Maine Man Tries to Build a Dirty Bomb

No one cares, probably because he isn't Muslim. White supremacist terrorism just isn't sexy these days.

Posted on February 25, 2009 at 6:19 AM • 51 Comments

Comments

Aaron MuderickFebruary 25, 2009 6:52 AM

From the description, I have pretty good idea of where he bought that material and how much he had. I'd bet money, it was less than 25 grams. Which is to say that his 'cache of radioactive material suitable for building a dirty bomb' had less radioactivity in it than a 50lb bag of Potassium Chloride snow-melt at Walmart.

While it sounds like he was a racist scum bag, he was also a complete idiot.

Maybe no one cares to report on this story because it is a non-story. Bruce, you ask police to not get us hyped up in fear regarding incompetent low-intelligence terrorists with ridiculous ineffective plots. I think this fits the bill.

nameFebruary 25, 2009 7:01 AM

I worked on tracking white supremacist bad guys and they are dangerous but... When muslims commit real terrorist acts following proper jihad principles as instructed by their prophet muhammad (PB&J) then they must be 'misunderstood' and of course 'misunderstanding' their own religion of islam... PuhLeez.

A nonny BunnyFebruary 25, 2009 7:40 AM

I wouldn't say no one cares. If that were the case I wouldn't have already heard of this case a few days ago.
Admittedly it was brought as "wife shoots husband", rather than "white supremacist building dirty bomb was shot by wife"; but still.

Ryan February 25, 2009 8:02 AM

I think that Bruce is just pointing out that we get all worked up over Muslim extremists and we are currently paying little attention to the home grown threats that are much more immediate. Unless of course, we are talking about those who violate the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act where we drum up terrorism charges for simply harassing or otherwise obstructing Agribusiness. In fact, Micheal Chertoff, last year, said that animal extremists we our country's biggest threat , not white supremacist groups. Apparently he does not remember the Covenant, Sword, and the Arm of Lord with the 50 gallon drums of cyanide, Timothy McVeigh, The Order, or any other the other fun home grown organizations. Food for thought.

JeremyFebruary 25, 2009 8:12 AM

Not to mention the fact that white supremacists simply don't strike many people as a credible large-scale danger, at least not right now.

People are used to lone nuts doing violent things to lash out at acquaintances and their local community for causes X or Y; what really scares them is thinking they've just found another tentacle of a more sprawling and sinister beast lurking among us.

The US has also seen a steady marginalization of racism and racists over the decades, where anti-American Islamic radicals - or at least their strike capabilities - have reached a new crescendo in the very recent past.

This isn't a scheme; it's just common sense.

IainFebruary 25, 2009 8:29 AM

Similar case in the UK where a ex-member of the far right BNP was convicted of stockpiling bomb making ingredients http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/lancashire/6923933.stm

No doubt had he been a muslim the case would have had more media coverage - it got very little.

But I think the problem is the excessive reporting of any Islam related incident.

The 'drinks bottle plot' is is still making its way through the courts, now on its 3rd jury

.

the other AlanFebruary 25, 2009 8:37 AM

I don't know about the rest of you, but I would find it much more comforting to know that I was killed by a domestic terrorist, rather than some foreign one.

SteveJFebruary 25, 2009 8:54 AM

@other Alan: I know that the recession makes protectionism seem attractive, but the experience of the 1930s is that it's counter-productive in the medium and long term. Expect the WTO to address national barriers and tariffs on the free exchange of terrorists.

HJohnFebruary 25, 2009 9:05 AM

I think that is a bit unfair. 60 years ago, a German trying to blow something up in WWII would probably make more news than an act-alone nutjob would have, and it wouldn't be because he was German, it would be because people would believe he was acting on behalf of a organized cause, Nazism.

I'm certainly not saying that being killed one way is better than another, I'm simply saying that we'll naturally react differently to someone who acts alone than someone who we may perceive as acting on behalf of our enemies.

And before anyone puts words in my mouth, I don't think someone being Muslim makes them a terrorist. All the Muslims I know are peaceful people, as are the majority of the world's 1.3 Muslims. It isn't our fault, or most Muslim's fault, that terrorists claim to be acting on behalf of Islam.

Best regards,
HJohn

Clive RobinsonFebruary 25, 2009 9:41 AM

As far as I can see the author of the article is wrong in some areas.

The most glaringly obvious is,

"However, a depleted uranium/thorium bomb couldn’t really be considered a weapon of mass destruction."

