Want a Dirty Bomb? Just Seal, Stamp, and Send…

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As reported on the front pages of today’s Washington Post and New York Times, undercover congressional investigators successfully exploited loopholes in the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s licensing guidelines to obtain enough radiological material to build a so-called “dirty bomb.” Investigators with the Government Accounting Office posing as West Virginia businessmen sent away for a federal permit to purchase radiological materials, which they received just 28 days later. Had the NRC bothered to do any due diligence, it would have discovered that the fictional company had no office location, no website, and no employees. As noted in the Times piece, “its only asset was a postal box.”

This was not the first undercover operation to test the NRC’s control measures. A similar sting in 2005 also resulted in GAO investigators obtaining small amounts of radioactive materials, for which they created false licensing documents using samples found on the Internet. They then smuggled the material across the U.S. border at two separate locations. Customs and Border Control personnel were unable to identity the forged documents and allowed the shipments to proceed. In this year’s operation, investigators employed a similar tactic, counterfeiting the NRC license they received and removing the limit on the amount of radiological material they were allowed to purchase.

At a Senate hearing this morning, at which the GAO released its report on the operation, NRC Commissioner Edward McGaffigan, Jr. acknowledged continuing problems with the Commission’s licensing procedures:

In hindsight NRC missed vulnerabilities in our licensing process identified by GAO, that resulted in a seemingly legitimate licensee obtaining a license for a small amount of material, then falsifying the license and potentially aggregating a much larger amount of material…

The Commission takes this issue very seriously… GAO may have found a unique vulnerability, or there may be more left for us to discover. We intend to find out.

The truth is, whether or not NRC improves its licensing controls, those who want to obtain radiological materials—given enough time, money, and determination—will probably succeed. Just ask William Langewiesche.

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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