Tomorrow’s Terrorism Headlines

The following piece of fiction that I penned is just one of example of what might happen sometime in the near future:

At 8:15 A.M. on May 1st, an 18-wheel tractor/trailer backed up to one of the hundreds of roll-up doors at the primary Wal-Mart merchandise distribution center in Benton, Arkansas. (It is the largest of Wal-Mart’s 40 distribution centers.) On the trailer was a typical 53-foot long steel transoceanic shipping “continental express” (CONEX) container. It arrived scarcely unnoticed because hundreds of them arrived at the distribution center every day. Inside the CONEX, a 1,800-gallon tank that formerly held propane was welded to the floor. Just seconds after the container’s double doors were swung open; there were a pair of powerful explosions. First, nine hundred linear feet of Primacord PETN detonating cord glued together in six thicknesses along the upper edges of the CONEX peeled back the top of the container as if it had been opened by an enormous can opener. Two seconds later, a low-order explosive ruptured a main seam on the propane tank. The tank was filled with liquid GD nerve gas (Soviet Army surplus) with the consistency of motor oil. More than half of the liquid GD nerve gas was thrown into a vapor cloud by the explosion. A small part of the cloud was blown into the building. The rest was pushed up into a brownish-tinged mushroom cloud that towered 250 feet high.

Within a minute, everyone in the 380,000 square foot Wal-Mart distribution center was either dead or dying. The cloud expanded horizontally, and was carried by the spring breeze through residential sections of eastern Benton and then to the Little Rock suburbs of Bauxite, Bryant, and Sardis. The wind was traveling due east that day, so the nerve gas cloud headed toward the small town of East End, Arkansas rather than downtown Little Rock, where the death toll would have been an order of magnitude greater. Almost everyone in the path of the cloud died within minutes of exposure.

The GD solution is semi-persistent, meaning that several days of exposure to sunlight will cause it to break down and become harmless. Just one droplet the size of the head of a pin on exposed skin is enough to cause violent convulsions. Two or three droplets are enough to cause death. Parts of the vapor cloud made it all the way to Stuttgart, Arkansas, 60 miles east of Benton, and caused 155 deaths there. Before the first day is over, 12,000 people are dead.

At the time of the explosion, hundreds of cars were passing through Benton, primarily folks on their daily commute to Little Rock. Most of these cars made it to their destinations, or upon hearing the news of the explosion, the drivers took alternate routes home. The contaminated exteriors of these cars eventually ended up in six different Arkansas counties. For the next three days, they caused more than 300 additional deaths, as drivers and passengers touched contaminated body panels, gas tank lids, and door handles.

Central Arkansas was immediately declared a disaster zone by the Governor. Full-scale panic swept through Little Rock and all of the cities east of Benton, then to the Mississippi River, and beyond. Thousands tried to flee the area. This caused a massive traffic snarl that lasted for a full week. Hundreds of cars were stuck in traffic for so long that they ran out of gas. The drivers abandoned their cars, with many still left standing in the freeway lanes. This made the traffic even worse.

A small fire was started by the original explosion. With nobody left alive in the building to fight it, the fire slowly grew and eventually burned the entire Wal-Mart distribution center to the ground.

Five days after the initial explosion, while U.S. Army Chemical Decontamination teams from Fort McClellan, Alabama were picking through the charred rubble, a time delayed explosive at the front end of the cargo container threw a fresh cloud of GD vapor–one-third as large as the first–into the air. The winds had by now shifted to the northeast, directly toward Little Rock. This time it killed less than 400 people–mostly looters in Little Rock, which was still evacuated.

Wal-Mart had been the world’s largest retailer. Two months later the corporation no longer existed. More than one million direct employees were put out of work, as well as 600,000 additional people that were indirectly dependent on Wal-Mart. This included employees of manufacturers of products sold primarily through Wal-Marts as well as contract truck drivers, mechanics, jobbers, box makers, and so forth. The day after the explosion, the price of Wal-Mart stock dropped to $1.27 per share. Within three weeks, virtually every Wal-Mart store in North America had empty shelves. And within another week they all locked their doors. Wal-Mart stock had dropped to 2 cents per share and was de-listed. Nearly all the corporate management had nearly all been killed and the inventory coming into the country available to sell had slowed to a trickle.

