This is not an argument for more secrecy.

Give it to the Department of Homeland Security, it carries it implements its stupid ideas with a blazing gusto.

New York City is about to become a laboratory to test ways of strengthening the nation’s defenses against a terror attack by a nuclear device or a radioactive “dirty bomb.”

Starting this spring, the Bush administration will assess new detection machines at a Staten Island port terminal that are designed to screen cargo and automatically distinguish between naturally occurring radiation and critical bomb-building ingredients.

And later this year, the federal government plans to begin setting up an elaborate network of radiation alarms at some bridges, tunnels, roadways and waterways into New York, creating a 50-mile circle around the city.

If a terrorist’s goal is to create as much destruction as possible, this might help prevent that. If a terrorist’s goal is to create destruction and fear, this will do nothing. How much difference is there if a Staten Island port terminal blows up instead of a building in New York? The Bush administration has already shown it’s willing to embrace that fear of fear to a great extent. This won’t change that.

In the end, which logic do we want to embrace?

“This is just total baloney,” said Tara O’Toole, a former assistant secretary at the Department of Energy during the Clinton administration, where she oversaw nuclear weapons safety efforts. “They are forgetting that no matter what type of engineering solution they try in good faith to come up with, this is a thinking enemy and they will look for a way around it.”


Benn H. Tannenbaum, a physicist and nuclear terrorism expert at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, said the system would never create anything close to an impenetrable barrier, particularly for a nuclear bomb, since the required ingredients have low levels of radioactivity and can easily be shielded. But the project still might be worthwhile, he said. “If nothing else, it makes the terrorist think twice before they do something like this,” he said.

We can assume they’ll just do something else, or we can assume they’ll think twice and presumably decide against trying. Terrorists are deranged but they’re not stupid. I choose the former logic.