Saturday, March 7, 2009

Terrorists win!

Terrorists win: a phrase popularized by the hit shooter Counter-Strike.

Despite my healthy distaste for the needless war in Iraq and dissatisfaction in the direction of the Afghanistan mission, I realize that terrorism in real life is no joke. You can argue that the West has provided plenty of reasons for resentment. This is true. You can also argue that the label "terrorist" is a subjective one - that one man's terrorist is another man's "freedom fighter." But this is skirting around the real issue: That there are persons out there with devious intent, utter disregard for human life, and maliciously warped minds plotting and acting toward the goals of inciting fear, death, and destruction for political gain. This is unacceptable.

The word terrorist used to invoke images of the IRA or FLQ: disgruntled members of society fighting against that same society - a battle of West against West. These situations were diffused with counter-intelligence, teams of police and military, arrests and trials, and negotiation. Thanks to Al Qaeda, "terrorism" has become almost synonymous with Islamic extremism and counter-terrorism has become war. In these turbulent times, the risk of terrorism leading to the pain and suffering of civilians remains ever high.

In this context, it is slightly distressing to note that retail giant Wal-Mart has lost track of some fifteen thousand Exit signs across America. What does this have to do with anything? Apparently, Exit signs contain the radioactive hydrogen isotope known as tritium.

The health effects of tritium exposure continue to be a hot topic of debate. It's not strong enough to penetrate the skin, and in low quantities regulators and industry groups say tritium is safe. But when inhaled or ingested it can cause permanent changes to cells and has been linked to genetic abnormalities, developmental and reproductive problems and other health issues such as cancer.

"The problem is that because it's hydrogen it can actually become part of your body," says Shawn-Patrick Stensil of Greenpeace Canada. "The radiation doesn't emit far, but when it actually becomes part of your cell it's right next to your DNA. So for a pregnant woman, for example, it can be really dangerous."


"I'm sure thousands of them would create a credible dirty bomb," says Norm Rubin, director of nuclear research at Energy Probe in Toronto. "Most experts think the main purpose of a dirty bomb is to cause panic, disruption and expensive cleanup rather than lots of dead bodies. A bunch of tritium, especially if oxidized in an explosion, would probably do that job fine."

Tritium is also a component in nuclear warheads. In 2005, SRB Technologies got permission from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission to export 70,000 of its tritium exit signs to Iran. Foreign Affairs Canada blasted the regulator for allowing shipment to a country that's attempting to develop weapons of mass destruction. The shipment went through.


While the loss of a few thousand Exit signs may not seem like a big deal, the fact that the thefts took place all across the United States and Puerto Rico raises suspicion of a seriously organized effort. Sure the amount of radiation is minute, but radioactive materials are pretty tightly regulated. Trying to steal anything more high profile than Exit signs would probably have raised some red flags.

Mysterious coincidence or terrorist plot? I'll leave it for the conspiracy theorists... and intelligence agencies.

This entry was
adopted by Brutus.