Hand Grenades as Weapons of Mass Destruction

I get that this is terrorism:

A 24-year-old convert to Islam has been sentenced to 35 years in prison for plotting to set off hand grenades in a crowded shopping mall during the Christmas season.

But I thought “weapons of mass destruction” was reserved for nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.

He was arrested in 2006 on charges of scheming to use weapons of mass destruction at the Cherryvale Mall in the northern Illinois city of Rockford.

Like the continuing cheapening of the word “terrorism,” we are now cheapening the term “weapons of mass destruction.”

Edited: The link above now leads to a revised story that doesn’t use the term “weapons of mass destruction.” A version that does can still be found here.

Posted on October 1, 2008 at 6:37 AM84 Comments


Shoeless Joe October 1, 2008 7:04 AM

Some suggestions for the further cheapening of WMD and terrorism:

  1. if you have a cold and sneeze in a crowded mall

  2. flying on a plane when you have the flu

  3. publishing a security hole

  4. wearing a t-shirt with some kind of computer code on it that screeners think could be a virus

will October 1, 2008 7:08 AM

This may be bad for our country’s security but it’s great for elder care. Now granny with her big cadillac, poor eyesight, and deteriorating faculties can be labelled a weapon of mass destruction and the government can take her off the street and put her someplace she’ll be treated better, like Gitmo.

Grahame October 1, 2008 7:42 AM

We’re busy cheapening everything, not just words.

You too can aspire to live in a meaning free life.

sooth sayer October 1, 2008 7:45 AM

But I thought “weapons of mass destruction” was reserved for nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.<<

Did you also wonder that “freedom of speech” was for speech and not for flag burning?

We all have our pet definitions — and if you are dead from a hand grenade, it doesn’t matter if another 1000000 people died with you or not.

Tim the Enchanter October 1, 2008 7:47 AM

They’ll probably argue hand grenades are a chemical weapon because they’re made from matter rather than pixie dust.

Roy October 1, 2008 8:05 AM

He could have killed several people with a couple of hand grenades. With a police officer’s issued sidearm, and the usual spare pair of loaded magazines, he could have killed a lot more people. Should we now consider that our police officers routinely carry weapons of mass destruction?

Amcguinn October 1, 2008 8:10 AM

Well, in fact hand grenades are far more effective and destructive than any chemical or biological weapons terrorists could use.

Mass destruction is really in the dosage. I don’t think the inhabitants of any city subjected to heavy aerial bombing in the last 70 years would deny that high explosive is, in sufficient quantities, a weapon of mass destruction.

John Scholes October 1, 2008 8:12 AM

I am not sure you can cheapen WMD. The term was always fraudulent.

Clearly nuclear weapons are a major threat. A single fusion weapon driven into London on a truck and set off near the centre could kill millions of people.

A single fusion weapon set off in Yellowstone National Park might easily wipe out most of North America.

This kind of threat may well justify eroding traditional civil liberties. But chemical and biological weapons are totally different. It is hard to point to a single case where they have proved more harmful than traditional battlefield munitions.

Indeed, if you listen to those in charge of field hospitals, they are substantially less harmful. Coming up with a neat phrase to link them to nuclear was seriously misleading and has been used to justify all kinds of bad behaviour by governments.

Charlie Langsam October 1, 2008 8:22 AM

@John Scholes
could you clarify your comment, please? It seems you have assigned drastically different levels of destruction to the same weapon (“single fusion weapon”).

Tom Welsh October 1, 2008 8:34 AM

Bruce, you aren’t on-message here! Any weapon used against Americans is a WMD, if the government so decides. But thermonuclear bombs, chemical weapons, and fuel-air bombs are not WMDs if used by Americans.

Btw Charlie Langsam, I think John was suggesting that a single fusion weapon could trigger the latent “supervolcano” underneath Yellowstone. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellowstone_Caldera

jimm October 1, 2008 8:34 AM

I served on a Federal Grand Jury where we heard a case that involved the definition of “weapon of mass destruction”. Essentially, anything that can harm more than one person at a time falls under the definition—a grenade, a toxin, a powder that looks like it might be dangerous but is not. Hell, I suppose a shoe is a WMD if it’s thrown at and hits more than one person.

