A Group In The U.S. Tried To Acquire Everything For A Dirty Bomb And It Was Like Hitting A Staples Button

You would like to think that any Jim T. Terrorist, residing in the United States, couldn’t call up a place that sells nuclear material and be all like “Hi, I would like some nuclear material,” and the place, without any vetting, would say, “Hey, cool, here’s all the nuclear material you want.”

You would like to think that.

Maybe you shouldn’t think that.

A group within the Government Accountability Office set up an operation to see how easy it was to procure, from within the U.S., all the material required for a dirty bomb. They found it to be really fucking easy.

From The Washington Post:

The clandestine group’s goal was clear: Obtain the building blocks of a radioactive “dirty bomb” — capable of poisoning a major city for a year or more — by openly purchasing the raw ingredients from authorized sellers inside the United States.

It should have been hard. The purchase of lethal radioactive materials — even modestly dangerous ones — requires a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a measure meant to keep them away from terrorists. Applicants must demonstrate they have a legitimate need and understand the NRC’s safety standards, and pass an on-site inspection of their equipment and storage.

Should being the operative words.

But this secret group of fewer than 10 people — formed in April 2014 in North Dakota, Texas and Michigan — discovered that getting a license and then ordering enough materials to make a dirty bomb was strikingly simple in one of their three tries. Sellers were preparing shipments that together were enough to poison a city center when the operation was shut down.

Oh. Goodie. The methods were suprisingly fucking simple, the documents easy to forge, and the inspection process pratically non-existent.

No, really. One inspector came to office they leased for their shell company, found it completely empty, shrugged, and said here’s your nuclear material license.

Here’s how they did it: In Dallas, they incorporated a shell company they never intended to run and rented office space in a nondescript industrial park, merely to create an address for the license application. In a spot on the form where they were supposed to identify their safety officer, they made up a name and attached a fake résumé. They claimed to need the material to power an industrial gauge used in oil and gas exploration.

Last year, their application was sent not to Washington but to Texas regulators, who had been deputized by the NRC to grant licenses without federal review. When the state’s inspector visited the fake office, he saw it was empty and had no security precautions. But members of the group assured him that once they had a license, they would be able to make the security and safety improvements.

So the inspector, who always carried licenses with him, handed them one on the spot.

The two-page Texas document authorized the company to buy the sealed radioactive material in an amount smaller than needed for any nefarious purpose. But no copies were required to be kept in a readily-accessible, government database. So after using the license to place one order, the team simply made a digital copy and changed the permitted quantities, enabling it to place a new order with another seller for twice the original amount.


The GAO originally tried this same scheme in 2007 and found it shockingly easy to obain the necessary material. Despite all their recommendations then, and a promise from the Nuclear Reglatory Commission to fix all the problems they found with the process, it appears nothing was done.

Give the whole harrowing account a read here.

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