As reclusive and unpredictable communist North Korea ups the ante by setting off a successful nuclear explosion and launching multiple short-range missiles this week, our elected officials foolishly dismiss the threats made by this unstable and extremely dangerous sworn enemy of America. Today the psychotic regime went as far as declaring the Korean War armistice to be void, technically meaning that the United States and South Korea are again at war with the North.
Now that North Korea has a nuclear weapon that actually works after its first test was declared a “fizzle” that did not sustain a nuclear reaction, we need to take immediate measures to assure the safety of not only our 28,000 troops that are stationed in South Korea but also our homeland.
As analysts try to assure us that the North does not yet have a missile with sufficient range to hit the United States or a nuclear warhead small enough to be delivered atop such a missile the real threat goes virtually unnoticed. In fact, every indication points to a deeply disturbed, chronically ill, narcissist dictator, Kim Jong-il, who is planning a final blaze of glory before he dies to establish himself in history as making good on his many years of rhetoric that he will mercilessly destroy both his South Korean rivals and his much hated United States arch enemy.
This is clearly not a man who has the time (or the hard currency) left in his life to develop new missiles with improved range or who will take the course charted as being the likely one by outside observers. Keep in mind that this is a man who does not care if we retaliate against his country and destroy it with our own nuclear weapons, as he allows his subjects to starve by the millions and routinely purges by firing squad even his closest associates when he feels threatened, real or imagined. So, any thought that he’d do the logical thing should be discarded; he is totally unpredictable and we know from his continual brash statements exactly what is on his mind. Sooner or later his rambling maniac rhetoric will become reality.
Simply, North Korea can assure several of its nuclear warheads in their current size and configuration or its many chemical and biological weapons accurately hit their targets in perhaps Washington, D.C., New York or wherever they choose today and do it in a widely unexpected way to assure surprise and maximum destruction. And it won’t cost hundreds of millions of dollars for continued long-range missile and smaller warhead development. In fact for around $5,000 the North can ship a warhead, undetectable to the United States in any of 13 million or so cargo containers that enter more than 350 U.S. ports each year.
Simple lead-shielding highly enriched uranium, or HEU, and weapons-grade plutonium are virtually undetectable by even the most sophisticated and costly radiation portal monitors that were recently installed in many U.S. ports.
When the warhead arrives in its “stealth container missile,” it can easily be detonated by a GPS device, a cell phone call, a simple timer or a tamper switch that activates when the container is opened, perhaps for inspection.
Awhile back, ABC News did an interesting experiment. It took 15 pounds of depleted uranium, shielded by a steel pipe with a lead lining, and placed it in a suitcase. The suitcase traveled from a European country, and 25 days later it arrived in the United States.
Although it was depleted uranium and not weapons-grade highly enriched uranium, it would be virtually indistinguishable from the weapons-grade material to detectors. Several well-regarded experts confirm that it would be a perfect fake. It traveled from Austria to Hungary, on to Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey, a typical route that smuggled nuclear materials from the former Soviet Union would likely travel.
In Turkey, the suitcase was placed in a wooden chest clearly labeled “Depleted Uranium” and placed with other items being shipped in a cargo container. It arrived in New York at the port in Staten Island some 19 days thereafter. This port is equipped with “state of the art” radiological detection equipment, according to Customs and Border Protection.
Apparently, the container was targeted for “screening” by the Container Security Initiative which is the program that our government relies upon to supposedly keep us safe from such a threat. However, it passed through without arousing any further suspicion, and the potentially destructive cargo sailed through undetected. Later, it went to a warehouse area near the Brooklyn Bridge, and again the “weapon” was not detected by customs officers on the site.
The point is that once such a weapon arrives in one of our ports it is already much too late to do anything about it, even assuming it was detected. NORAD can’t see it on its vast radar network, high-tech satellites and other sophisticated early warning systems. Homeland Security obviously has no credible system in place to detect it, and all the money spent on “port security” has been wasted. Once the weapon is here on the mainland, it undoubtedly will be detonated, regardless of any effort to disable it. We need to make sure not a single weapon of mass destruction can ever arrive here, period.
