Friday, March 28, 2008

DU Dud: The Silver Lining to FARC’s Uranium

Colombian police have found 30 kilos (65 lbs.) of depleted uranium (DU). DU is what is left over after natural uranium is enriched. It is less radioactive than natural uranium and consequently useless for building dirty bombs (let alone nuclear weapons.) Tons of the stuff is around and there is virtually no market for DU (certainly not to the tune of $2.5 million a kilo).

While the Hollywood scenarios of terrorists dealing in WMD appear to be false, this incident raises interesting questions about the motivations and quality of the FARC’s leadership.

Here is a video from the site of Colombia’s El Tiempo of investigators examining the uranium. A close-up of the Geiger counter shows that it barely registers the radiation and the investigators clean off the bars and the words “depleted uranium” are clearly visible.

It seems likely that the FARC was involved in a scam. The question is were they the scammer or the scammed (or a bit of both)? Whatever the answer, the FARC is exposed as both vicious and incompetent.

If the FARC was the victim of a scam, it shows how they have fallen. First that the FARC would fall for a scam shows a decline in their intelligence and analytical capabilities. Also, the FARC is a heavily armed and vicious. If some hustler was willing to scam them it indicates that the FARC are less feared than in the past. A terrorist group that does not generate fear is a terrorist group in decline.

If the FARC was knowingly committing a scam, they have sacrificed their credibility for a short-term profit. Between this possible scam and the fact that several international arms dealers (including the notorious Victor Bout) have been snagged with FARC bait, other major players in international illicit networks will be much more cautious about dealing with the FARC. If the FARC, in turn, becomes more desperate to purchase weapons and other needed equipment then it will be more vulnerable to law enforcement efforts to infiltrate it – expanding an existing vulnerability.

More than likely, the FARC was aware that this was a scam – but was possibly scammed in being misled about how lucrative and easy this sort of scam would be.

In addition, this incident raises deeper questions about the FARC. While some terrorists (such as al-Qaeda) would readily resort to WMD – there is no political advantage to selling it, besides as a source of income. Whatever the radioactivity of the materials, how could the FARC high command not know that being associated with selling uranium would be politically radioactive? Or did they not care when the chance of a multi-million dollar windfall came their way? But the FARC already has a solid cash flow from the drug trade and other illicit activities. Did they need this extra income, or did they just want it? Either answer shows that the FARC leadership is at an advanced state of decay.


William Tucker said...

Have you heard where this uranium came from? Do we know yet if this is uranium-235 or another form? Uranium of this amount is not likely to be missed, even in this age of proliferation.

Aaron Mannes said...

It isn't clear where the uranium came from. From the Colombian videos it is clear it is depleted uranium - meaning it has very little radioactivity. It is really the equivalent of industrial waste. There are enormous amounts of the stuff (hundreds of tons) around in countries with sophisticated nuclear capabilities (Brazil is the nearest to my knowledge.) It would be interesting to track it down - but it really does not represent an enormous security threat.

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