In search of a terrorist nuclear bomb, the federal government since 9/11 has run a far-reaching, top secret program to monitor radiation levels at over a hundred Muslim sites in the Washington, D.C., area, including mosques, homes, businesses, and warehouses, plus similar sites in at least five other cities, U.S. News has learned. In numerous cases, the monitoring required investigators to go on to the property under surveillance, although no search warrants or court orders were ever obtained, according to those with knowledge of the program. Some participants were threatened with loss of their jobs when they questioned the legality of the operation, according to these accounts.
Forget the civil liberties aspect of this (passive monitoring is defensible in certain situations, and I have nowhere near enough interest to even try to find out whether it was justified in this case. I'm a techno and policy wonk, not a law wonk).
No, what bugs me about this is the sheer technical ignorance of such a scheme. Where to begin? It's like keystone cops with respect to misconceptions about what radiation is, how it is produced, how nuclear bombs work, the details of their construction and transportation, etc. No such thing as a suitcase nuke exists within the technical capability of the United States, let alone a group of secretive raghead nutjobs in a stripmall mosque. And monitoring of what energies of radiation? Does anyone in this bonehead, incompetent, utterly inept Administration even understand what radiation signatures to look for? Can they even distinguish between a nuclear bomb and someone who just had brachytherapy?
I'm just venting really - I'm not interested in drafting a basic Radiation Detection Physics lecture on the spot. But it is probably par for the course that the same crew in charge that has unlimited power to detain citizens, torture them, spy on communications without even FISA rubber-stamp warrants, deny habeus corpus to known innocents, and all the other assumptions of executive privelege in the name of our "security", couldn't even justify it's case against Jose Padilla or even acquit Sami al-Arian of anything despite his entire defense consisting of the single sentence, "the defense rests".
The War on Terror - at least on the home front - is just sound and fury and signifies nothing. I much preferred it when the grownups from the last Administration were in charge. Much like the FEMA director, the people in charge seem to be in over their head, and that means we are less safe, not more.
UPDATE: the detectors were worn on belts. There's no way that they could detect radiation from a nuclear device. It has to have been "dirty bomb" concerns, which the Padillacase was supposed to have been the signature case. If they could even point to a single case where these extreme measures actually resulted in a conviction of a terrorist, I'd be far less critical.