IEDs Are Now Weapons of Mass Destruction

In an article on the recent arrests in New York:

On Wednesday night, they planted one of the mock improvised explosive devices in a trunk of a car outside the temple and two mock bombs in the back seat of a car outside the Jewish center, the authorities said. Shortly thereafter, police officers swooped in and broke the windows on the suspects’ black sport utility vehicle and charged them with conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction within the United States and conspiracy to acquire and use antiaircraft missiles.

I’ve covered this before. According to the law, almost any weapon is a weapon of mass destruction.

From the complaint:

… knowingly did combine, conspire, confederate and agree together and with each other to use a weapon of mass destruction, to wit, a surface-to-air guided missile system and an improvised explosive device (“IED”) containing over 30 pounds of Composition 4 (‘C-4″) military grade plastic explosive material against persons and property within the United States.

Posted on May 21, 2009 at 3:54 PM45 Comments


Anonymous May 21, 2009 4:59 PM

Yet a refrigerator full of rotting food, and a bad mix of cleaners, that sent people to the hospital is not a chemical weapon?

dragonfrog May 21, 2009 5:17 PM

Another of those cases that leaves you wondering whether, without an FBI “informant” egging them on and arranging phony bombs for them, this “terrorist plot” would ever have gotten past the stage of a couple of guys griping in a vague way about wanting to do something…

Joshua R. Poulson May 21, 2009 5:39 PM

The common view of WMDs is that, when used, they are random in application and wide in effect. IEDs in Iraq triggered by someone remotely to attack a specific vehicle in a convoy, so I suspect “WMD” doesn’t apply to those. However, bombs, improvised or not, intended to be exploded next to a crowded temple seems to fit the definition. The problem here is that both terms “IED” and “WMD” are very broad, and in the Venn Diagram of Home Security Jurisprudence managed to intersect in this case. C4 is 1.34 times as powerful as TNT and 30 pounds of it is pretty potent for randomly flinging sheet metal from the side of a car into a crowd of people.

Tangerine Blue May 21, 2009 5:49 PM

I think you nailed it.

As long as the FBI will provide “weapons of mass destruction” to everybody with a gripe, we’ll continue to have plenty of terror in the USA.

hey nony mouse May 21, 2009 5:53 PM

@ Anonymous at 4:59 PM

“Yet a refrigerator full of rotting food, and a bad mix of cleaners, that sent people to the hospital is not a chemical weapon?”

Of course not it’s a biological weapon, much nastier as like the mould it just contnues to grow as long as there is food to feed it.

gunonymous May 21, 2009 5:55 PM

Weapon of Mass Destruction seems to mean
“not specificall targeting an single individual or a part of an individual’ –
like say an NRA approved kinetic weapon

Roy May 21, 2009 5:59 PM

The FBI could come up with a dummy suitcase nuke, with of course a battery-powered red LED countdown timer, and an undercover agent posing as a radical could talk some dimwit misfits into taking the suitcase to New York City, starting the timer, and then running away to catch a taxi out of town — only to be immediately caught by FBI agents who could then brag about saving New York City from a terrorist ‘cell’ plotting a nuclear attack.

Why do the news media take all this nonsense at face value? Oh, their advertisers are all multinationals — sorry, I forgot.

PP Kozon May 21, 2009 6:05 PM

“Weapons of mass destruction” has always been a problematic term. Of the current set, I don’t see anything but nuclear weapons truly qualifying, and many “conventional” weapons should qualify.

David Conradie May 21, 2009 6:06 PM

@Tangerine Blue: as long as there’s a media that lives off sensationalism, there’ll be terror in the USA.

David Conradie May 21, 2009 6:11 PM

I don’t get this. “they planted one of the mock improvised explosive devices in a trunk of a car … and two mock bombs in the back seat of a car”

If the devices were “mock”, why are they being charged for real bomb offenses?

Tangerine Blue May 21, 2009 6:13 PM

@Joshua R. Poulson
You’re probably right about how the term is used in LEO circles, but there’s a game going on that exploits ambiguity in the language.

When anybody with a hand grenade is a terrorist with a WMD, it’s real easy to keep the terror alert level at Schizophrenic Paranoia.

And when the public will support invading random non-christian nations under the pretext that country has terrorists with WMDs, we have a pretty low standard for a causus belli.

Trichinosis USA May 21, 2009 7:12 PM

While I agree that the potential for contrived entrapment of low hanging terrorist fruit is there; I am also having a massive giggle fit knowing that the fact that the FBI drove this investigation is almost certainly making the completely useless Department of Hopeless Insecurity fifteen different kinds of pissed off.

