!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News

Context of 'May 2006: FEMA Warns of Nuclear ‘Suitcase Bombs’'

This is a scalable context timeline. It contains events related to the event May 2006: FEMA Warns of Nuclear ‘Suitcase Bombs’. You can narrow or broaden the context of this timeline by adjusting the zoom level. The lower the scale, the more relevant the items on average will be, while the higher the scale, the less relevant the items, on average, will be.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is established to oversee federal planning for natural disasters, nuclear accidents, terrorist attacks, and other potential emergencies. The Carter Administration sought the creation of FEMA after the nation’s emergency response plans came under strong criticism for being disorganized and spread across numerous bureaucratic agencies. Pursuant to Reorganization Plan No. 3 of 1978 and Executive Order 12127, FEMA will now consolidate several disaster and emergency preparedness agencies into a single agency within the executive branch. FEMA will incorporate the Defense Civil Preparedness Agency, the Federal Preparedness Agency, the Federal Insurance Administration, the Federal Disaster Assistance Administration, the National Fire Prevention and Control Administration, the National Fire Academy, and the Community Preparedness Program. It will also take over several programs formally run out of the Executive Office of the President, including those pertaining to earthquake preparedness, management of terrorist attacks, dam safety, and the nation’s emergency warning and broadcasting systems. [United Press International, 5/9/1977; Message of the President, 6/19/1978; President Jimmy Carter, 3/31/1979; B. Wayne Blanchard, 2/5/2008, pp. 23-24]

Entity Tags: Federal Preparedness Agency, Defense Civil Preparedness Agency, Federal Emergency Management Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Federal Emergency Management Agency posts a warning from the White House on its Web site about “dirty bombs” and radiological “suitcase bombs.” The warning says that a terrorist’s nuclear weapon would “probably be limited to a single smaller ‘suitcase’ weapon.” It adds: “The strength of such a weapon would be in the range of the bombs used during World War II. The nature of the effects would be the same as a weapon delivered by an intercontinental missile, but the area and severity of the effects would be significantly more limited.” [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 5/2006] In late 2007, a senior FBI agent will say that such “suitcase nukes” are unlikely to exist outside of fiction (see November 10, 2007).

Entity Tags: Federal Emergency Management Agency, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Congress, stung into action by the Bush administration’s poor response to Hurricane Katrina and particularly the ineptitude of Michael Brown, the former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA—see Early September 2001), passes a law saying that President Bush must nominate a replacement who has “a demonstrated ability in and knowledge of emergency management,” and “not less than five years of executive leadership.” In a signing statement, Bush says that only he, the head of the executive branch, can decide who to appoint to offices. Therefore, he states, he is ignoring the prohibition. [Savage, 2007, pp. 239-240]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Federal Emergency Management Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

“Suitcase nukes”—nuclear weapons that can fit inside a suitcase or duffel bag and be planted in buildings or football stadiums with relative ease—may be a staple of Hollywood movies, television shows such as Fox’s 24, and thriller novels, but in reality do not exist, says Vahid Majidi, the assistant director of the FBI’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate. Nevertheless, the idea is so prevalent in the American conscious that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has issued warnings about “threats” from such devices, warnings repeated on the White House’s Web site (see May 2006). Officials such as Majidi say that any such device would be highly complex to produce, require significant upkeep and cost a small fortune. Majidi and other counterproliferation officials do not believe such a threat remains today. “The suitcase nuke is an exciting topic that really lends itself to movies,” Majidi says, but “No one has been able to truly identify the existence of these devices.” The real threat, say Majidi and other officials, is from less deadly and sophisticated devices assembled from stolen or black-market nuclear material. But governmental sources have played up the threat. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) once said in a hearing, “Perhaps the most likely threat is from a suitcase nuclear weapon in a rusty car on a dock in New York City.” And former representative Curt Weldon (R-PA) was known for carrying around a mock-up of a suitcase nuke made out of a briefcase, foil, and a pipe.
Origin of story - The story took hold in the public mind in the 1960s, based on information from Soviet defectors. The information leaked to the media, but no US officials ever actually saw such a Soviet-made suitcase device. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the US constructed a “backpack nuke,” called a Special Atomic Demolition Munition, to be used by two-man teams to destroy dams, tunnels, or bridges. These devices now only exist in museums. In 1997, retired general Alexander Lebed, the former national security chief of Russia, told reporters that Chechen rebels had portable nuclear devices. However, his story changed radically over time and Russian government officials said it was inaccurate, and he may have been misled by training mock-ups. Russian defector and former intelligence officer Stanislav Lunev wrote in 1998 that Russian agents had suitcase nukes inside the US in preparation for some future conflict. He testified before Congress, but never gave any specific information about such devices.
Technical problems - Colonel-General Viktor Yesin, former head of the Russian strategic rocket troops, said in 2004 that such suitcase nukes would be too expensive for most countries to produce and would not last more than several months because the nuclear core would decompose quickly. Laura Holgate of the Nuclear Threat Initiative says the biggest threat is from a terrorist cell that uses stolen nuclear material to improvise a device. Such a device would be, at its smallest, “[l]ike SUV-sized. Way bigger than a suitcase.” [Associated Press, 11/10/2007]

Entity Tags: Curt Weldon, Byron L. Dorgan, Alexander Lebed, Viktor Yesin, Vahid Majidi, Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate, Bush administration (43), Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Stanislav Lunev, Nuclear Threat Initiative, Laura Holgate

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Ordering 

Time period


Email Updates

Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database

 
Donate

Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
Donate Now

Volunteer

If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.
Contact Us

Creative Commons License Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike