lay all that out.
Q: Can you tell us whether you answered all the questions?
COOPER: Yes, I did, there were none that applied that went
beyond anything where I'd gotten a particular waiver. So, yes.
COOPER: No, I believe I owe it to the readers of Time to tell the story, and I will tell this story, and I will explain what happened.
I will do that as I'm allowed to under grand jury rules. But I'm not obligated to do it here on the courthouse steps.
COOPER: I've actually been asked to testify about the federal shield law a week from today, I think before Senate Judiciary Committee, and I'm planning to do so, because I do think -- and there are various versions of the law around -- but I do think we have an amazing anomaly in our country where 49 states have some kind of protection for confidential and none in federal law. And I think a federal shield law is a common-sense approach, a bipartisan common-sense approach to fixing that.
Anyway, I'm eager to get back to being a journalist.
Transcript of Remarks by Matt Cooper and Attorney After Testifying Today