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3.6.04 The Bomb

I'm not one of those people who has ever worried much about The Bomb. At the height of the arms race with the Soviet Union, we Catholic school kids were taught to be more afraid of the "godless" part of communism than of annihilation. And I decided early on that if Satan existed, so did God and, since God invented Satan the balance would probably tip in God's favor.

When the Axis of Evil was conceived by the Bushies, they conceptualized a nice classic scare. Bad guys with bombs. Only The Bomb became Weapons of Mass Destruction. These are more sinister because they can take any form -- nuclear, chemical, biological. (Nevermind that the Trade Towers were felled with box cutters and a plan.)

But the administration is still seeing threats from nations with evil leaders. To fight evil, the U.S. must conquer those nations. It's such a comforting 20th century thought.

But what we haven't fully confronted yet is that the bad guys don't need nations anymore. Haven't we learned anything yet from al-Qaeda? After 9/11 and bin Laden's name came up, the first question I had was how the heck did they organize to get the job done? I sent for a report that described al-Qaeda.

What is disconcerting is that we are still using hammers to kill crab grass.

In the 3/8/04 New Yorker, Seymour M. Hersh ("The Deal") describes how AQ Khan, father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb, has confessed that he has been solely responsible for operating an international black market in nuclear-weapon materials. His confession was accepted, everyone was shocked, shocked, and then he was immediately pardoned. Hersh explores the usual tangle of strange-bedfellow politics that makes that ok with the Bushies.

What scared me in this article is that we can no longer rest assured that Bombs belong to nations and that the usual combination of diplomacy and war between nations will keep the lid on.

"There is a nuclear network of black-market centrifuges and weapons design that the world has yet to discover," a diplomat in Vienna told me. In the past, he said, the I.A.E.A. [International Atomic Energy Association] had worked under the assumption that nations would cheat on the nonproliferation treaty "to produce and sell their own nuclear material." He said, "What we have instead is a black-market network capable of producing usable nuclear materials and nuclear devices that is not limited to any one nation. We have nuclear dealers operating outside our front door, and we have no control over them - no matter how good we are in terms of verifications." There would be no need, in other words, for AQ Khan or anyone else in Pakistan to have a direct role in supplying nuclear technology. The most sensitive nuclear equipment would be available to any country - or any person or group, presumably - that had enough cash.

"This is a question of survival," the diplomat said, with a cuastic smile. He added, "Iraq is laughable in comparison with this issue. The Bush Administration was hunting the shadows instead of the prey."

Another self-organizing federation like al-Qaeda. The Bomb is anywhere and everywhere.

It almost makes you want to dive under your desk.

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