Nuclear material stolen in Mexico could produce dirty bomb with disastrous consequences

Summary

The article, “Mexico on HIGH ALERT after radioactive material ‘capable of creating DIRTY BOMB’ is stolen,” published by the Daily Express on April 25, 2017 signals a potentially dangerous situation. Nine states in Mexico have been placed on high alert after Iridium 192, nuclear material capable of creating a dirty bomb, was stolen near the city of Guadalajara. Authorities are concerned the material could have been stolen accidentally after a failed carjacking. The material itself is highly hazardous and can cause permanent injury.

Analysis

The Possibility of Terror

A possible dirty bomb is by no means something anybody wants to ignore, especially if materials to create it are stolen in a country where adequate national security is an issue. Mexico has an organized crime and corruption epidemic that drains valuable resources from counter-terror efforts. In areas where drug cartel control is high, local law enforcement can be overwhelmed. Mass graves been found in these regions, including in Mexican states bordering the United States. Many of the cartels are enemies with one another. The turf wars and volatile borders between them cause many lives to be lost. In addition there is a sizable number of corrupt members of law enforcement and politicians. This creates lawlessness in areas the cartels don’t have strong control over while overwhelming the Mexican criminal justice system. In addition, these individuals are vulnerable to bribes by the cartels and possibly other groups.

In addition to the cartels, Mexico is facing great instability after the deregulation of Mexico’s gasoline industry. This drove gasoline prices to great heights. Coupled with a weak currency and high inflation, many people could no longer afford fuel for their vehicles. As a result, nation-wide protests emerged that the cartels took advantage of by stealing gasoline to sell at a cheaper price or give away to communities. This has very likely undermined public trust in the government and strengthened cartel positions. This instability has not dissipated either as gas prices remain a top worry for Mexican nationals while oil reserves deplete. According to a March 2017 article in Bloomberg, Mexican reserves have dropped 10 percent since last year.

A combination of lawlessness, corruption, and very unhappy citizens is an opportunity for would-be terrorists. If the state is having great difficulty in controlling what happens day-by-day, there is no guarantee it would be able to handle very serious situations such as stolen nuclear material. Gaps in security act as gateways for those who intend to create great harm through acts of terror. The most concerning part of this whole ordeal is that nuclear material has been stolen at least seven times in Mexico since 2013, according to a New Straits Times story about this incident. Here some possible scenarios that could arise from the stolen Iridium 192.

The first scenario is the most optimistic and likely one we have. The material was, as has been speculated by the Mexican government, accidentally stolen by carjackers and will be returned to authorities without incident. This is not unprecedented as the past seven times nuclear material was stolen, all was returned without incident. This includes when carjackers mistakenly stole Cobalt 60 along with a truck and a radiotherapy machine within. This is the best-case scenario and would make it the eighth time this sort of thing has happened. This is not something to be proud of as it reveals how little security there is in the handling of something extremely hazardous.

The second scenario pertains to the unrest caused by the spike in gas prices. The thieves find out that they stole nuclear material. They or people they know decide to commit an act of protest on the state. They are planning on terrorism. With the already existing vulnerabilities in Mexico’s national security, they manage to deliver the Iridium to a government office or rally. It could be prepared with an explosive device or the material could simply be dumped at the site without any protection. At the very least hundreds of people are exposed to irradiation. All of this was done to attempt to force the Mexican government to re-regulate the gas industry and normalize the price at the pump. This may seem extreme for an unorganized group of people to commit an act of terror but depending on the perception of how severe the gas-price crisis is, they may find support and sympathy. This one act of terror could even lead to an organized resistance to topple the Mexican government. As we’ve seen in the past a single drastic action can drastically change the route of a nation.