Juergen October 1, 2008 8:36 AM

Well, the US Army DID say jokingly that they had a “nuclear hand grenade” (even though the Davy Crocket wasn’t nearly that small).

As for John Scholes, he’s probably talking about a device detonating underground at Yellowstone to kickstart the vulcano – now THAT’s B-movie-script material if I’ve ever seen one 😉

D0R October 1, 2008 8:39 AM

They must have removed the quote because of a typo in it. The original charge must have been “scheming to use weapons of mall destruction”.
Now everything makes sense.

Eponymous October 1, 2008 8:40 AM

I think this is a nitpick. The guy wanted to kill at least several random people with a grenade. I wouldn’t be terribly upset if they shot him in the back of the head and shoved him in a ditch. I’m not a huge fan of leniency for violent offenders, when their guilt is incontestable. Killers should be killed, it’s the best deterrent. Screw the moral high ground…we’re never getting the murdered BACK.

bob October 1, 2008 8:42 AM

More Americans died in the civil war than any war before or since; that would make WMDs out of muzzle loading firearms that can crank out 3 rds/min on a good day.

Given this interpretation of the meaning of a term completely beyond the boundaries of reason (which does, after all, seem to be the self-directed mission of the Supreme Court), the greatest WMD in the US would probably be a Ford Excursion You can probably kill 500 people on a single tank of gas, more if its a Diesel. And you can rent one right at the airport, no hijacking required.

Victor Bogado October 1, 2008 8:55 AM


The article was redacted to remove the reference, you can still find some references on google, but when visiting the sites all of them were changed.

anonymous October 1, 2008 9:03 AM

Legally speaking, it’s been that way since the 90’s at least:

18 USC 2332a
(c) Definitions.— For purposes of this section—
(2) the term “weapon of mass destruction” means—
(A) any destructive device as defined in section 921 of this title;

18 USC 921
(a) As used in this chapter—
(4) The term “destructive device” means—
(A) any explosive, incendiary, or poison gas—
(ii) grenade,

Tordr October 1, 2008 9:10 AM

So the facts from what I can read are: That he offered an undercover FBI agent two stereo speakers for four hand grenades and a 9 mm pistol. For receiving those 4 hand grenades and the pistol he is branded a terrorist that is going to use weapons of mass destruction and gets 35 years in jail.

Yes, he is a misguided youth (22-23 when he was arrested), that deserves some years in jail, but 35 years is a lifetime for him, that is not punishment, that is cruelty.

Yes, he had been watching violent videos and jihad training videos, but he was plotting alone with an paid informant as his only co-plotter. In what part the young man was coerced/compelled into this plot by the informant or to what degree it was his own thoughts to begin with we will never know.

Some more things to think about:
– He was arrested by an undercover FBI officer, so that probably means he got the contact through the informant.
– He paid with some speakers, he did not have cash to pay for it. Some real criminal would maybe not have sold those grenades that cheaply.
– He had plans to detonate the grenades in garbage cans something that would have lessen the blast. How would he set them off without throwing them in?
– Contrast his case to a case to one government informant that participated in a dozen murders.

Charlie Langsam October 1, 2008 9:19 AM

@Tom Welsh, Juergen: thanks for the link. I had not heard of The Yellowstone Caldera before.

Gun Gnut October 1, 2008 9:45 AM

The gun-control lobby has referred to certain semi-automatic firearms as “weapons of mass destruction” in the past (for 10 – 20 years, if I recall correctly). This cheapening-of-the-language is nothing new.

For example:


Lawmakers want Bush to back renewal of assault weapon ban
AFP, September, 2004

. . .

Massachusetts Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy called the banned firearms “domestic weapons of mass destruction.”

Pericynthion October 1, 2008 9:46 AM

Surely the only true weapons of mass destruction are nuclear weapons, since those are the only ones that destroy mass?

Bemused October 1, 2008 9:53 AM

If the prosecution wins in this case, then environmentalists have a new tactic for going after major polluters. And the tobacco industry better head for the hills as well…

Timmy303 October 1, 2008 10:09 AM

Are you confusing what he was arrested for with what he was convicted of? What led the police to take him into custody may have been different from what a jury eventually decided he needed to go to jail for.

