Yellowcake In the Soles of His Shoes

Splash page of, where it would appear that Patrick Campbell became Cassim and was unable to exit with his treasure.

Splash page of, where it would appear that Patrick Campbell became Cassim and was unable to exit with his treasure.

Last night, The Smoking Gun and then CBS reported on the latest sting carried out by our government to keep us safe from people too stupid for their own good. This time, instead of the FBI setting up the security theater sting, it was an undercover agent for ICE, or Immigration and Customs Enforcement within the Department of Homeland Security. The criminal complaint (pdf) filed yesterday is written by an ICE Special Agent working out of Miami (I’ll return later to the ironic job position she holds).

Once again, as we see repeatedly in the government’s adventures in security theater, we appear to have ensared a small-time hustler but will undoubtedly play this up as a major interdiction of international terrorism. The hustler this time is one Patrick Campbell, who stands accused of brokering a deal to sell U3O8 to Iran. Campbell apparently was promising to ship 1000 tons of the processed uranium ore, but was arrested in New York yesterday Wednesday when he entered the country from Sierra Leone, where he reportedly lives.

How was Campbell caught? Here is how the complaint describes the elaborate trap ICE devised:

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Yup. Everybody knows that Iran absolutely would go shopping for uranium on Note that ICE does not appear to be able to get their high-tech document production equipment to produce subscripts. There really is no such thing as Uranium 308 or U308. Writing it that way makes it look like they are referring to a uranium isotope. The naturally occurring isotopes of uranium are listed here, where we see that the atomic masses range from 232 (= U-232) to 238 (=U-238). The isotope of interest is U-235, which occurs in nature as only 0.7% of the uranium atoms. Uranium is mined as raw ore which is chemically treated to produce U3O8, which is otherwise known as yellowcake. For further processing, the yellowcake is then converted to UF6 gas and then put into gas centrifuges where the mixture is selectively enriched for the U-235 isotope. Low-grade enriched uranium has the U-235 enriched from the naturally occurring 0.7% to the range of 3-5%. Iran has also produced mid-grade uranium at 20% U-235 for its research reactor used to produce medical isotopes, but this still falls short of the 90% or so U-235 needed for a nuclear weapon.

It would appear that ICE ran this scam on such a short budget that they wouldn’t even front Campbell the money for travel to the US from Sierra Leone. In his negotiations with the undercover agent, Campbell demonstrated a pitiful level of awareness of operational security. The complaint notes many communications with Campbell by email, telephone and Skype. There is no indication that any of the communications were encrypted. The extent of his op-sec appears to be his brilliant use of an acronym to refer to the transaction:



Campbell finally made it to New York yesterday Wednesday, where he was promptly arrested. Here is how The Smoking Gun opened their report:

A foreigner who agreed to sell undercover Homeland Security agents 1000 tons of yellowcake uranium for shipment to Iran was arrested yesterday when he flew into the United States with uranium samples hidden inside the soles of shoes in his luggage, The Smoking Gun has learned.

Wow. He tried to hide his yellowcake samples in the soles of his shoes, which he then put into checked baggage.

This whole episode is stupid and wasteful on a wide range of levels.

First, Iran purchased huge stockpiles of yellowcake back in the days of the Shah. Read more

Navy Releases Cartoon of New Laser Weapon After Non-Productive P5+1 Talks

Yesterday saw several developments in response to the P5+1 talks with Iran ending over the weekend with no new date announced for the next round of talks. AP launched into a discussion of Congress enacting even more sanctions against Iran, although considerable gyrations are needed to identify just what else we could possibly limit after already enacting new sanctions four times since 2010. There also was very little consideration of the damage already done to Iranian citizens. In addition, the video above appeared in articles yesterday for both Wired’s Danger Room and the New York Times announcing a new laser weapon. The laser is said to be able to shoot down drones and to pierce light watercraft, and so it will be deployed in the Persian Gulf. But not until 2014. Maybe that extra time will allow the US to make sure the Filipino Monkey can’t cause any mischief when the weapon is deployed. I’m guessing that the Times is onto something with their observation that the “Pentagon has a long history of grossly inflating claims for its experimental weapons”, especially since the Pentagon’s video, while over three and a half minutes long, has only about a minute and fifteen seconds of real-life footage, with the rest consisting of computer animation. Even Iran’s Fars News has read the accompanying report linked in the Times article where we learn of the limitation of laser weapons:

The laser does, however, have its drawbacks.

Testing has revealed it is disrupted by bad weather: Rain and clouds can scatter the beam, as can smoke, sand and dust.

In addition, due to the nature of the laser beam, these weapons are necessarily “line of sight” weapons, meaning they cannot attack targets that are beyond the horizon in the way that ballistic missiles can. Also, the report points out the issue of “blooming” where the laser beam heats up the surrounding air, making targeting difficult for an object coming straight at the weapon. A bit of what could well be that effect is seen in the live action video, where the path of the laser beam as it hits the target becomes visible just as the target is beginning to burn.

The release of an “official” video announcing the weapon, but relying so extensively on computer animation brings to mind the ridiculous cartoon that George Jahn published during previous discussions of the disputed Parchin complex and Benjamin Netanyahu’s bomb cartoon he used at the UN. When trying to convince the world of the effectiveness of a weapon of ours or the danger of a technology held by an adversary, reliance on cartoons does not instill a high degree of confidence in those who are evaluating the argument.

Today, Iran observed their National Day of Nuclear Technology which commemorates their announcement in 2006 of “completing the nuclear fuel production cycle at laboratory scale”. Iran discussed both the development of new radiomedicines and expansion of uranium mining, but Reuters found only the uranium mining to be worth mentioning. That’s okay, though. It’s not like there is a history of bad things going on when discussing yellowcake and foreign WMD. Oh. Wait.