Only by inspecting each and every container before it arrives in one of our many vulnerable mainland ports can we assure we are safe.
Right now less than 5 percent of containers entering the U.S. are screened. And screened certainly does not equate to being physically inspected. Instead it consists of only having its documentation reviewed. In rare cases, a container may be opened and inspected, but the vast majority is not.
I cannot stress enough the importance of physically inspecting every container before it is within 25 miles of our coasts. Just a single warhead would do unimaginable damage to our country on a scale that is thousands of times worse than what we suffered on 9/11.
Several years ago, my company proposed to build three super-security offshore cargo container inspection ports to robotically and cost-effectively inspect each and every container entering the U.S. Despite the proposal being sent to every member of Congress, the Senate, the Whitehouse, Homeland Security and the Coast Guard there was no interest – even though it would cost taxpayers absolutely nothing being privately financed and with a small inspection fee charged to the shipper on each container covering the cost of development and operations. Clearly, this should be considered unacceptable and a national disgrace. How often do the taxpayers get something so worthwhile for free?
We need to implement an immediate crash program of building these offshore cargo container security inspection ports. And, we need to require that each and every cargo container is physically inspected at those security ports before it ever reaches within 25 miles of our shores. If it explodes, it will be out in the ocean, not in one of our cities.
Now eight long years after Sept. 11, 2001, our borders remain dangerously wide open despite endless political pledges to secure them. Our seaports remain absolutely vulnerable to receiving a weapon of mass destruction, especially a nuclear weapon, despite the passing of the laughable H.R. 4954, known as the “Safe Ports Act,” which was gutted by eliminating funds to physically inspect containers before they arrive on our mainland. Even the majority of checked luggage on every commercial airline flight remains not inspected. Our officials just don’t get it.
Beside cargo containers, North Korea could park a merchant ship off our coast and use a short range missile to deliver a nuke to us, or it could use a private plane. Or, it can place it on a trailer pulled by a SUV driving across our completely vulnerable, wide-open borders as if it were a few bales of dope delivered every day into the U.S. None of these delivery methods has received any attention by our elected officials, yet they are obviously the most attractive and viable means to destroy several of our cities, ruin our economy and kill perhaps a few million Americans. And since our officials have failed us, they would be highly reliable delivery systems without the need for a long-range missile or a compact warhead that could be years away. They could use it to destroy America today.
A small-yield nuclear weapon such as the one North Korea detonated this week (perhaps 10-12 kilotons which is similar in size to those used against Japan), if exploded in Red Hook Terminal in Brooklyn, N.Y., would instantly kill tens of thousands by blast, radiation and fires and soon after many more as the deadly radioactive fallout drifts with the prevailing west to east winds over the entirely unprotected 3.5 million person population of nearby Long Island.
Even a limited attack using a relatively small nuclear weapon detonated at a high attitude would create an electromagnetic pulse that many experts believe would be sufficiently powerful enough to destroy the very fabric of our high-technology society, frying virtually every item that uses a semiconductor device. In short, the bad news is that America’s homeland security is a farce, and our officials don’t have a clue.
A study conducted by Lachlan Forrow, M.D., director of Ethics Support Services at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and an associate professor at Harvard Medical School, Boston; Ira Helfland, M.D., head of Emergency Medicine at Cooley Dickinson Hospital, Northampton, Mass.; and Jaya Tiwari, research director for the Center for Global Security and Health, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Washington, D.C., examines the consequences of a single 12.5 kiloton nuclear weapon being smuggled undetected into the port of New York in a cargo shipping container and then being detonated.
The report soberly states that “the blast and thermal effects of such an explosion would kill 52,000 people immediately, and direct radiation would cause 44,000 cases of radiation sickness, of which 10,000 would be fatal. … Radiation from fallout would kill another 200,000 people and cause several hundred thousand additional cases of radiation sickness.”
A typical Cold War era fallout shelter in a basement of a commercial building. Many of these shelters still exist but need to be immediately re-identified with new signs and restocked with critical supplies.