Jan October 1, 2008 10:10 AM

So Bush was right the whole time. They had WMD in Iraq and they still do. We just had a wrong definition of WMDs.

Witt October 1, 2008 10:29 AM

@Tordr: Ooohhh. The poor guy! You’re so right! He was misguided in his youth but realizes now that violence is wrong and should be freed. Sorry but how naïve are you?

ffs, At 22 or 23 one should already know what he’s doing and the resulting consequences. Of course he was watching the training videos only for fun…

No, damn. He had a clear target. Furthermore: If he would have killed your entire family, you wouldn’t have said that. You would rather like to see him dead. How can you have ANY sympathy for this terrorist? I really would like to see YOU with your legs blown off by a terrorist and hear your (new) opinion after then. He tried to kill other people and now his own life is destroyed. Look, that’s what I call fairness. But there are still people who are too soft for this world (like you) and that is why you ain’t no judge.

If it was WMD or not… who cares. That’s finickiness. He’s in jail and, thank god, he’ll stay there for a while. That’s what matters.

thoreau October 1, 2008 11:11 AM

I won’t pass judgment on the particular details of this case, but in general those “paid informant” cases often come dangerously close to entrapment. The informant finds some angry young man who isn’t a threat to much of anything besides the bag of cheetohs in front of him and tries to get him to go from ranting on the couch to taking action. Not being a lawyer, I can’t say if any particular action crosses the line, and I’m not defending the guy who ultimately chooses to go along with the informant. I will, however, say that there is nothing honorable in working to get a guy off his couch and into an arms deal. If he’s a potential threat, I’d rather watch him and see if he changes his mind, instead of working to get him motivated enough to act.

Mike October 1, 2008 11:19 AM

Man, the volcano thing would be a great movie! Almost like two films in one. It could be called something like: The Bourne Conspiracy the Day After Tomorrow. I can’t wait.

Timmy303 October 1, 2008 11:45 AM

@Jonathan Moore

The ITAR covered all “defense articles and defense services”, which is a pretty broad scope.

alice October 1, 2008 11:46 AM

any poison gas? does eating beans, sauerkrauet or kimchi make one a potential carrier of WMD?

we could also losen the spelling a bit. Ban algebra, as its supporters are known to have weapons of math instructions…

Andrew October 1, 2008 11:47 AM

I suppose that I will live to see handguns labeled weapons of mass destruction.

Oh, wait, Europe. Sigh.

The acronyms that helped cheapen the pot:

CBRNE Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear Explosive

BNICE Biological Nuclear Incendiary Chemical Explosive

I sense acronym creep!

BEANRICE Biological Electronic Alarmist* Nuclear Radiological Incendiary Chemical Explosive

Beans and rice, the new acronym threat coming soon to a neighborhood . . . near your children!

  • (false threats)

SNi October 1, 2008 11:56 AM

I fussed about this May 2006, but as others have pointed out it goes back even earlier…


Extract: “Under 2332a’s more expansive definition prosecutors have brought charges, and secured convictions, for the use of “WMD” in multiple cases, including offenses involving truck bombs, pipe bombs, shoe bombs, cactus needles coated with botulin toxin, etc., etc. More recently, this was one count against Zacarias Moussaoui in his conviction and sentencing…”

Anonymous October 1, 2008 12:17 PM

B movie or not, besides Yellowstone another spot to plug one bomb would be Cumbre Vieja (at least it has the ‘advantage’ of not being in the CONUS..


Someone said:
Btw Charlie Langsam, I think John was suggesting that a single fusion weapon could trigger the latent “supervolcano” underneath Yellowstone.

Jim October 1, 2008 12:40 PM

This seems to be a time where there is common usage, and a legal definition that are not in sync. It is not that people are not trying to exploit that in order to sell newspapers or web ads.

The interesting thing is that there should be a category of premeditated murder that has a higher penalty than murder in the first degree, since the intent is not to murder someone, it is to murder anyone, and as many as possible with the resources.

With suicide bombers, there is little left to prosecute. But the same penalties should be elevated if there is planning or support.

Truely it is terrorism, because the objective is to create fear and keep it elevated.