The total loss of life was 13,942, with an additional 22,000 people hospitalized. Some were hospitalized as far east as coastal North Carolina, suffering from hysterical reactions.
Initially, all containerized cargo traffic crossing the U.S. borders was halted. This caused the idling of the Big Three auto manufacturers due to lack of parts, since more than 20% or more of the parts for “American” cars were actually sourced abroad. A few weeks later, container traffic resumed when it was assumed that the Benton attack was an isolated terrorist incident. The flow of containers was greatly slowed, due to elaborate chemical agent detection procedures, which began with chemical agent reconnaissance teams inserted by helicopter onto cargo ships when they were more than 50 miles offshore. With added security restrictions, container cargo terminals developed huge backlogs. Perishable cargoes were ruined, costing additional hundreds of millions of dollars.

On June 20th, just as commerce was starting to get back to normal, another explosion occurred; this time, at the sprawling China Overseas Shipping Company (COSCO) terminal in Long Beach California. A “dirty bomb”, consisting of 800-pounds of powdered spent nuclear reactor fuel rods and seven cubic yards of powdered talc propelled by a 650 pound low-order explosive, shredded a 40-foot CONEX container, and sent a large uranium/talc dust cloud into the air. (It was preceded moments before by a “roof ripper”, just like the previous Benton blast.) Initial news reports assumed that it was another chemical agent attack. But after no deaths were reported, it was quickly termed a dud. Hours later, when a FEMA disaster response team leader noticed that his radiation exposure film badge had turned black, it was realized that a “dirty bomb” had been detonated. As this news flashed through the media, a huge panic ensued.

The prevailing winds carried the dust cloud across Lakewood, Bellflower, Downey, and East Los Angeles. Measurable concentrations went as far as Alhambra and Pasadena. Almost two million people were in its path. The vast majority of the heavy uranium dust settled in Long Beach and Lakewood, but the psychological impact of the much lighter talc was tremendous, since it was carried as far as the San Gabriel Mountains. Like the Benton event, the COSCO container explosion caused mass panic–this time all through Southern California and even adjoining western Arizona. With the far greater population density of the L.A. Basin, the panic was monumental. The traffic gridlock extended through 24 California counties. More than 300 motorists stranded without gasoline or water died of exposure in the deserts of California, southern Nevada, and Arizona.

An estimated 212 people in Southern California died of stress-induced heart attacks. The total loss of life in the second attack was 3,000 in the first year (2,500 from radiation sickness), with 38,000 people hospitalized. (Far more hospitalized with hysteria than from actual radiation sickness.) An estimated 5,000 people died in the next three years due to long-term health effects, such as complications of radiation sickness, cancer, leukemia, eating disorders, and various infections exacerbated by weakened immune systems.

The initial economic cost of the two container explosions was at least $650 billion. Long-term costs were incalculable: international trade was disrupted for decades and a large urban region was rendered uninhabitable.

No terrorist group ever took credit for the pair of CONEX explosions. An aging White House defense affairs adviser (an off-and-on veteran inside the Beltway since the Nixon era) ordered tersely: “Round up the usual suspects.” That set the wheels in motion. More than 40,000 people were killed and 65,000 injured during the next two years in a massive campaign of “retaliatory” heavy bomber and cruise missile strikes in Pakistan, Jordan, Lebanon, and scattered targets in North Africa…


Potential Terrorist Targets (SAs: Emerging Threats, Retreat Location Selection)

In the stark reality of this new Century, two distinct target structures must be considered when considering retreat locales: ”World War Three” targets and terrorist targets. Some of these target lists overlap. You will have to decide for yourself which of these is the more likely–or any substantial risk at all–as you evaluate your relocation priorities.
I authored a feature article entitled: “High Technology Terrorism” which was published in Defense Electronics magazine. (January 1990 issue, page 74.) It is one of more than 30 of my feature articles for that magazine. In it, I surmised that international terrorist groups can and eventually will use high technology weapons. These include everything from build-it-yourself nuclear weapons, to EMP generators, or even liquid metal embrittlement chemicals to sabotage structures or commercial aircraft.

