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The Filth of the Dirty Bomb
Now that the Guantanamo charges of al Qaeda dirty bombers are disappearing, it's a great time to look at the effect of the scare that the mere possibility of this terrorism technique has created. For the way it's changed Australian society, you need look no further than the drinking thermos that froze Adelaide.
Authorities being "alert but not alarmed " in their vigilance for explosives is no new thing in this town. As an accordion player you get to know such things: leaving something the size of a squeezebox case beside a pinball machine while I played was enough to agitate young constables twenty years ago. An accordion case is one thing ... enough room for a fair bit of semtec in there, I guess? But a thermos? How much damage could a thermos do?
Yesterday a bloke walked into a bank, put down the drinking flask in a corridor, then left. The bank is located between the city's business-end and parliament, adjacent to the main shopping mall and the nightclubs.
The street block in front of the bank was closed for an hour and a half. How long had it taken to identify what had been identified to the media as a "package"? It wasn't detonated by the robot, and in such a location you certainly couldn't do so (if the thing was a dirty bomb, and how could something so small be anything else?) without spreading low-level radiological contamination across the heart of Adelaide. The contents of this potentially lethal container have been taken away for forensic examination, and I'm guessing the cops will find Cup-A-Soup, or something equally as explosive or radioactive.
Had the thermos been a dirty bomb and it had exploded, chaos would have ensued purely from the fact that the Australian public has been kept ignorant of the most likely resultant effects. Here's what AP's Ben Stein wrote about the effects of an attack in 2002:
Did I mention that our central railway station is also well within such a half mile radius? Even if such an explosion didn't hurt people, the city would've been paralysed with fear. Cars would be crashing into each other on their way out of town. Some people would die of heart attacks. Such folk are expected to comprise the vast majority of dirty bomb victims.
Normally the most amazing thing about a thermos flask would be along the lines of the old joke "It keeps hot things hot and cold things cold.. how does it know?" Since September 11 2001 such an object is now capable of halting cities When the CIA was torturing Al Qaida suspects, the notion was obviously on the interrogators’ minds. In this era that is becoming renowned for its attempt not only eliminate terrorism probabilities but possibilities as well, it seems the US agents were going to get the answers they wanted by force, and with no regard for an interviewee's truthfulness. Peter Finn's report in last week's Washington Post describes the results of such zeal:
In Australia we understand how far authorities will bend to protect US intelligence communications. ASIO has been fighting in the courts for years to lock up the "Peanut Butter Files" that led to the arrest and deportation of US Halliburton activist Scott Parkin, and it's a fair guess that this has happened to conceal the flimsy amount of evidence provided by the U.S. against an enemy of U.S.Vice President Cheney's business interests. The continued attempts at secrecy around the evidence of the Haneef deportation nowadays makes me wonder if the intelligence both the UK and Australia acted so appallingly upon was provided by U.S. surveillance. That would explain this second adamant refusal to divulge.
The case against "dirty bomber" Binyam Mahommed had reached the same point as Parkin's: a judge's discovery order, when the U.S. military decided that convicting the man of what he was accused of was not worth the price of revealing how the prosecution's evidence was acquired. From this the least that can be surmised is that a disciplinary example to prevent future dirty bomb attacks was no longer required. With a little imagination it's thinkable that a true threat to the U.S. only existed in the minds of its Administration and information extractors, transferred by pain to the mouths of perceived "likely looking suspects".
At any rate, especially as this is the second such case, it appears that no convicted dirty bombers are going to be found amongst America's prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. And if true would-be perpetrators of such a crime do exist, they are considered of less importance than the revelation of US intelligence gathering techniques.
Authorities in Adelaide obviously treat such a possibility with a greater level of alarm. Otherwise the bank teller, or the corner cop (oops forgot to mention that the Governor's Residence is also just across the road) would've wandered over with an optimistic tea bag and cup.
I wish I could be inventive enough to think of placing a flaskful of soup in such a place to demonstrate the level of paranoia that our society has succumbed to. If I had thought of it, especially knowing the Guantanamo trial situation, I'd be sorely tempted. We've changed our way of looking at everything not even because of terrorism but because of a possibility (without precedent) of how we might be harmed. To potentially change the thinking of many through such a harmless action could be considered as a meritorious act of non-violent activism.
If the continual crumbling of Guantanamo "justice" signifies an approaching end to the War On Terror, a golden opportunity may be approaching. In the similar way that the Bush Administration has promoted or devalued terrorism fears according to prevalent national security priorities, we can now pause, breathe out, have a look around us. Are there truly any terrorism threats to our existence? Are they possible, probable, or highly unlikely? Are they worth changing our society into a fear-riddled, security-controlled, culturally segregated dumbed-down pack of propaganda believers?
On thinking further, I've decided that I wouldn't want to be the person to cause all that alarm, because at the end of the day the increased fear created would outweigh any new community awareness of the con-job. And if I was truly wanting to set off a dirty bomb, I'd do it another way. You see, one train stop down the track from this hullaballoo is an unguarded station. Although the bins have been taken out of Adelaide Central for (we're told) exactly such a reason, there'd be nothing stopping me from leaving a "package" similar to the one today in the dunnies. From there I could "irradiate" the Casino above (forgot to mention that one before, or the neighbouring Convention Centre, Hyatt and Festival Theatre), Parliament House, the Governor's Residence, Rundle Mall, the nightclub strip, and probably the business and legal districts.. maybe even the Central Market.
I assume that because such an opportunity exists that its probability is extremely low. Either that, or a tempting possibility has been left invitingly available.
The last thing I would want to assume would be that today's activities were nothing more than a drill. Certainly it wasn't a publicity exercise, as it hasn't (at time of writing) appeared on Murdoch's Adelaide website. So far only the ABC has reported, quoting a police spokesman as saying that "What actually raised his suspicion was the fact that someone actually placed what looked like a thermos in the corridor. Probably not something that's considered to be normal behaviour, especially in a bank building."
I have been writing the possibilities surrounding this situation to demonstrate how they might reach Guantanamo proportions. Were I writing from other places in the world, about U.S. locales, my chances of winding up in Guantanamo might have been much higher than that of a dirty bomb going off in my city.
Mind you, when the Adelaide railway station's bike rack was closed for a day's worth of renovation on 6/6/06, I had a fair idea of what might of been on the minds of counterterrorism advisers.
See what they've done to us? It's a convoluted web of confusion created by the "evidence" of "perpetrators," stuff that's seemingly of secondary importance to U.S. national interests, yet echoing around the globe.
I wonder if trust could become as infectious as fear? It certainly couldn't be less preventative than the counterterrorism psychology we've had shoved down our throats. Shall we give it a try?
With the rose-coloured glasses back on the table, my guess is that it's more likely for us to be kept alert by the banning of thermoses and the purchase (while there's still enough money) of thermos-detecting Dalek-style toys. The echoes of Guantanamo will be with us for a while yet, and this is something that can be considered as a distortion of human nature for political purposes.
Back to trust ... it's cheaper than Daleks. Treasurers take note!