I don’t know if there are laws that create these definitions and penalties.

fmillar October 1, 2008 1:00 PM

Re “WMD”:
Citizens need to see the Worst Case Scenarios for toxic gas cloud releases. According to the Chlorine Institute, the gas cloud from one 90-ton chlorine tank car can spread out at a lethal level 15 miles downwind by 4 miles wide. The standard 90-ton railcar of chlorine, shipped as a pressurized liquid, when released produces a toxic gas cloud 500 times bigger in volume than the tank car. The cold, heavier-than air cloud will generally move downhill and downwind, depending on the wind speed and weather, and may not disperse for hours. At 20 parts per million, it could quickly be fatal to thousands of people if they are unable to evacuate immediately. The US Naval Research Labs estimated in 2005 that just one tank car releasing its contents over a crowded urban event like the annual July 4th fireworks on the Mall in Washington DC, up to 100,000 could be killed or injured in ½ hour.

The standard chlorine Vulnerable Zone for any freight rail line, consistent with federal guidance for emergency planners, is therefore a 15-mile zone on each side of the tracks, potentially impacting thousands. The actual direction of the gas cloud would depend on the wind. The impacts from the release of even one rail car in an urban area would be an unprecedented toxic gas disaster for the US, whether the release is from accident or terrorism. US citizens have not been vividly shown what the stakes are re hazmat risks.

Clive Robinson October 1, 2008 1:01 PM

@ Witt,

“But there are still people who are too soft for this world (like you) and that is why you ain’t no judge.”

Well from the “informed” comments you have made I’m realy surprised you have not got your own length of rope to dispence justice as you see fit.

As a number of people has observed the U.S. does not have an enviable record when it comes to people on death row such as those of low IQ etc.

I for one would be extreamly cautious about the evidence in this case. The FBI do not have a good reputation when it comes to either paid informers or giving unbiased evidence.

I would need to see quite a bit of independent evidence about this case before I would pass judgment.

The fact that he entered a trade for four handgrenades and a hand gun for a couple of speakers should raise significant alarm bells about the mental capacity of the convicted man.

I suspect that like so many others in US prisons he actually needs medical treatment and proper representation.

Just remember,

“That there but the grace of God go…”

Before you wish harm and hurt on others.

Mark October 1, 2008 1:14 PM

The criterion is efficiency.

Don’t know if anybody cares, but I believe that the original meaning of WMD was a weapon system that could cause very large casualties (10s of thousands or more) and/or very large property damage (city-wide or more), in a single attack, at low cost.

Philip Morrison described flying over Japan just after the war, where destroyed cities appeared as rust-red circles on the ground. They looked the same to him, whether destroyed by nuclear or incendiary/explosive bombing. The difference was the amount of resources expended.

With WMD, the destruction that formerly required many months and many, many thousands of men in uniform (and many hundreds of airplanes), could be accomplished in a matter of days by a few dozen soldiers.

As a matter of historical interest, even with the fledgling infrastructure that existed in 1945, the Manhattan project was planning to produce a new nuclear bomb every few days, starting very soon after the original nuclear attacks. This “production mode” was shelved when Japan surrendered.

Alan M October 1, 2008 1:21 PM

The term “Weapon of Mass Destruction” was already an intentional obfuscation conflating the perfectly adequate terms of art “nuclear” “biological” “chemical.” This already meaningless term allows someone to compare tear gas or mustard gas in any amount to a city-killing nuclear warhead.

WMD was a term of political convenience from its very inception. It should come as no surprise that it is being further diluted.

matt a October 1, 2008 2:06 PM

“WMD” only counts in horse shoes, hand grenades and nuclear bombs. Yesh, everyone knows that…

mcb October 1, 2008 2:13 PM

To Witt, putting away homegrown jihadis is one thing, or it will be if the DoJ ever encounters a real case. If the post-9/11 track record is any indication, prosecuting “cases” built using paid government informants to recruit naive OBL-wannabees to be entrapped by undercover federal officers offering to swap guns and grenades for some stereo speakers – ?!! – may prove to be something else altogether, at least on appeal.

Timmy303 October 1, 2008 2:35 PM

Why is everyone assuming that the WMD reference in the arrest in any way relates to the hand grenades reference in the conviction and sentence?