The study continues: “The authorities’ ability to aid survivors would be very limited, about 1,000 hospital beds would be destroyed by the blast, and 8,700 more would be in areas with radiation exposures high enough to cause radiation sickness. The remaining local medical facilities would quickly be overwhelmed, and even with advance preparation outside help would be delayed.”
This is a very credible study, with calculations prepared by utilizing accurate computer models created by the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. The estimates are actually quite conservative being based on the average daytime population, considering the dire results if the incident occurred during peak work hours or worse, on a major holiday such as New Year’s Eve. In such a case, the casualties could easily be several times greater.
In another report that describes the likely aftermath of a slightly larger weapon of 20 kilotons, Cham Dallas, director of the Center for Mass Destruction Defense, estimates that at least 1.6 million New Yorkers could be killed or injured from such an incident in New York. Dallas also said the flash from the blast would permanently blind all onlookers, followed by a fireball that would burn everything in its path. He has given similar testimony to a closed hearing before the House Subcommittee on the Prevention of Nuclear and Biological Attack, which is part of the Homeland Security Committee. Such a weapon would fit into a corner of a 20-foot cargo container and would be easily concealed. Enough weapons-grade material for a nuclear bomb would fit in a soda can.
Although members of the House and Senate, along with other key officials including the White House, have top secret, heavily fortified and well-stocked shelters available to them, American citizens have been left completely unprotected and very vulnerable in the event of a nuclear strike against us.
Nagasaki, Japan, on Aug. 9, 1945. All that remained of a once-thriving city.
Then there are the vast amounts of deadly chemical and biological weapons the North Korean regime has been suspected of stockpiling. These are some of the most horrendous weapons on the planet and are solely intended for use against South Korea and the United States. While North Korea may have four to 12 nuclear warheads, it is widely believed to have perhaps tens of thousands of chemical and biological weapons. And again, for the cost of shipping they can be delivered on time to any United States port completely undetected. What’s worse is that nuclear, biological and chemical weapons may have already been delivered in containers to warehouses here and “parked” for use during a crisis. With our ports and borders being foolishly left wide open for so many years, it is entirely plausible.
We have no civil defense program and no identifying signs on the many still existing Cold War era fallout shelters. We have no vast stockpiles of medicines and medical supplies that are needed to treat the hundreds of thousands of wounded. We have no large supplies of staple foods such as wheat, rice, dried beans, powdered eggs and stored water crucial to feeding our citizens in the difficult period that would follow an attack. Nor do we have appropriate portable medical facilities, transportable water treatment plants, respirators, blankets or any of the many, many other required supplies that our government urgently needs to stockpile for our national survival.
In the case of Long Island, if New York City or Brooklyn were hit by these weapons, all commerce onto Long Island would immediately stop. All bridges, tunnels, highways and trains would be halted. All shipments of food and supplies that now come through Manhattan daily to supply the needs of millions of Long Islanders will end for perhaps an indefinite period. And like what happened on 9/11, all air traffic will be grounded. If New York were nuked, the debris pile would be an impassable several stories high. Unlike the heroic efforts that led to the World Trade Center Towers being cleaned up quickly, this pile would be radioactive and would likely remain untouched for many months if not years.
Restocking existing fallout shelters with critical supplies can be accomplished in a short time. New private shelter development can be encouraged with tax credits and rebates. FEMA could require that all new public buildings and facilities include shelters, as was the norm years ago. It could also require hospitals to stock large quantities of emergency medications and supplies. Money spent from the stimulus bill on civil defense would be money well spent protecting our citizens from a tragedy that surely one day will happen.
Unfortunately, the lack of coherent leadership on this issue may mean that only after we get hit by one of North Korea’s warheads will someone wakeup and see the very real danger we now face.
Robert Pfriender is the founder and president of Allied International Development, Ltd., a New York-based privately held real estate development and construction management firm. He has also founded Allied Transgenic Energy, Ltd. to exploit his incredible new proprietary process of producing biologically synthesized and economically competitive alternative motor fuels. Allied has proposed to develop three Super-Security Offshore Cargo Container Inspection Ports to inspect 100 percent of containers for weapons of mass destruction before they enter the mainland United States. The ports would be privately financed and leased to the United States government.