Entries Tagged "weapons"

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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 PMView Comments

Lessons from the Columbine School Shooting

Lots of high-tech gear, but that’s not what makes schools safe:

Some of the noticeable security measures remain, but experts say the country is exploring a new way to protect kids from in-school violence: administrators now want to foster school communities that essentially can protect themselves with or without the high-tech gear.

“The first and best line of defense is always a well-trained, highly alert staff and student body,” said Kenneth Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, an Ohio-based firm specializing in school security.

“The No. 1 way we find out about weapons in schools is not from a piece of equipment [such as a metal detector] but from a kid who comes forward and reports it to an adult that he or she trusts.”

Of course, there never was an epidemic of school shootings — it just seemed that way in the media. And kids are much safer in schools than outside of them.

Posted on April 29, 2009 at 5:57 AMView Comments

Definition of "Weapon of Mass Destruction"

At least, according to U.S. law:

18 U.S.C. 2332a

  • (2) the term "weapon of mass destruction" means—
    • (A) any destructive device as defined in section 921 of this title;
    • (B) any weapon that is designed or intended to cause death or serious bodily injury through the release, dissemination, or impact of toxic or poisonous chemicals, or their precursors;
    • (C) any weapon involving a biological agent, toxin, or vector (as those terms are defined in section 178 of this title); or
    • (D) any weapon that is designed to release radiation or radioactivity at a level dangerous to human life;

18 U.S.C. 921

  • (4) The term "destructive device" means—
    • (A) any explosive, incendiary, or poison gas—
      • (i) bomb,
      • (ii) grenade,
      • (iii) rocket having a propellant charge of more than four ounces,
      • (iv) missile having an explosive or incendiary charge of more than one-quarter ounce,
      • (v) mine, or
      • (vi) device similar to any of the devices described in the preceding clauses;
    • (B) any type of weapon (other than a shotgun or a shotgun shell which the Attorney General finds is generally recognized as particularly suitable for sporting purposes) by whatever name known which will, or which may be readily converted to, expel a projectile by the action of an explosive or other propellant, and which has any barrel with a bore of more than one-half inch in diameter; and
    • (C) any combination of parts either designed or intended for use in converting any device into any destructive device described in subparagraph (A) or (B) and from which a destructive device may be readily assembled.

The term "destructive device" shall not include any device which is neither designed nor redesigned for use as a weapon; any device, although originally designed for use as a weapon, which is redesigned for use as a signaling, pyrotechnic, line throwing, safety, or similar device; surplus ordnance sold, loaned, or given by the Secretary of the Army pursuant to the provisions of section 4684 (2), 4685, or 4686 of title 10; or any other device which the Attorney General finds is not likely to be used as a weapon, is an antique, or is a rifle which the owner intends to use solely for sporting, recreational or cultural purposes.

This is a very broad definition, and one that involves the intention of the weapon’s creator as well as the details of the weapon itself.

In an e-mail, John Mueller commented:

As I understand it, not only is a grenade a weapon of mass destruction, but so is a maliciously-designed child’s rocket even if it doesn’t have a warhead. On the other hand, although a missile-propelled firecracker would be considered a weapons of mass destruction if its designers had wanted to think of it as a weapon, it would not be so considered if it had previously been designed for use as a weapon and then redesigned for pyrotechnic use or if it was surplus and had been sold, loaned, or given to you (under certain circumstances) by the Secretary of the Army.

It’s also means that we are coming up on the 25th anniversary of the Reagan administration’s long-misnamed WMD-for-Hostages deal with Iran.

Bad news for you, though. You’ll have to amend that line you like using in your presentations about how all WMD in all of history have killed fewer people than OIF (or whatever), since all artillery, and virtually every muzzle-loading military long arm for that matter, legally qualifies as an WMD. It does make the bombardment of Ft. Sumter all the more sinister. To say nothing of the revelation that The Star Spangled Banner is in fact an account of a WMD attack on American shores.

Amusing, to be sure, but there’s something important going on. The U.S. government has passed specific laws about “weapons of mass destruction,” because they’re particularly scary and damaging. But by generalizing the definition of WMDs, those who write the laws greatly broaden their applicability. And I have to wonder how many of those who vote in favor of the laws realize how general they really are, or — if they do know — vote for them anyway because they can’t be seen to be “soft” on WMDs.

It reminds me of those provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act — and other laws — that created police powers to be used for “terrorism and other crimes.”

EDITED TO ADD (4/14): Prosecutions based on this unreasonable definition.

Posted on April 6, 2009 at 7:10 AMView Comments

Electromagnetic Pulse Grenades

There are rumors of a prototype:

Even the highly advanced US forces hadn’t been generally thought to have developed a successful pulse-bomb yet, with most reports indicating that such a capability remains a few years off (as has been the case for decades). Furthermore, the pulse ordnance has usually been seen as large and heavy, in the same league as an aircraft bomb or cruise missile warhead — or in the case of an HPM raygun, of a weapons-pod or aircraft payload size.

Now, however, it appears that in fact the US military has already managed to get the coveted pulse-bomb tech down to grenade size. Colonel Buckhout apparently envisages the Army electronic warfare troopers of tomorrow lobbing a pulse grenade through the window of an enemy command post or similar, so knocking out all their comms.