The third scenario pertains to the Mexican drug cartels. One of the cartels manages to take the stolen nuclear material from the carjackers, whether by force or through the exchange of hands. From here the nuclear material could be stored, although Iridium 192 has a half-life of 73 days, or it could be immediately be readied as a dirty bomb. The motivation to use a dirty bomb is to not only cause great physical damage to an enemy but is also an attempt at gaining prestige and demoralizing those who would be against the group. Cartel targets would include other cartels or the Mexican government itself, creating further instability that would allow the cartel more room to operate around in. A terror attack could take place anywhere within a city or in the countryside as a result, depending on where the cartel feels the most damage can be done to whoever they decide to use a dirty bomb on. Even if the dirty bomb was activated inside a shack in a rural area, it could still cause great harm. A terrorist attack conducted by a cartel would be eerily fitting as the stolen nuclear material came from Guadalajara, the very place Mexico’s history with cartels began.

The fourth scenario is of greatest importance to the United States. Members of an established terror group, having known about the seven times Mexico has lost nuclear material, has sleeper agents throughout Mexico. News of this incident spreads and the opportunity is seized on. In spite of the odds, the terrorists get their hands on the material before the Mexican state can. The materials to create a dirty bomb is in the hands of a group known to conduct terror attacks. From here it could go many different ways, depending on the motivation of the group and their intended target. For this scenario, let’s assume their target is the United States. The terrorists, using holes in Mexico’s security, manage to get near the U.S.-Mexico border. From there, if they have the funds, a cartel could be hired that has an established drug trafficking route. After hiring the cartel, the terrorists attempt avoid detection by U.S. Border Patrol. Should the group manage to get their bomb across the border, it would become a critical situation and the American government wouldn’t even realize that a dirty bomb had entered the country.

These scenarios are very scary for not only the potential victims of a terror attack but for global stability. A successful attack could lead to more attacks as terror groups around the world are emboldened. Intelligence services would be on very high alert by the sudden surge in activity all because of a failure by Mexican officials to guarantee the safety of nuclear material. These three worst-case scenarios are merely that, scenarios, but, given the right opportunities and exploitation of Mexico’s current situation, are plausible.

The best way to prevent a dirty bomb attack to begin with is prevention. Mexico needs better protection of its nuclear material, especially in transit. Carjackings are not uncommon in Mexico and at least two have lead to stolen material. Mexico should also request international assistance if it feels that it cannot guarantee its nuclear safety obligations. The safeguarding of all things that produce radiation should be a top priority of Mexico and its intelligence services. Nuclear material should never have the opportunity to be stolen.

Brief Sources

Wood, Vincent. (2017, April 25) Mexico on HIGH ALERT after radioactive material ‘capable of creating DIRTY BOMB’ is stolen. Daily Express. Retrieved from http://www.express.co.uk/news/world/796088/Radioactive-material-dirty-bomb-Mexico-stolen-iridium-192-Guadalajara and https://archive.fo/q9OBI

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As Trump’s first 100 days come to a close, voters may become disillusioned by election promises not kept (Part 3: Security Analysis)

Click here to see Part 2

Continuing from Part 2, this next part about kept and unkept election promises made by U.S. President Donald Trump is on security and immigration policy.

Analysis

Security and Immigration Policy

Donald Trump’s national security and defense promises, which includes immigration, can best be described as having been attempted. Although several of the promises couldn’t be kept, this was due to America’s separation of power at work. The judicial branch has directly blocked three of his promises, two pertaining to a travel ban and one ending funding to “sanctuary cities.” This is important because although it means that in spite of these election promises not going anywhere, the American people can see Trump tried in these well-publicized instances. However there is at least one promise that has been ignored thus far.

Two of Trump’s promises, to suspend the Syrian refugee program and to stop immigration from several Muslim-majority countries seen as being prone to terrorism, were wrapped up into one package. This package was very well known travel ban. After being blocked by a federal judge in Washington state, the ban wasn’t able to be implemented and Trump’s order was ignored. There was a second attempt at a ban that was rewritten to remove certain references but that was blocked as well. Trump’s plan to deport Syrian refugees is unlikely going to go anywhere because of the already established legal battles. Trump’s efforts to keep these promises have had an effect on the perception of those who voted for Trump. In spite of wavering popularity for the bans, at a median of 45 percent from a February 2017 report by The Washington Post, Trump made the effort to keep at least one of his driving campaign promises. As a result his constituents likely had their hope that Trump would carry through on his promises strengthened. They are also likely to be more tolerant of less publicized election promises not kept.

