Today in reckless and deceptive fearmongering

Today’s Vancouver Sun has an article titled “Al-Qaida on brink of using nuclear bomb”. It is a most misleading headline. It’s actually a reprint from the Daily Telegraph which, while not my favourite British newspaper by a long shot, at least gives it’s version of the article the title “WikiLeaks: al-Qaeda ‘is planning a dirty bomb'”. A radiological “dirty” bomb and a nuclear weapon are not the same thing. One is nasty and can kill people. The other is nasty and can kill a whole lot of people. ie. a step up from a typical IED v. a true weapon of mass destruction. You learn this, sort of, in the body of the Sun article, but most people will scan the headline and freak out.

Actually reading the cable that directly relates to al Qaeda further dilutes the sensationalism. Here it is in full:

21. (C/NF) Terrorist acquisition of WMD was the next topic of major concern. Although there was a limited assessed capability for al-Qaeda and other groups to acquire WMD, the intent was clearly present, and there were ongoing credible reports of attempts to recruit the needed expertise. A “dirty” radiological IED program was assessed to be under active consideration by al-Qaeda.

Get that? al-Qaeda wants a dirty bomb [surprise!] but lacks capability. Things they would also like: Sharks with lasers in their eyes and a secret volcano headquarters. Furthermore, the Sun warns:

A leading atomic regulator has privately warned that the world stands on the brink of a “nuclear 9/11”.

In the Telegraph, we learn this regulator is Tomihiro Taniguchi, the deputy director-general of the IAEA. The Telegraph links to a cable seemingly in support of this (given the link is attached to the words “nuclear 9/11”) – but there is no mention of “nuclear 9/11”, Tomihiro Taniguchi or any mention of nuclear terrorism. What gives? Linked to the wrong cable? In fact, none of the links to cables seem to support the claims in the main article. Example two – “Acute safety and security concerns” is placed in quotes as if it’s, you know, a direct quotation. But the linked cable has no such quote. Ditto “small time hustler” in Lisbon. In this last example, the cable describes a substance seized by Burundian Intelligence that had been offered for sale by a local businessman. Of note: “There was no radiation alarm, and no other technical inspection of the material has taken place.” My quotes are in fact a direct quote. There is no mention of Lisbon, Portugal.

Most of the article relates to the lack of security around uranium mines and other such sites. What is missing in these later cases is any link to or even mention of al-Qaeda involvement.

What gives? This is either really sloppy or really deceptive. And this being the Torygraph and Vancouver Sun, I know which side I’m on: Both!

Stories about “dirty bombs” are nothing new. They come out every few years. Remember Jose Padilla? The question about the latest one is why now? And in pondering that the ongoing Egyptian revolution – and possibility of client state charting it’s own path – looms large. Scare stories are needed to undermine public support for the protesters.


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  1. Pingback: Al Qaeda actively seeking “dirty” bombs: documents « Don’t Tread On Me