It might be premature to assume they were referring to grenades when arresting him for WMD whatever just because that’s what he was convicted of. Officers make arrests on any number of wild pretexts on a regular basis that have no connection whatsoever to the actual offense for which the DA decides to prosecute.

This ENTIRE discussion may have been over an imaginary connection.

Tordr October 1, 2008 2:51 PM

@Witt: I do not have sympathies for the guy going to jail. I do have sympathies for the guy going to jail for 35 years for what I feel might be entrapment. In Norway where I live, the maximum sentence for any crime is 20 years, and we do not allow entrapment in our legal system. I think he deserves maximum 2-3 years for his real crime.

I think thoreau and Clive Robinson say the same thing as I am trying to say only better.

captain obvious October 1, 2008 2:57 PM

A literal reading of the patriot act makes double parking a terrorist offense; it involves a flammable liquid (gasoline in the tank), and disturbs the public order.

Witt October 1, 2008 3:05 PM

@Clive Robinson

“Well from the “informed” comments you have made I’m really surprised you have not got your own length of rope to dispense justice as you see fit.”

I’m currently living in Africa. Speaking about justice: Do you know what they do here with simple thieves? They put them into a big tire, add some fuel and burn them alive.

“The fact that he entered a trade for four hand grenades and a hand gun for a couple of speakers should raise significant alarm bells about the mental capacity of the convicted man.”

Yes, that’s indeed an argument. But the fact that he tried to kill other people is more important IMHO. See it like this: To be in prison for 35 years, or to stay for the rest of your life in a nuthouse. What’s better?

“Before you wish harm and hurt on others.”

I wish it only to people who harm and hurt others. He tried it. Not with a knife, but Grenades. That’s enough for me.

The situation of US Prisons and the credibility of the FBI… well, that’s another long discussion…

doubledoubleDownDown October 1, 2008 3:08 PM

Like also how the term war crimes was reduced to any taking of trivial stuff. Search google, incidents happen in Uk, with Iraq.
Point: guilty prestage the word association meaning.
Double speak, 1984 1984, we way way past past order order.

Moderator October 1, 2008 4:42 PM

Please keep the discussion civil. Violent fantasies about what should happen to other commenters are NOT welcome.

Simon October 1, 2008 4:57 PM

I believe that the FBI currently define a WMD as (as one of a number of options) “Any incendiary or explosive device; bomb, grenade, missile, mine, or other device with a charge of more than four ounces”.
Yes, this means that the USA dropped lots of WMDs on Iraq and Afghanistan. It means that WMDs are used by miners every day. Hell, professional fireworks probably count.

See FBI leaflet scanned at http://improbable.com/pages/news/2008/FBI-PocketGuide-72dpi.pdf (this is the only source I can find, so it’s possible that it’s made up.)

There are other sillynesses in that leaflet, such as the half-page devoted to telling the public what WMDs will probably not look like.

David Thomas October 1, 2008 9:21 PM

The legal definition of WMD, within the US federal code, explicitly includes grenades. This has been mentioned a few times, and someone above even cited the relevant laws. He was prosecuted for possessing WMDs because – according to laws passed by Congress and signed by the President many years back – he possessed WMDs.

JJ October 1, 2008 10:55 PM

Next time a U.S. President accuses a country of possessing WMDs, we must remember that so does 99.9% of the rest of the countries.

Clive Robinson October 2, 2008 1:32 AM

@ Bruce,

Although you mentioned it I’m surprised others have not picked up on it, which effectivly is the “rewriting of history”.

You saw a story on the Internet that correctly indicated a comment about WMD, then just a little while later the comment is removed. For what reason is not clear, but I will assume the least worst case of “Political sensitivity”.

Back in the good old days of print the story would have stood as published irespective of the wishes of others. Unfortunatly now in our effemeral online world it appears that truth and honesty are mutable to the whims of others without respect to the historic record.

It is not just News Papers but other records of note that are either being digitised or only ever produced in this effemeral realm.

As our legal systems are largely based on the accurate historical record it does not bode well for justice.