Trump has managed to carry through initiating two of his other promises pertaining to the Middle East, both of which have yet to yield results to the public. Trump has ordered the Department of Homeland Security to create vetting techniques that would assist in identifying potential terrorists trying to get on American soil. This is in progress as several measures are being considered, including asking for phone contacts and social media passwords. Trump, in a promise that directly targets a terrorist group, has ordered his generals to come up with a new plan for defeating the Islamic State in Syria and the Levant. The plan itself has yet to be made available to the public. This is consistent with Trump’s past condemnation of the U.S. and its allies announcing attacks on ISIL shortly before initiation of said attacks. It is unknown if this new plan has been implemented or not.

Meanwhile Trump’s major election promise to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border is in progress, but progress has been slowed. While wall prototypes are being tested in San Diego, California, this week Trump stated that he will not push for the funding of the wall as the budget deadline comes up. In spite of efforts to make the wall a reality, Trump’s voter base may see the backing down on funding as an election promise that’s ready to be broken. Chances are that Trump is playing politics to prevent a shutdown of the government over this highly partisan issue. In addition there are reports that Trump hasn’t given up on the project. In spite of this, his voters may have lost some trust in him. According to a January 2017 poll by The Washington Post and ABC, 56 percent of those who wanted Trump to win the 2016 election strongly support the wall while 20 percent moderately support it. The majority among those who have supported Trump see the wall as something that’s needed. The next time there is a budget process, if Trump doesn’t push for funding, it is highly likely that his constituents are going to see themselves as betrayed. On the other hand, if he does push for funding, much of the trust lost will likely be restored.

It seems that Trump’s promise to block funding for “sanctuary cities,” cities that limit their cooperation with immigration law enforcement, will also be blocked by America’s judicial system. Just today, April 25th, a federal judge in San Diego has halted the implementation of a Justice Department order for 9 cities to prove compliance with agencies such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement by the end of June. This is a happening that has occurred as this part of the brief on Trump’s election promises was being made. It is likely that the next series of events will mirror those that occurred with the blocking of Trump’s travel ban. There may be protests as this is the third time an election promise was blocked by a federal judge. Should the block stay in place, Trump supporters may become disillusioned with America’s political system, a conclusion that will be expanded on in the last part of this series of blog posts. Should the block be overturned, up to 2.27 billion dollars will be at stake for cities targeted by the Justice Department order.

Trump has has much more control over his three other promises regarding illegal immigrants. Trump’s promise to deport around 2 million illegal aliens classified to be criminals seems to be set in motion, although it is unclear if said 2 million are being targeted. Arrests of illegal immigrants are up but there has been no apparent change to the number of deportations. Meanwhile there has been no mention of cancelling visas for countries that refuse to take convicted criminals deported by the U.S. In addition Trump doesn’t seem to be going after the two amnesties granted by U.S. President Barack Obama that Trump has called “illegal.” In fact, Trump has said that the “dreamers” protected by the amnesties can “rest easy.” Although this might bring Trump a little bit of support from America’s Hispanic community, many young immigrants feel uneasy about Trump’s pledge to them, according to a story published by the Chicago Tribune in April 2017.