As I understand it, US Law regards any shrapnel weapon (ie handgrenade pipe bomb etc) as a weapon of mass destruction simply because it is designed to kill more than one person at the same time.
To make his device even remotely effective he would have to put it inside a suitable containment vessel to ensure the best conversion of chemical energy to kinetic to give wide dispersal.

That said the simple fact is, that DU is used in conventional munitions for two main reasons. First is it's high density and second is it's "hardness". Both make it ideal for penetrating armour be it personal or on tanks etc.

Also it has other interesting properties in that unlike steel it can survive being used for very high velocities with out shatering under acceleration and it's high melting point makes it resistant to atmospheric friction melt (Rail Gun Amunition anyone ;)

I'm not aware of anybody with any knowledge considering DU for either a radialogical or chemical weapon it' just not suitable for either use.

Oh and you would be surprised at just how many people have "bomb making equipment" in their house unknowingly...

All you need to be in deep dodos is to be a plumber with an intrest in camping living with a hairdresser/nail technician with an interest in cake making...

the other AlanFebruary 25, 2009 9:43 AM

@steveJ

Appreciate your thought on this. I was, of course, being very tongue-in-cheek.

History has shown that isolationism and protectionism is a very bad thing: it lead to the more-full-blown WWII.

Had the government not heeded the isolationist calls of Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh and entered the conflict sooner, it may have remained more regional, than world-wide in scope.

As far as the topic is concerned: when domestic terrorism (crime, really) becomes more of a danger than external threats, then we've gone to far protecting against the external.

rjhFebruary 25, 2009 9:55 AM

Calling this a "dirty bomb" effort is wild hysteria, this time about radioactivity. As said above, depleted uranium has useful mechanical properties for shrapnel, but it is not "dirty bomb" material. Radiologically, it is only twice the activity limit for "hot" granite. It's easy to find "hot" granite in Maine. So anyone in Maine with some rocks in their house could equally easily be accused of having materials for a dirty bomb.

mcbFebruary 25, 2009 10:18 AM

"It's easy to find "hot" granite in Maine. So anyone in Maine with some rocks in their house could equally easily be accused of having materials for a dirty bomb."

Of course such a case would be airtight if a confidential informant encouraged our New Englander to duct tape said hot rocks to his pipe bomb.

Not all radiological dispersal devices necessarily involve explosives. IIRC an early recipe (from _The Curve of Binding Energy_?) called for plutonium, nitric acid, a glass beaker, a hotplate, a fan, and an open window...

bobFebruary 25, 2009 10:24 AM

@HJohn: While I agree with "live and let live" I must point out that the "mainstream" muslims would get a better reputation if they would occasionally object to terrorist misadventures done in their name. Instead they sit quietly and do nothing while the vocal/militant elements are shouting "We do this for Islam!" all over Al-jazeera.

I believe that the mindset among westerners (rightly or wrongly) is this: if someone does something heinous and then claims you wanted it that way - if you do not object to what they did, then you probably DID want it that way.

I personally was very much moved on 9/11 (9/12, 9/13 etc) when I saw video of people joyfully cheering and dancing in the streets in the middle east in response to the people murdered in NYC. It made me strongly suspect they agreed with the terrorists. I will probably remember that image as effectively as the Kent State girl, or the Challenger explosion.

gregFebruary 25, 2009 10:34 AM

DU is bad because its forms soluble salts very easily and hence can enter the body aka heavy metal poisoning. Its far worse than lead or mercury poisoning.

I know the RAF guys would keep well away from the Americans when they were handling DU.

Davi OttenheimerFebruary 25, 2009 10:44 AM

Interesting tie-in to domestic abuse. Wonder if abuse is a reliable indicator of potential for greater harm and if anyone is trying to build an intelligence network of battered spouses as an early-warning system.

Davi OttenheimerFebruary 25, 2009 11:45 AM

@ Fred P

Excellent point, and then there was this:

"Following the attacks television evangelist Jerry Falwell called the event a punishment from god and laid the blame on 'paganists', 'abortionists', 'feminists' and 'gays and lesbians', claiming that they 'helped this happen'."

@bob

Remember that too, or just images from the "streets in the middle east"?

dragonfrogFebruary 25, 2009 12:00 PM

@rjh

If calling this an attempt at making a dirty bomb is hysteria, what is the sci-fi liquid bomb story?

It reads like it was very probably an actual attempt - an incompetent idiotic attempt that wouldn't have worked, but an actual concrete attempt.

Assuming for the moment that there ever was a liquid bomb plot, it would have fallen in the same category - idiots trying to do something that would never have worked, but earnestly trying nevertheless.