PackagedBlue May 21, 2009 7:45 PM

I wonder how much the nutcases paid for 30lbs of inert C4?

I wonder where the money came from, planning to buy stingers?

While peace requires action from LEO, and setups, there is something called entrapment and inducement.

I do not like the watering down of real WMD, into “whatever weapons.”

While I have read some news, more facts might prove helpful.

hillbilly717 May 21, 2009 7:54 PM

Stuff like this has to happen so the powers that BE can justify what they are stealing from americans! I suspect many of these stories are just propaganda ploys

Dave May 21, 2009 8:02 PM

I assumed the term ‘WMD’ in this context was referring to the planes they planned to bring down with the rockets. Post-9/11, planes can reasonably be called WMDs if crashed into populated areas.

Anonymous May 21, 2009 10:06 PM

Weapon of Mass Destruction seems to mean
“not specifically targeting an single individual or a part of an individual’ –
like say an NRA approved kinetic weapon

Wandering May 21, 2009 11:15 PM

According to the law, almost any weapon is a weapon of mass destruction.

Unless, of course, it is a loaded weapon in a National Park.

-Wandering carefully in the parks

Mass Distraction May 22, 2009 12:00 AM

Thankfully the world has not seen a “weapon of mass destruction” used in over 60 years, since the atomic bombs used in Japan at the end of WW2. Before the invention of nuclear weapons, there was no term “weapon of mass destruction” but there were bombs, TNT, and other weapons and devices designed to kill dozens of people at once or bring descruction to individual buildings.

A weapon of “mass destruction” is something like a nuclear or hydrogen bomb designed to kill AT_LEAST_THOUSANDS of people at once, and level entire cities. Any loss of human life because of war is tragic, but IED’s and gernades used to kill (even a dozen or so) people are not really “mass destruction” – that’s a few magnitudes of order lower than “mass destruction” in my mind.

Deron Meranda May 22, 2009 1:26 AM

Wouldn’t a weapon of mass destruction have to actually destroy mass? Like a pocket full of antimatter, a disintegration ray gun, or some sort of nuclear device. Maybe a mini black hole would qualify too.

Really though what you’re talking about is just some silly ambiguous label that’s there because they have to call it something. Politicians almost without exception assign their own definitions to words and terms all the time without regard to accepted English language. These are the same people that name their bills not to accurately describe what they are about, but awkwardly contrived solely so they form clever acronyms–perhaps to try to show the public just how smart they are? And our own industry misuses terms all the time too, so why expect that politicians would somehow do better? When they say “weapon of mass destruction” you can’t expect that phrase to mean what it would if interpreted in plain English. Nothing the government does works that way.

However, language aside, certainly foiling this plan was a good thing. Their plan was obviously to kill lots of random innocent people, and in a way that would create widespread fear….pretty much a definition of (planned) terrorism.

Sure, the amount of destruction if they actually pulled it off might not be all that great and therefore not meet the scale requirements at which you consider a weapon of destruction WD to cross the threshold to be a weapon of mass destruction WMD. But that’s just arguing over the meaning of the word “mass”. Is that really all that important in this case? Save the sarcasm for the truly stupid cases, like claiming that blinky lights on advertising signs are WMDs.

Cybergibbons May 22, 2009 1:40 AM

Trichinosis USA – which part or remit of the DHS would allow them to carry out such an investigation?

James May 22, 2009 1:41 AM

@PP Kozon:

Do you mean fission bombs should be considered weapons of mass creation?

Kally May 22, 2009 2:43 AM

I’m not that smart, I’ll grant.

That said, this whole thing reeks of a level of media complicity with propaganda to me that is quite nauseating.

hwKeitel May 22, 2009 3:51 AM

@dragonfrog: you are right.
looks like a “new” frightening threat.

reminds me of the attempt to outlaw the NPD (nazi-friendly party) in germany. they tried and had to admit that there are many undercover agents. The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution was not willing to give the names. So the public can’t verify the significance of the agents to the party.

sounds funny, but it’s not.

Bill May 22, 2009 4:11 AM

There’s a whiff of entrapment.

Diluting the term ‘WMD’ might be beneficial, eventually people will stop fearing it. Where fear is the fuel of stupid policies.

cynic May 22, 2009 4:26 AM

The US and UK governments got a lot of flack for not finding “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq. Everyone knew Iraq possessed powerful conventional weapons so the implication was that they also possessed nuclear, chemical or biological weapons and that was one (ostensible) reason for going to war.

The WMD term is now bandied about all the time for, I suspect, three reasons: first the media always talk up the sensationalist aspect of stories because it increases sales. There is therefore a continual devaluation of meaning and import in terms like this. (Incidentally the same happens with any slightly exotic term, which is why economic and political discourse is littered with pseudo-scientific confetti like “G7”, “G20” and “M3” etc.)

