An article in the Washington Post discusses various facets of the car and truck bomb threat and how easy it is to make a very powerful vehicle bomb.
On April 19, 1995, disillusioned Persian Gulf War veteran Timothy J. McVeigh and Army washout Terry L. Nichols blew the face off the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City with a 5,000-pound mixture of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil, killing 168 people.
The bomb was instructive in its power and ease of assembly. Equivalent to 4,100 pounds of dynamite, the blast damaged 312 buildings, cracked glass as far as two miles away and inflicted 80 percent of its injuries on people outside the building, up to a half-mile away. ATF officials had never studied the effects of a vehicle bomb larger than about 1,200 pounds, an ATF explosives expert said.
The components came largely from a Kansas co-op. Nichols bought two tons of fertilizer in 50-pound sacks starting seven months before the attack. McVeigh also was careful to avoid detection, renting a Ryder truck from a Junction City, Kan., body shop one state away from his target.
Today, it remains difficult to detect similar activity. Nearly 5 million tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer are sold each year in the United States. None of it is regulated, although its explosive properties are used in mining and construction and by armies around the world. Government controls are resisted by farm and chemical lobbies, who say they would burden law-abiding citizens and not thwart terrorists. U.S. law permits farmers to mix it with fuel oil for personal demolition uses.
The US government is erecting blast barriers near a fairly small number of government buildings and is going to place larger spaces between streets and newly constructed buildings in the future. But lots of large buildings already exist that are very close to streets. Also, most buildings have roads leading right up to them for underground parking lots and docks for unloading supplies. So barrier defenses against truck bombs are of fairly limited use.
Note hat McVeigh and Nichols didn't have to commit suicide in order to carry out a deadly attack. If Muslim terrorists can make it inside the United States with sufficient money and training to carry out vehicle bomb attacks they would face pretty favorable odds of succeeding in killing a lot of people. The resulting fear and the ways people would respond to that fear would exact large economic costs beyond the economic and human costs of the actual attacks.
What we do not know at this point is just how effective intelligence and law enforcement agencies are being at disrupting Al Qaeda operations. Only time will tell as to whether the tempo o terrorist attacks is headed upward or downward in Western countries. So it is hard to calculate the cost-benefit ratios of various potential defenses against terrorism.
Should a wave of vehicle bomb attacks begin in the United States then one response to consider would be the implemention of a registry for purchasers of ammonium nitrate with required proof of citizenship or legal residence. Every place that sells fertilizer could install a biometric identifier system to scan retinas or other physical features to verify identity. All purchases could be tracked and large purchasers could be required to seek a permit for making a purchase. There would be real economic costs to such a system. Therefore its implementation seems unlikely in advance of domestic bombing attacks.
In my view it makes sense to implement more effective border control, immigration, and visa policies to make it more difficult for terrorists to enter the United States in the first place. However, at this point the elites still oppose more effective control of who gets into the United States and we are probably going to have to wait until more attacks happen in the United States before public anger forces the hands of the politicians.
|Share |||By Randall Parker at 2004 August 09 01:51 PM Terrorists Western Response|