@Clive Robinson

I knew it - those pastry-wielding terrorists are a threat that must be stopped!

bobFebruary 25, 2009 12:45 PM

@Davi, Fred: No, I dont remember Falwell's statement, but then I consider him a nutter anyway so it would not be memorable to me no matter what he said. I've also heard rumours that the images were "encouraged" by the media if not outright staged; similar to the '68 Chicago riots.

I do remember seeing pictures of Chinese and Russian people expressing sadness at the events of that day (flowers, candles, cards by the embassies).

Subsequently I've also seen indications that a significant quantity of people in the US hold positions running anywhere from "the US govt knew there would be an attack and held off stopping it" all the way to "George Bush personally stormed the planes, knifed and scalped all the passengers and hand-flew them into the buildings (WTC, Pentagon) parachuting invisibly out just before they each hit".

BUT I DO specifically remember looking for and NOT seeing: large groups of muslims in the middle east standing in the streets holding up signs saying "this is not the way" or "we repudiate Osama" or words to that effect. I have occasionally seen small groups and individual Imams issuing proclamations that it was wrong, but for each of those there is another similar sized group issuing proclamations authorizing murdering someone for writing a book.

Hell, they just had that muslim TV exec behead his wife for trying to leave him and the collective position of muslims seems to be they arent sure if thats a privilege of husbands to behead their wives in lieu of divorce or not (and thats the relatively conservative AMERICAN muslim community, the rest of the world's muslims seem to be saying "why are you bothering us with your silly questions? Of course a man can behead his wife if the mood hits him!")

PackagedBlueFebruary 25, 2009 1:06 PM

Last comment Feb 25@ 12:55PM, sure is one to be moderated.

Other forms of dirty bomb might include, flying a c131 with lots of liquid crap, and spraying it on a crowd. A weapon of MASS (weight) damage.

The US law of WMD is really lame. Typical, cheat the system, water down everything.

DavidFebruary 25, 2009 1:43 PM

@name

Let's not forget that all religions have served as pretexts for nationalism, genocide and empire building at one point or another. White supremacists still find support for their cause in the Christian Bible, just as Islamists do in the Koran. I don't think anyone misunderstands bigots and killers as anything but bigots and killers.

Mike BFebruary 25, 2009 2:16 PM

David, what you say is a very common response, and is in my opinion a clear fallacy in confusing the quality and quantity of a threat.

Whether world-wide or in North America, just how many Christians would you say are white supremacists with a violent agenda? Over the past year, how many lives have they taken, how much property have they damaged, how much terror have they caused? Could you say, roughly, that in the whole world they have caused as much terror as in the Swat valley?

How many Christian, Jewish, or Buddhist seminaries support racist views comparable to the very common anti-Semitic views being broadcast recently by another religion (views highlighted with concern in the NY Times today)? Sure, you might find one or two. Would guess that qualitatively their threat is pretty much on a par with Muslim seminaries?

Yes, crazy and evil things have been done in the name of every conceivable cause, but that does not mean that at a given point in time every cause is equally dangerous or equally conducive to violence or social disruption.

DaveBFebruary 25, 2009 2:36 PM

@ bob
There were Muslim have protests in London against the terrorism in their name.

Were you equally moved when the '9/11 celebration' footage that was shown by schedulers on American news networks was revealed to be old footage taken from an earlier, i.e. totally unrelated, celebration?

The ImpFebruary 25, 2009 3:49 PM

Anyone know how much DU they have floating around out there? It's not particularly rare or anything, but the only real application of it seems to be in aerospace or the military - it's just far too damn expensive to work with to take the place of steel or titanium or chromates or whatever, except where there is literally nothing else that will do the job.

The last estimate I heard was that about 50 tonnes of it was left scattered across the desert in Iraq (this is after the Gulf War; it seems that tank-busting munitions weren't needed much in the more recent Iraq Invasion).

Of course, that's 50 tonnes divided up into thousands of bolt-sized pieces… but still. If it were anywhere near as dangerous as it is portrayed (ie; in any capacity other than an anti-tank bullet), Saddam would have spent the following decade-and-a-half collecting it all for his own purposes.

Hmm. I think I just uncovered another conspiracy theory for why the US REALLY invaded Iraq…

DavidFebruary 25, 2009 5:18 PM

@Mike B

You seem to be tagging me as some sort of naive Islamist apologist who hasn't been properly educated about all those crazy people in the middle east. I'm actually pretty well informed about the middle east.

JesusFebruary 25, 2009 6:10 PM

@Mike B
"just how many Christians would you say are white supremacists with a violent agenda?"

Zero.