The Batman October 2, 2008 3:37 AM

“But the fact that he tried to kill other people”

But he didn’t actually try to kill people, did he. He may have wanted to, but all he actually did was try to buy weapons. He never got a chance to try and actually use them.
They should have sold him dummy grenades and see if he’d try to use them. As it is, they’re trying to pin a crime on him which he might well not have gone through with.

Paul Renault October 2, 2008 5:02 AM

Mass Destruction, where the ‘mass’ is a few dozen people: When you have a small mind, you’re overwhelmed by even small numbers…

“One, two, three, many”

Mark October 2, 2008 5:26 AM

He could have killed several people with a couple of hand grenades. With a police officer’s issued sidearm, and the usual spare pair of loaded magazines, he could have killed a lot more people. Should we now consider that our police officers routinely carry weapons of mass destruction?

The really disturbing thing is that this young man was given a sentence longer than some people who have actually killed.
Plenty of people do things which have the potential to kill many people. Yet we don’t put people in jail for 35 years for “dangerous driving”. Even though this causes far more death and injury than guns, bombs, knives, etc combined in North America and Europe.

Mark October 2, 2008 5:35 AM

@John Scholes

Clearly nuclear weapons are a major threat. A single fusion weapon driven into London on a truck and set off near the centre could kill millions of people.

Where are “terrorists” going to get hold of one of these? (Without a lot of help from a nation state which has some).

Considering how daft the average “Islamic Terrorist” appears to be they’d probably think they could swap an Ipod for a thermonuclear weapon and it not be a police sting operation.

Tom Welsh October 2, 2008 8:15 AM

For those who think the Yellowstone supervolcano would make a good movie, no need to wait!


There is also a book of the same name. Warning: if you take this seriously (and why not?) it is very scary indeed. People in England would be OK. New York, maybe. Chicago, probably not so much. San Francisco – goodnight.

Cumbre Vieja might release as much energy, but would only kill people living on or near sea coasts.

not_Kurt October 2, 2008 10:08 AM

FTA: “[this scary terrorist mastermind was] a confused young man who had grown up in a fatherless home and fallen under the sway of the informant, a onetime member of Chicago’s big, drug-selling Four Corner Hustlers street gang.”

Hmm… a common street thug/criminal^H^H^H sorry, “FBI informant”, (AKA http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agent_provocateur ) is paid ($$$ or reduced sentences, or both) to find an impressionable young dumbass who will go along with some transaction designed to garner media hype for the GWOT and pretty much guarantee a padded resume and promotions ($$$ 🙂 for the FBI handlers. Nice.

Move along. Nothing to see. Go about your lives. All is well. We’re living in a post-9/11 world and we’re in a time of war. Just thank God our Government is protecting us from these threats and hush yourself back to sleep.

Gun Gnut October 2, 2008 11:46 AM

any poison gas?
does eating beans, sauerkrauet or kimchi
make one a potential carrier of WMD?


Those are Weapons of Ass Destruction.

Gun Gnut October 2, 2008 11:55 AM

To Witt, putting away homegrown jihadis is one thing,
or it will be if the DoJ ever encounters a real case.
If the post-9/11 track record is any indication,
prosecuting “cases” built using paid government informants to recruit naive OBL-wannabees
to be entrapped by undercover federal officers
offering to swap guns and grenades for some stereo speakers – ?!! –
may prove to be something else altogether, at least on appeal.

Nothing new here.


The Real Viper Conspiracy
Don’t believe the hype.

by Vin Suprynowicz

On July 1 [1996], a dozen citizens of Phoenix were arrested and charged with being members of the “Viper Militia.” The next day, President Clinton stood on the White House lawn. saying. “I’d like to begin today by saluting the enforcement officers who made arrests in Arizona yesterday to avert a terrible terrorist attack.” But as the indictments are made available to the public and more evidence about the Vipers’ activities emerges, it is becoming increasingly clear that the Viper case is merely the government’s latest assault on citizens exercising their Second Amendment rights. No “terrorist attack,” terrible or otherwise, was planned or even mentioned in the charges. In fact, as the indictments show, the Vipers’ supposedly criminal acts consist merely of (a) the day’s work of a “well-regulated militia,” (b) petty tax violations, and (c) ownership of books, magazines, and insignia (shoulder patches) which are, of course, constitutionally protected under the First Amendment. Furthermore, whenever the indictment refers to a plan for a genuinely criminal act, it appears to have been instigated by ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms) infiltrators and rejected by the membership.