Brief Sources

Clement, Scott. (2017, February 13) Americans are more split on the Trump travel ban than you might think. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/02/13/americans-arent-rejecting-trumps-immigration-ban-outright-but-it-has-a-tough-road-ahead/ and https://archive.fo/034Lm

Phillips, Kristine, & Clement, Scott. (2017, April 24) “Trump says his base ‘really wants’ a border wall. Polls show most Americans don’t.” The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/04/24/trump-says-his-base-really-wants-a-border-wall-polls-show-most-americans-dont/ and https://archive.fo/NvBNY

Associated Press. (2017, April 21) Young immigrants won’t ‘rest easy’ despite Trump’s comments on ‘dreamers’. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/politics/ct-trump-dreamers-20170421-story.html and https://archive.fo/KLiHG

This is part 3 of a series of blog posts about the impact of U.S. President Donald Trump’s kept and unkept election promises as his first 100 days wind to an end. Feel free to leave any comments. Feedback is much appreciated.

As Trump’s first 100 days come to a close, voters may become disillusioned by election promises not kept (Part 2: Economy Analysis)

Click here to see Part 1

Continuing from Part 1, this next part about kept and unkept election promises made by U.S. President Donald Trump is on economy and trade policy.

Analysis

Economy and Trade Policy

Only one of the six promises Donald Trump had made during his election have been fulfilled in regards to the economy. The one promise he did keep was to have his commerce secretary and trade representative identify unfair trade deals. In contrast, he hasn’t designated China as a currency manipulator. Neither has he instituted a 35 percent tariff on certain businesses or forced select companies to produce domestically. He could still keep his promises of a tax overhaul, but it seems unlikely at this point he will renegotiate or leave NAFTA. Finally Trump has yet to pursue a massive effort to rebuild America’s infrastructure. The tax overhaul may be coming soon but the other unfulfilled promises are yet to be seen.

Judging by a list compiled by PolitiFact on July 2016 of Trump’s top campaign promises, at least three of his major election promises established during this time have seemingly been compromised. His statement that he would renegotiate or leave NAFTA was rolled back to a draft with minor changes. Although he has threatened to leave NAFTA if his goals were not met in a renegotiation, what he has now is far less extreme than what he had demanded before. According to a February Gallup poll, Americans are split on whether or not NAFTA is good for Americans. However only 22 percent of Republicans support NAFTA as it currently is. Trump’s current stance on NAFTA is likely quite unpopular with his voter base and could impact the next election unless something changes.

NAFTA is very much tied in with his promise to bring manufacturing jobs back to the United States. Part of Trump’s grievances was about how NAFTA was enabling companies to seek cheaper manufacturing labor in Mexico. Making minor changes to NAFTA is unlikely to bring manufacturing back to the United States in and of itself. However the manufacturing jobs are also tied in with China and its workforce. Part of why China is dominant in the manufacturing sector is due to the low cost of labor. This may also be tied to accusations that China manipulates its currency. By failing to keep the promises to mark China as a manipulator of currency, efforts of which seem to have been abandoned, and instituting a tariff on or forcing companies that predominantly use Chinese factories, it’s unlikely Trump is going to make much impact here as well. At least unless Trump manages to bring manufacturing jobs to the U.S. by other means. Once again, this is likely to be quite unpopular with the Republicans who voted him in.

NAFTA and China are also both issues in another major election promise. This was the promise to impose tariffs on businesses importing manufactured goods from Mexico and China. Trump’s 35 percent tariff rate for these companies that manufacture abroad has not gone anywhere. This is a major election promise in and of itself. Outsourcing of manufacturing jobs, among others, has been a major issue for Americans for quite some time now. Needless to say it’s likely that Trump’s constituents do not approve of a lack of perceived effort to counter outsourcing. It’s important to note that Trump could be holding back on alienating China. It seems he needs the East Asian nation to help with mitigating the threat North Korea currently poses.