Now, if you'd asked "Just how many white supremacists with a violent agenda claim to be Christians?", I would have replied "Plenty."


George William HerbertFebruary 25, 2009 6:39 PM

I don't know why anyone would think that DU is more dangerous than mercury - mercury compounds are far, far more likely to end up biologically active, and are more acutely dangerous. There's certainly nothing like a dimethyl mercury analog in uranium chemistry (DMM is a candidate war gas / terrorist weapon off great concern), and the body doses after exposure are lower.

This nutcase in Maine would have caused more actual danger if he'd ground up a few smoke detectors. That danger was well publicized after the Radioactive Boy Scout incident, after all. But nobody's proposed banning (or even requiring ID for purchase of) smoke detectors...

Felix DzerzhinskyFebruary 25, 2009 7:47 PM

There was a documenary a few years back on the BBC about MI5 the UK's domestic intelligence service. I recall one of the MI5 operatives saying the danger with infiltrating right wing groups was that the average level of intelect in the groups was so low you could end up leading the group in a short time!

d3sm0ndFebruary 25, 2009 9:42 PM

@daveb

"There was also rumour that the footage of some Palestinians celebrating the attacks was stock footage of Palestinian reactions to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990. This rumour was proven false shortly afterwards, and CNN issued a statement to that effect."

It's from the wikipedia page mentioned earlier in these comments. It addresses the celebrations at more length, and there're citations to follow, should you doubt.

IqbalFebruary 25, 2009 9:43 PM

Muslims are sexy? Um, thanks Bruce. That's the nicest things anyone has said about me all day.

:-)

NabeshinFebruary 26, 2009 5:13 AM

It's not new: journalists writes on what makes newspapers sell well, or what makes funders be generous in donations with the editors...
news are not the reality, just a representation of it.

A Bit a Dog. And I might do it AgainFebruary 26, 2009 6:22 AM

A committed cadre of a couple hundred/thousand foreigners who want to kill Americans. That's news.

Hundreds/thousands of American's that want to kill other American's? That's not news that's just rough trade.

BF SkinnerFebruary 26, 2009 6:40 AM

Judge Gladys Kessler of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia had something interesting to say about news agencys (National Security Archive vs CIA http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/news/20081105/index.htm).

The news media and they and they alone have the right to determine what is newsworthy.

We all just need to get someone to give a press card

CurtisFebruary 26, 2009 8:02 AM

I have neighbors with more explosive power than this guy appeared to have. Yeah, white supremacists suck, but incompetent underachievers who get shot by their wives simply aren't national news.

djysrvFebruary 26, 2009 9:19 AM

The so called radioactive materials collected in Maine may not be very dangerous given the controls that exist on really radioactive stuff. For instance, you cannot get radioactive cobalt or cesium without a license, and they are not easy to fake. A "sting" in Maryland a few years ago resulted in significant tightening of the requirements. For all we know what this guy had was the raw material for pigments used in fiesta ware.

If you want a scary white guy with evil intent look no further than William Krar who built binary chemical weapons (acid and potassium cyanide) in his garage in Texas, and allegedly distributed his inventory to others before being arrested in 2003. He was subsequently convicted sentenced in 2004, at age 56, to 11 years jail time for refusing to say what he'd done with the stuff, and, of course, for his intent to use it.

http://www.csmonitor.com/2003/1229/p02s01-usju.html

Phoenix WomanFebruary 27, 2009 8:22 AM

Remember the group of schlubs who were "plotting to blow up the Sears Tower" (http://buzzflash.com/analysis/06/06/ana06048.html) but whose most competent member proved to be the FBI operative who was egging them on? That got lots and lots of coverage, despite the fact that their 'plot' didn't and couldn't have got very far.

Remember the bust of the right-wing nutcase group in Noonday, Texas (http://www.commondreams.org/views04/0622-04.htm) that was supplying suitcase bombs and other goodies to right-wing militia outfits nationwide a few years back? Of course not -- because that case didn't get anywhere near the promotion from Bush's DoJ, or coverage from the media, as did the alleged Sears Tower plotters who hadn't the first clue as to how to gather bomb-making materials, much less use them.

RogerFebruary 27, 2009 2:50 PM

There are several obvious reasons why this is a minor story, none of them requiring anti-Muslim bias.

For one, of course, is the fact that he is not a danger to anyone as he was killed over two months ago (allegedly because of spousal abuse, although it might be noted that the self-confessed murderer stands to inherit his considerable wealth.) A second obvious reason is that no bomb had actually been constructed, and there is no evidence that he had the ability to do so, nor had even gathered ingredients to do so [1].

