Documents found on the floor of a Taliban recruitment center in Kabul that describe how to build a thermonuclear device may not be what they seem.
At least some of them come from a document called ?Weekend Scientist: Let?s Make a Thermonuclear Device,? which was first published in 1979 as a humor piece by The Journal of Irreproducible Results. The article was written in response to U.S. court decisions of the time that restricted popular magazines from describing how to make a bomb. Since all the information is freely available in public libraries, the authors decided to provide a humorous list of ?ten easy steps? proving how easy bomb building can be. While parts of the article may be essentially accurate, like the section that gives suggested relative proportions of plutonium and TNT, most of it is deliberately funny.The article tells readers to obtain weapons-grade plutonium from their ?local supplier? and says, ?A nuclear power plant is not recommended, as large quantities of missing plutonium tends to make plant engineers unhappy. We suggest you contact your local terrorist organization.?
The U.S. Department of Energy refuses to comment on the accuracy of the documents, but they do say that about five kilograms of plutonium is theoretically enough to make a nuclear explosive device, while the recipe in The Journal of Irreproducible Results calls for much more–110 kilograms.
The documents can be seen on a news video shot by the BBC, which broke the story. The video only shows enough of the documents for a few parts to be read, but these few phrases are exactly as written in the 1979 paper: ?Theory of operation … the device basically works when … critical mass then produces a nuclear chain reaction … Plutonium (PU), atomic number … and is similar in .??
?From what I?ve seen, this is certainly a shortened version of the original article,? says Marc Abrahams, former editor of The Journal of Irreproducible Results. The Kabul document looks as if someone rearranged the text by cutting out pieces and pasting them. Some of the more obviously absurd parts of the original are missing, such as the paragraph that states, ?in next month?s column, we will learn how to clone your neighbor?s wife in six easy steps.?
Abrahams says, ?If you spend half a second scanning any of this you should be able to tell it?s a joke.? He says that if someone tried to make the instructions more believable by removing the ridiculous parts, there would be almost nothing left.
BBC Correspondent John Simpson, who first recognized the humorous documents on the video, says the Afghan secret service removed some of them before they could be captured on camera. Still, he says that ?Maybe the really dangerous-sounding documents on nuclear fission and missiles were just fantasy.?
Was this a joke played by one group of Taliban members on the others or do terrorists have more of a sense of humor than we have been led to believe? If it was disinformation planted by one of our spies, it?s a brilliant job of exploiting the naivete of the enemy. As BBC press officer Chris Reed says about Simpson?s revelation, ?It?s safe to say that he chose his words with care. I need to get to the bottom of it.?
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