Late last year, as I've just learned, the Government Accounting Office (GAO) played a naughty prank on the border guards to our north and south by hauling in enough radioactive material (believed to be cesium) to make a couple of "dirty bombs." Those are officially known as radiological dispersion devices. That they got away with this shenanigan doesn't so much surprise me as the way they pulled it off.
What Went Down
The published details are conflicting and somewhat furry. But the basics seem to be that the GAO undercover operatives represented themselves as working for a nonexistent company and rolled their ominous cargos right over both borders. Radiation detectors sounded alerts, as they do when they notice ceramics glazed with uranium oxides and cat litter made of clay ground from certain natural deposits. I gather that the stealth trucks were pulled aside for wanding. And that's where it gets interesting to me.
Who Are You?
There's been legislation a-stirring that would require every state to require two or three proofs of identity—some of them not easy to come up with—when you renew your driver's license. Heaven help the first-time-applicants! Those licenses might eventually carry a thumbprint and assorted personal information, squirreled away in a teeny embedded chip. Heck, there's even a little seismic murmur about ID'ing voters at the polling places. (That should be really well received in Dixville Notch, NH, with a voting population of about 30 and where the polls open at 12:01 a.m. every fourth November!)
Who Were These Pranksters?
You already know that. The custom inspectors, who did not, checked the smugglers' paper work. It consisted of Nuclear Regulatory Commission import licenses they'd forged from samples they'd downloaded from the Net. Now, if there are ways to verify each of the 30 voters in Dixville Notch, or the somewhere around 2,301,091 in Minneapolis, you just know: it's possible to detect fake importation documents. Could be that the same anti-counterfeiting paper with inclusions used for U.S. currency would do the job. Could be that that every hauler moving goods into any point of entry—via sea or over land—would have to agree to a security background check and carry the sort of ID required to get into a military post. (But I for one wouldn't want to be the one telling those gathered in the union hall about such a plan.)
Seriously, What's the Real Sweat?
I keep hearing about the perils of radioactive substances being sneaked into the country and I don't enjoy those reports. Stories detailing the ease of making a nuclear device from Internet instructions are twitch-inducing as well. But I think that kind of menace is dwarfed by two others. Here they are: It's far easier and less conspicuous to build the sort of infernal device that took apart the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, OK, or to commandeer an airplane and use it as a bomb, than it is to build a nuclear weapon from scratch. And, in an evil twist on American business enterprise, packing cheap and untraceable firearms in a shipment of loose coffee is a slicker way to turn a buck and maybe settle a personal grudge at the same time.