However, the most obvious problem with the story is that the only evidence that the deceased person was interested in any sort of unlawful act are:
a) the post-facto claims of the person who murdered him; and
b) unauthenticated documents that had been in the possession of the person who murdered him. To wit: a print out of instructions for building a dirty bomb (requiring ingredients that he did not possess), and an unsubmitted application form to join a neo-Nazi organisation -- an organisation which, according to Wikipedia, largely collapsed two years ago.

The report on Wikileaks actually originated with the "Washington Regional Threat and Analysis Center", not the FBI, and when a journalist contacted the WRTAC, was told:
"That's a document that was pulled a month ago when the investigation was still ongoing, we've since determined that there is nothing to it. [...] And the fact is, it was put out before the investigation was completed."

A fairly reasonable summary, and a good explanation for the minor degree of interest from the press.

On the interpipes, however, it is guaranteed to turn into a Force 6 conspiracy theory.

____
Note:
1. Most of the "suspicious chemicals" have no known role in bomb making; although they could be used as incendiaries, they are significantly less effective than the same dollar value of petrol (gasoline.) Further, while they are not known to be used in bombs, several are commonly used in amateur chemical experimentation, and two have also been used in the manufacture of illicit recreational drugs. While one of the chemicals found may be used in the production of certain currently popular improvised explosives (among other purposes), none of the other ingredients that would be combined with it to make a bomb were found, even though the deceased was a wealthy man, and the other ingredients are not restricted materials. Further, the very weakly radioactive materials that were supposedly intended to turn it into a radiological bomb are, in fact, completely useless for that purpose.

HughFebruary 28, 2009 1:39 AM

Home grown terrorism is not sexy because main stream media don’t think so. Threat keeps no boundaries in today’s moving society so it can come from any direction and it can be insider or outsider. Even the word dirty bomb has quite an impact on public physique so why this news won’t be as sexy for main stream media is hard to comprehend.

AnonymousMarch 2, 2009 6:32 AM

@Roger

"A second obvious reason is that no bomb had actually been constructed,.."

neither had the "liquid" bombers. Most of them didn't even have passports. Yet i still can't carry a bottle of coke through the check point.

RogerMarch 2, 2009 11:12 AM

@Anonymous of March 2, 2009 6:32 AM:

> "A second obvious reason is that no bomb had actually been constructed,.."

> neither had the "liquid" bombers. ...

While that has been widely claimed on the internet, it is not true. The trials presented clear evidence that the bombers had tesed bombs -- evidence including even video surveillance footage of two of them building a bomb. This footage was taken in the flat they had converted to a "bomb factory", with a little workshop area with all the components for 14 more bombs laid out in an orderly manner for rapid assembly.

> Most of them didn't even have passports.

This claim, which seems to have originated with Craig Murray, is at best severe exaggeration. Of the eight persons charged with terrorism offences, at the time of arrest only two had not yet received their passports (and yes, they had applied for them some time previously.) Far from having no passports, five of the eight had actually travelled to Pakistan and / or Afghanistan within the past year or so before their arrests.

Additionally, Rashid Rauf (who was wanted by the UK in connection with the case, arrested in Pakistan but escaped from custody) was in possession of forged passports at the time of his arrest. I have not been able to find any source that states what names were on those passports.

Finally, although these bombs are clearly and obviously designed to attack passenger aircraft, Abdullah Ahmed Ali had started researching other possible targets. This may have been a back-up plan in case the last two passports where not available in time.

Phoenix WomanMarch 30, 2009 8:14 AM

1) The Mainer in question had moved to Maine from Ft. Bragg, where his late father had been a local landlord/slumlord who reared his son to be as bitter and crazy as he was. Daddy also came to a bad end -- in his case, he was apparently shot by one of his tenants.

2) When Daddy died, he left his son a trust fund that supplied the kid with $15 million a year. I expect that Junior was able to do quite a lot with that much money. (The Noonday, Texas cyanide- and suitcase-bomb makers had a lot less, and they were able to supply right-wing militia groups for years.)

3) This guy had more dough -- and more expertise -- than several other terrorist wannabees, yet got far less national coverage. (Remember the guy who thought he could take out the Brooklyn Bridge with a blowtorch? Or the silly schlubs who an FBI informant egged on into "plotting" to blow up the Sears Tower when they didn't even know where it was?) He would have eventually figured out how to get some useful material, probably via the Russian Mob (remember, the old Soviet missile sites haven't been secured very well the last few decades, what with the country coming close to collapse a few times and all). Frankly, his self-made widow rates a Congressional Medal of Honor.

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