Posted on February 26, 2009 at 6:48 AMView Comments

Arming New York City Police with Machine Guns

I have mixed feelings about this:

The NYPD wants all 1,000 Police Academy recruits trained to use M4 automatic machine guns – which are now carried only by the 400 cops in its elite Emergency Service Unit – in time for the holiday celebration in Times Square.

On the one hand, deploying these weapons seems like a bad idea. On the other hand, training is almost never a bad thing.

Oh, and in case you were worried:

There is no intelligence Times Square will be a target on New Year’s Eve. The area will be on high alert, but has been so for every year since the millennium.

Posted on December 16, 2008 at 3:43 PMView Comments

Killing Robot Being Tested by Lockheed Martin


The frightening, but fascinatingly cool hovering robot – MKV (Multiple Kill Vehicle), is designed to shoot down enemy ballistic missiles.

A video released by the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) shows the MKV being tested at the National Hover Test Facility at Edwards Air Force Base, in California.

Inside a large steel cage, Lockheed’s MKV lifts off the ground, moves left and right, rapidly firing as flames shoot out of its bottom and sides. This description doesn’t do it any justice really, you have to see the video yourself.

During the test, the MKV is shown to lift off under its own propulsion, and remains stationary, using it’s on board retro-rockets. The potential of this drone is nothing short of science-fiction.

When watching the video, you can’t help but be reminded of post-apocalyptic killing machines, seen in such films as The Terminator and The Matrix.

Okay, people. Now is the time to start discussing the rules of war for autonomous robots. Now, when it’s still theoretical.

Posted on December 15, 2008 at 6:07 AMView Comments

Flying While Armed

Two years ago, all it took to bypass airport security was filling out a form:

Grant was flying from Boston to San Diego on Jan. 1, 2007, when he approached an American Airlines ticket counter at Logan International Airport and flashed a badge he carries as a part-time assistant harbor master in Chatham, according to federal prosecutors.

Grant, a medical supplies salesman, also filled out a “flying while armed” form and wrote that he worked for the Department of Homeland Security, prosecutors said.


He allegedly did the same on his return trip to Boston three days later.

But this time, according to court documents, he was invited into the cockpit, was told the identity of the two air marshals on the flight, and was informed who else on the plane was armed, which raises security concerns.

Since then, the TSA has made changes in procedure.

At the airport, law enforcers now need advance permission to fly armed.

“We have added substantial layers of security to this process,” said TSA spokesman George Naccara.

The case took almost two years to come to light so federal authorities could tighten airport security and prevent similar incidents, said Christina DiIorio-Sterling, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office.

“The flying public can be assured that this has led to a change of procedures to ensure that credentials are properly vetted,” said Ann Davis, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration.

Posted on December 9, 2008 at 7:22 AMView Comments

Lessons from Mumbai

I’m still reading about the Mumbai terrorist attacks, and I expect it’ll be a long time before we get a lot of the details. What we know is horrific, and my sympathy goes out to the survivors of the dead (and the injured, who often seem to get ignored as people focus on death tolls). Without discounting the awfulness of the events, I have some initial observations:

  • Low-tech is very effective. Movie-plot threats — terrorists with crop dusters, terrorists with biological agents, terrorists targeting our water supplies — might be what people worry about, but a bunch of trained (we don’t really know yet what sort of training they had, but it’s clear that they had some) men with guns and grenades is all they needed.
  • At the same time, the attacks were surprisingly ineffective. I can’t find exact numbers, but it seems there were about 18 terrorists. The latest toll is 195 dead, 235 wounded. That’s 11 dead, 13 wounded, per terrorist. As horrible as the reality is, that’s much less than you might have thought if you imagined the movie in your head. Reality is different from the movies.
  • Even so, terrorism is rare. If a bunch of men with guns and grenades is all they really need, then why isn’t this sort of terrorism more common? Why not in the U.S., where it’s easy to get hold of weapons? It’s because terrorism is very, very rare.
  • Specific countermeasures don’t help against these attacks. None of the high-priced countermeasures that defend against specific tactics and specific targets made, or would have made, any difference: photo ID checks, confiscating liquids at airports, fingerprinting foreigners at the border, bag screening on public transportation, anything. Even metal detectors and threat warnings didn’t do any good:

    “If I look at what we had, which all of us complained about, it could not have stopped what took place,” he told CNN. “It’s ironic that we did have such a warning, and we did have some measures.”

    He said people were told to park away from the entrance and had to go through a metal detector. But he said the attackers came through a back entrance.

    “They knew what they were doing, and they did not go through the front. All of our arrangements are in the front,” he said.

If there’s any lesson in these attacks, it’s not to focus too much on the specifics of the attacks. Of course, that’s not the way we’re programmed to think. We respond to stories, not analysis. I don’t mean to be unsympathetic; this tendency is human and these deaths are really tragic. But 18 armed people intent on killing lots of innocents will be able to do just that, and last-line-of-defense countermeasures won’t be able to stop them. Intelligence, investigation, and emergency response. We have to find and stop the terrorists before they attack, and deal with the aftermath of the attacks we don’t stop. There really is no other way, and I hope that we don’t let the tragedy lead us into unwise decisions about how to deal with terrorism.

EDITED TO ADD (12/13): Two interesting essays.

Posted on December 1, 2008 at 8:03 AMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.