Second, the authorities presumably are happy for this devaluation, and for the slight time lag that it takes most people (not just us nit-picking hair-splitters) to catch up. They will not get caught with their pants down next time they go looking for weapons of mass destruction because they are, now, all around.

Finally, relatively low-level authority figures (and I include FBI agents and their ilk) feel much more important if they say they prevented a WMD attack instead of admitting they conned a few not very bright people into believing they were actors in the global scene.

Hey Nony Mouse May 22, 2009 4:51 AM

@ James,

“Do you mean fission bombs should be considered weapons of mass creation?

So mass destruction -v- mass creation hmm.

As an engineer I’d go with creation every time.

Maybe I should start a pro-creation movment.

Anybody else want to join?

Hugh May 22, 2009 4:51 AM

So we did find WMDs in Iraq after all! Thank goodness we weren’t lied to after all.

josephdietrich May 22, 2009 5:03 AM

The ambiguity of the phrase “Weapons of Mass Destruction” (WMDs) was the whole reason it gained currency in the first place. After all, the perfectly serviceable phrase “Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical weapons” (NBCs) already had a long history of use in the defense establishment.

But that phrase is too clear, and doesn’t leave scaremongers much wiggle room when trying to charge “bad guys” with heinous crimes. They needed an emotionally-loaded, politically-useful catch-all term that could be used to mean “bad weapons that bad guys use.”

Thus, “WMD.”

uk visa lawyer May 22, 2009 5:27 AM

‘“It was fully controlled at all times,” a law enforcement official said.’
So the FBI find 4 hapless individuals; lead them; supply them and nail them… and then proclaim a victory for the FBI and homeland security.
America deserves better.

RogerGS May 22, 2009 6:11 AM

The ambiguity of the phrase “Weapons of Mass Destruction” (WMDs) was the whole reason it gained currency in the first place. After all, the perfectly serviceable phrase “Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical weapons” (NBCs) already had a long history of use in the defense establishment.

Can you think of at least one media outlet that might have objections to that term?

BF Skinner May 22, 2009 6:43 AM

@David Conradie “If the devices were “mock”, why are they being charged for real bomb offenses?”

I imagine the argument is that they have mens rea and Actus reus; guilty intent, and act. Doesn’t matter if they couldn’t actually do it. If I want to kill my ex and take a shot at her it doesn’t matter that I missed. Intent and act. These guys intended that bombs blow up and place devices they expected would blow up. Intent and act. Consequence of the act is a different element in the law.

I’m wondering if beyond the entrapment argument that LE are actually acting as a pressure relief when they sting these people. And, if the defense can’t prove entrapment it IS a sting not a crime.

There are about 300 million Americans…75 million of them with IQ’s below 90. 87 million have never finished high school. Only 100 million finish college.

All are running around with their own bubbling cauldron of fears, desires, hate, bad data, bad reasoning, maybe bad wiring, welded shut inside their skulls.

It would be remarkable that should some of these people not get the oppourtunity to lash out they wouldn’t seize it. Out of a population of 300million there is a pool of crazy (the brain eater in prison), a pool of confirmed dangerous (already our LE load), and a, larger(?), pool of borderlines.

Maybe LEO’s are lancing a social blister, operating a pressure relief function by giving these people a venue to act out, and incriminate, in a controlled manner with low risk consequence.

bob May 22, 2009 6:56 AM

@Deron Meranda, josephdietrich: The term “WMD” is a political (only) tool. Exactly the same as “assault rifle” a couple of decades ago. It only has political value, not security or military value. It has no meaning other than what the politician who coined the term claims it means. These politico-buzzwords are used to allow people who are not in power to become so and stay that way until they are displaced by somebody who comes up with something scarier that only THEY know how to fix.

It was a precedent established in “the Music Man” (‘Oh, we got trouble. Right here in River City. With a capital “T” and that rhymes with “WMD” and that stands for fools’).

Furthermore, by using a word that is not in the dictionary, they can radically shift the meaning of it as times change and then claim thats what it meant all along. From a politician’s perspective it is Nirvana – all empowerment and no accountability. And then, after 53 years in the Senate, they can even change the meaning enough that they can point to some random even and pretend their goal has been achieved [which technically it has – theyve freeloaded off of the taxpayers all their lives without having ever lifted so much as a finger in actual contribution to society] and claim success as they walk out the door to accolades, memoirs, cushy board memberships and speaking fees.