Bacopa October 2, 2008 12:01 PM

I do not believe there are weapons of mass destruction. There are policies of mass destrction. A small army can displace people from their land and capital and cause the deaths of many thousands as in Zimbabwe. Damage to infrastructure can result in the deaths of tens of thousands, as in Iraq. The US did not enter Iraq intending to cause these deaths, yet the death toll is approaching WMD levels, though it’s mostly insurgent groups that have been destroying infrastructure and displacng people these days.

A the same time i can imagine cases where nuclear or chemical weapons could be used for other porupses than mass destruction.

du October 3, 2008 6:59 PM

50% kill rate within 5 metres of the centre of blast for the typical fragmentation grenade is what they used to teach. White phosphorous (willy pete) is nastier; kills less, burns more. Or you could could go to to top of a tall building and drop your speakers onto the passers-by.

Dave October 7, 2008 3:42 AM

Some suggestions for the further cheapening of WMD and terrorism:
3. publishing a security hole

It’s already happened. Look at the reaction to the recent THC proof-of-concept demonstrating what security people the world over had been saying for years, that the e-passport wasn’t secure:

“Another LOSS in the war on terror.
If this isn’t a capital crime it should be.
[…] When we find out who these
people are, just kill them. Done.
Finito, end of problem. Just like a
f***ing cockroach”

(from reader feedback to http://voices.washingtonpost.com/securityfix/2008/09/tool_lets_users_change_their_p.html ). So pointing out security theatre is now a terrorist act for which the penalty is death.

(Uh, Bruce, watch your back :-).

Tarkeel October 8, 2008 7:41 AM

El Reg had a nice article some time back, about why chemical and biological weapons should not be considered WMDs:


“I point out that any thoughtful soldier would surely rather be struck at by chemical warheads than high-explosive ones. He can carry and wear cheap, portable equipment which will make him almost completely safe from chemical attack; nothing like that exists for normal bombardment.”

George October 8, 2008 8:16 AM

WMD isn’t defined all that clearly. But, depending on the laws are looking at here in the states a fully automatic weapon, 50cal or larger also can fall under a WMD. With out saying any sort of bomb or device that can harm more than 1 person at a time can technically be thrown in that category as someone else mentioned.

To be funny about that technically we did find plenty of WMD’s when we invaded just not the ones supposedly everyone was looking for.

cklam October 30, 2008 12:56 AM

Okay, here goes:

(1) If a person kills a lot of people simultaneously or in a comapartively short period of time intentionally and malice aforethought then that person is a mass murderer. (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_mass_murderers_and_spree_killers_by_number_of_victims and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_murder). The consensus is killing more than five persons in a single event according to the above sources.

(2) Said person must not necessesarily employ weapons of mass destruction to achieve this. Your ordinary (hand-) gun will help achieve said person a mass murder just fine. But a (hand-) gun is certainly not a weapon of mass destruction: even if one scales up to gatling-type miniguns with 6000-rpm since all kind of guns fire only one round at a time. That round is designed to do damage to one target at a time.

(3) Weapons of mass destruction are weapons that by design destroy (and/or maim) more than one target at a time. hand grenades, cannon shells, conventional bombs (regardless whether they are stuck on torpedoes or missiles), mines (land or naval, mass-produced or individually manyfactured) and ABC-based weapons are weapons of mass destruction since these are all capable of killing more than five persons at a time (although I admit that one has to encounter “favorable” circumstances like a very target rich environment in order to kill five persons with a single hand grenade – but it is possible). (Note: ABC – abbreviation for “atomic, biological or chemical”). The legal definitions to support this are already in place – see the above wikipedia links)

Sorry, Bruce, on this one you are obviously mistaken. I was, too, being a child of the cold war I associated WMD with ABC weapons. Obviously, in the post-cold-war world where “mass” starts at five victims, we are wrong.

It is not like thirty years ago anymore, where “mass” meant “a whole township and upwards”.

Are people sissies nowadays, or what ?

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.