The fourth top campaign promise that Politifact came up with that’s relevant to the economy was a broad tax cut for Americans. This cut, which would include everyone or at least corporations and the middle class, is likely to be announced by Trump on the 26th, three days before the current budget deadline. Today, April 24th, he expressed a desire to lower the corporate tax rate to 15 percent. This is a good sign for keeping this election promise as things seem to be in motion. However backtracking on attempts to lower taxes for the middle class, if not all Americans, or disproportionately favoring corporations could alienate his voter base, especially those who consider themselves libertarian. On the other hand, if the tax cuts go through and fail to create enough economic growth, there would need to be more borrowing in order to meet America’s fiscal budgets. The national debt has been an issue for the American people for at least several years now.

The one promise that Trump insofar has fulfilled, the identification of foreign trade abuses, would be a valuable tool for Trump. This is especially the case should he decide to revisit any of the economic and trade promises he has yet to fulfill. With the executive order to his commerce secretary and trade representative at the end of March and a deadline of 90 days to find foreign exploitation of America’s trade, results should come in late June of this year. This would allow Trump to go after unfair trade deals, which could involve China in spite of Trump’s current relationship with the country. In addition it would create evidence to justify Trump’s actions in the eyes of not only the American people but in America’s lawmakers. Lawmakers who would be against Trump’s efforts, if there is strong evidence of trade exploitation, would likely suffer a hit in popularity with their constituents. In turn Trump would gain clout that would assist him in fulfilling his government-related election promises.

The promise to begin a massive project to repair America’s aging infrastructure has yet to begin but it is certainly something that is not only achievable and ambitious but necessary. As the years pass, not only will damaged and dated roads, highways and structures act to slow the flow of commerce, the risk of catastrophic failure increases. According to a Washington Post report in February 2017, more than 55,000 bridges are in need of repair or replacement. Should a bridge fail, lives may be lost and there will likely be damage to the economy. This is especially true if the bridge has heavy traffic. If this election promise is ignored, there is the possibility of some sort of infrastructure failure within Trump’s term as president. As long as the need for repairs and replacement is ignored, this likelihood increases. In addition, a massive effort to replace and improve America’s economic bloodstream will require a sizable amount of workers. This would be akin to the Works Progress Administration of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. It would create needed jobs for unemployed Americans, including those who see outsourcing as a cause for their unemployment. One possible drawback to this needed project is an increase in traffic density as detours and construction sites are established.

Update

April 26, 2017 – Trump has been reported to be getting ready to sign an executive order to remove the United States from NAFTA, fulfilling this election promise.

Brief Sources

Qiu, Linda. (2016, July 15) Donald Trump’s top 10 campaign promises. PolitiFact. Retrieved from http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2016/jul/15/donald-trumps-top-10-campaign-promises/ and https://archive.fo/fKOhJ

Swift, Art. (2017, February 24) Americans Split on Whether NAFTA Is Good or Bad for US. Gallup. Retrieved from http://www.gallup.com/poll/204269/americans-split-whether-nafta-good-bad.aspx and https://archive.fo/OvI2o

Haley III, Ashley. (2017, February 15) More than 55,000 U.S. bridges are in need of repair or replacement. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/more-than-55000-us-bridges-are-in-need-of-repair-or-replacement/2017/02/14/813a8e40-efa7-11e6-b4ff-ac2cf509efe5_story.html and https://archive.fo/bvsFZ

This is part 2 of a series of blog posts about the impact of U.S. President Donald Trump’s kept and unkept election promises as his first 100 days wind to an end. Feel free to leave any comments. Feedback is much appreciated.
Click here to see Part 3

As Trump’s first 100 days come to a close, voters may become disillusioned by election promises not kept (Part 1: Story Summary and Energy Analysis)

Summary

As outlined in the article “Trump’s 100-days promises: A long way to go on most of them,” published by The Washington Post, the benchmark first 100 days of U.S. President Donald Trump is coming to a close. During this time, there have been many election promises that Trump has either not kept or has tried to initiate only to be shut down by the legislative and judicial branches of the U.S. government. Some of these broken promises were hyperbole such as treating China’s president Xi Jinping to McDonald’s. Other promises broken or not yet kept would have more of a real-world impact. Many of these were part of Trump’s appeal as a candidate during his election.