Mashiara May 22, 2009 6:56 AM

NBC ? AFAIRecall it was ABC as in Atomic…

Google time: Seems like both terms are used (ABC especially in military context, which is why I remember that) and mean basically the same thing. Though I like that the more explicit CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear) is just that, it really doesn’t roll of your tongue as easily.

josephdietrich May 22, 2009 7:06 AM

Can you think of at least one media outlet that might have objections to that term?

I can, but that is beside the point. It would have been trivial to rephrase it to “Biological, Chemical, and Nuclear weapons” (to go alphabetically) or any other combination to avoid the objections of a television network. But defining a fairly closed category of weapons is not what those coming up with the term intended. They were aiming to introduce a scary, open-ended phrase to the lexicon (“mass destruction!!!1!”), one that would both frighten the public and could be interpreted by lawmakers to mean what they wanted it to, and they accomplished that goal.

Mark R May 22, 2009 7:53 AM

I propose a new kind of movie plot:

FBI agents infiltrate a group of borderline-radical-but-not-too-bright outcasts, take them to the local Rec center, and teach them to play ping pong.

One year later, this rag-tag group of underdog upstarts has made it all the way to the Olympic finals where they face the seemingly-invincible Chinese ping pong team. They learn to overcome their petty differences, believe in themselves, and a lesson about sportsmanship, bringing home the gold medal as the crowd chants “USA! USA!”.

Nah, on second thought, I’ve already seen that movie.

Fred F. May 22, 2009 5:22 PM

Fusion bombs are still destroying mass. The resulting energy is from there being less mass in the resulting ‘heavier’ elements than there was in the original ‘lighter’ elements.

E=mc^2 with m being the mass being destroyed.

Presto May 23, 2009 5:42 AM

Give me a break. It’s not entrapment. It’s a sting. These yahoos were willing to commit the crime.

Much like undercover prostitutes: they don’t need to give the “john” head just to arrest and prosecute them. Setting the price and making the deal is enough.

Same with narcotics: If you show the cash and make the deal, you’ve committed the crime, regardless of whether or not you received inert drugs, or no drugs at all.

Sometimes I get the feeling that most of you wear tin-foil hats at times. The Feds got some bad dudes willing to kill people off the street and you want to bitch about it. Sometimes law enforcement actually DOES the right thing, but you’re so used to bitching about them that you can’t see something decent when it comes along.

scot May 24, 2009 7:10 AM

“Can you think of at least one media outlet that might have objections to that term?” (term == NBC).

In the Navy (not the USN, but allied) I had to pass an NBCD (nuclear, biological, chemical, damage control) course to qualify sea-going. This included the rather interesting experience of a confined-space CS gassing. The term ‘NBC’ has been in use in the military for a long time.

Anyway, the term ‘WMD’ for me was nearly always synonymous with nuclear weapons. Sure it’s also used to cover biological and chemical weapons also but the idea of ‘mass destruction’ meant really, the obliteration of entire cities with single weapons. So that rules out, for example, the 8th US Army Air Force and RAF Bomber Command, which are ‘conventional weapons’, as were for example the extensive B-29 attacks on Japanese cities, possibly the most destructive war campaign ever waged, certainly by the USA, bearing in mind that more people died (immediately, anyhow) in the Toyko firebombing than in the attacks on Hiroshima or Nagasaki. While the allied air bombing offensive of WW2 certainly caused ‘mass destruction’ it was not from a, singular, WEAPON of mass destruction, and in my mind that was always the difference.

So yeah, basically the chocolate ration has been increased from 9 ounces to 6 ounces.

alleung June 15, 2009 3:34 PM

I guess the Bush Administration was right all along. Iraq really did have WMDs. Saddam just did a great job in hiding the IEDs intended for random targets among those intended for specific targets. Good thing for Saddam that he didn’t label the IEDs according to their intended targets . We would’ve found his WMDs for sure then.

Elliot June 16, 2009 4:10 AM

I served in Iraq back in ’05. I saw an IED go off while I was in a guard tower. Quite a big explosion. I don’t think anyone was in the blast but then again they don’t tell you everything.

I also had an IED go off in front of the vehicle i was driving. So close that I could still see the flash right next to my vehicle.

I guess depending on how big the IED is… the small one that went off in front of my vehicle I wouldn’t describe as a WMD but the one I saw go off while I was in the guard tower could have been.

I also seem to recall a story about how an IED so big took out a large chuck of a convoy. Can’t remember what they used but all I know is that it wiped out a lot of vehicles. It was awhile ago… so it could be like the fishing story or it could have been just an exaggeration.

Wondering June 16, 2009 6:49 PM

Since no weapons of mass destruction was found in Iraq then by that standard none of the weapons found in Iraq would qualify as WMD’s. I do believe that rocket launchers and IED’s has been found ?

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