Potential Terrorist Targets

It is difficult to accurately predict potential terrorist targets in North America, much less to rank them. But it is possible to make some logical assumptions. While it is difficult to apply traditional logic to analyses of a terrorist’s illogical and irrational thought processes, some fairly safe assumptions are possible. Some potential targets are almost purely symbolic, like the Statue of Liberty and Mount Rushmore. Others would certainly be envisioned as having the “Biggest Bang for the Dinar.” These would include seaports and major population centers.

Certainly the most vulnerable targets are New York City and Washington, D.C. Al Qaeda has hit them before, and they’ll surely try to hit them again if they can. Just before this book was readied for press, Al Qaeda’s Number Two man bragged to the media that the organization possesses “several” suitcase-size nuclear weapons. Other large American cities must surely be likely targets. If you are living in a metropolitan area with more than 500,000 people, it is at risk. Weighing the odds is an interesting armchair academic exercise today. From an actuarial standpoint, the odds of staying in Dallas, Phoenix, or Seattle are fairly good. But what if you are wrong? Even if you are outside the blast radius and survive, what are your chances of “Getting out of Dodge”, ex post facto? Also, consider what will happen to the value of real estate in a radioactively contaminated area. The losses will run in the billions of dollars, even with just a low yield nuclear ground burst. Think about it. Then pray about it. If you then feel convicted to mitigate the risk, then move to a relatively safe lightly populated area that isn’t down wind, and do it soon.

In my opinion, the targets at the greatest risk of terrorist attacks in North America are liquefied natural gas (LNG) and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) terminals, situated primarily on the Gulf Coast. Most are located right on sea coasts and have tremendous explosive potential. Take a little time to do some web research on the two biggest natural gas explosions in the past 60 years:

Cleveland, Ohio in 1944 (128 killed, 435 injured)
Skikda LNG Complex, Algeria in 2004 (30 killed, 70 injured)

Consider that the cargo capacity of a typical LNG tanker is 23 times the volume that was stored in Cleveland, and that the capacity of a typical LNG terminal is 75 to 100 times that stored in Cleveland! You don’t want to live anywhere near them. And even if you live far away, you will still feel the effect. The destruction of two major terminals would reduce natural gas capacity to the extent that it would cripple our national economy for perhaps a decade.

If just two U.S. LNG or LPG terminals were destroyed by terrorists within the span of year it would surely cripple our nation’s gas supply system. This is just one of several reasons that you should buy the biggest propane tank that you can afford, (and allowed by local zoning), and always keep it at least 60% filled.

Water Supplies
Municipal water supplies are another “big bang for the Dinar” target. Many of these water supply system have multiple points of entry for contamination, most of which are not adequately guarded. This is just another reason to avoid living in a major municipal region.

Psychological Targets
In addition to physical infrastructure, terrorists might concentrate on psychological targets, for mass media attention and a heightened sense of terror. You can compile your own list of potential psychological targets in your region. This list should include nuclear power plants and medical isotope reactors. (The risk of an actual containment breach by a terrorist bomb is minimal, but they remain potent psychological targets, nonetheless.) Also include soft targets such as major universities, hospitals, sports stadiums, and major tourist attractions such as Seattle’s Space Needle.

The preceding are my predictions. In March of 2005, a disaster preparedness office in Hawaii inadvertently released a hush-hush “what if” terrorism scenario list that had been recently published by the Department of Homeland Security. It was surprisingly frank and very frightening.