Analysis

Energy and Environment Policy

Trump has kept two out of his three of his promises about America’s domestic energy production and its role in combating climate change. He kept the promise to have both the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipeline projects going and kept his promise to lift restrictions on fossil fuel extraction. The promise he did not keep was to pull out of the Paris climate accord and to cancel funding of U.N. climate change programs.

Regarding his energy policy, Trump has made no friends with environmentalist groups but his broken promise to reduce international cooperation regarding climate change has very likely eased the blow to the groups’ interests. There might be protests by these groups in the future as a consequence of both of the pipelines and increased fossil fuel usage, especially if  unexpected problems arise.

On the other hand, Trump’s voter base is likely very satisfied by the promises Trump has managed to keep. In a February 2017 Pew Research Center article, in spite of gradual decline in support, Republicans were shown to be in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline at 76 percent. This is in contrast to Democrat support being at 17 percent. Breaking the promise to pull out of international cooperation may have been popular as well. A November 2016 Washington Post article published that the Paris climate accord was popular with 71 percent of Americans, including 57 percent of Republicans.

One of the future consequences of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines would likely be less dependence on foreign oil. For nations such as those in OPEC, a reduction in the American market share could lead to slightly less cordial relationships with the U.S. This is because these nations that are dependent on oil exports will lose some of their trade revenue thanks to domestically produced oil. On the other hand, America having more control over its energy future should be quite popular with American nationalist groups who would see the pipelines as an American victory against globalism.

Meanwhile the increased extraction of fossil fuels is likely to spur-on the creation of power plants that are fed by said fuels. This in turn would have an impact on not only the local environments around the power plants but would also create more greenhouse gasses. This is the cost for cheaper electricity as the supply of electricity goes up to meet growing demand, especially during the summer months. The fossil fuels would also be a boon for trade as China needs to meet its demand for fossil fuels after blocking the import of coal from North Korea. There is also the demand by developing countries which need fuel for stable electric grids that would spur-on modernization and growth.

Trump’s broken promise to distance America from global environmental cooperation is by all means going to relieve the anxiety other nations actively combating climate change. This leaves America in the position to be a world leader in reducing global emissions, in spite of what will likely be increased fossil fuel emissions. Legislature that could be developed to meet climate change goals while still enjoying the benefits of expanding the fossil fuel industry includes research into cleaner mineral extraction and programs to incentivize cleaner energy production. In turn any innovation created by the U.S. could be passed along to other nations who seek to reduce their carbon footprint. This broken promise means that Trump is at least not going to change America’s current role in combating climate change. However, further down the road, Trump could decide to pull out of the Paris climate accord and U.N. efforts to combat climate change, which would have negative consequences for global cooperation and the development of cleaner energy.

Brief Sources

Associated Press. (2017, April 24) Trump’s 100-days promises: A long way to go on most of them. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/courts_law/trumps-100-days-promises-a-long-way-to-go-on-most-of-them/2017/04/24/c8f2acba-292f-11e7-9081-f5405f56d3e4_story.html and https://archive.fo/JmD0P

Suls, Rob. (2017, February 21) Public divided over Keystone XL, Dakota pipelines; Democrats turn decisively against Keystone. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/02/21/public-divided-over-keystone-xl-dakota-pipelines-democrats-turn-decisively-against-keystone/ and https://archive.fo/jW8JG

Mooney, Chris. (2016, November 21) Trump wants to dump the Paris climate deal, but 71 percent of Americans support it, survey finds. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/11/21/trump-wants-to-dump-the-paris-climate-deal-but-71-percent-of-americans-support-it-survey-finds/?utm_term=.925ee7e1af6a and https://archive.fo/Igr3W

This is part 1 of a series of blog posts about the impact of U.S. President Donald Trump’s kept and unkept election promises as his first 100 days wind to an end. Feel free to leave any comments. Feedback is much appreciated.
Click here to see Part 2