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Al Qaeda Duped? Nuke Manual Looks Like Internet Hoax

16 November 2001

Suddenly, Al Qaeda doesn't look so smart. Just yesterday, a Times of London reporter found a cache of plans, left in a Kabul home as the Taliban retreated, that included notes for making a thermonuclear device. The papers sent a chill through the Western world, since they appeared to indicate sophisticated designs for an atom bomb.

Now the online Daily Rotten says at least part of those documents photographed by the Times are taken verbatim from a "semi-famous" pseudo-document that has been circulating on the Internet for years. It's a reprint of a scientific parody called "How to Build an Atom Bomb," from the geek-humor newsletter Annals of Improbable Research, originally known as the Journal of Irreproducible Results.

In his report for the BBC, reporter Anthony Loyd held some of the papers up for the camera, giving a glimpse of documents the Daily Rotten now compares to the 1979 parody.

Even the language Loyd uses to paraphrase the abandoned material sounds like that of the satirical document.

Describing the scene in a Times article, Loyd wrote: "The vernacular quickly spun out of my comprehension but there were phrases through the mass of chemical symbols and physics jargon that anyone could understand, including notes on how the detonation of TNT compresses plutonium into a critical mass producing a nuclear chain reaction and eventually a thermo-nuclear reaction . . . ."

The parody document reads: "The device basically works when the detonated TNT compresses the Plutonium into a critical mass. The critical mass then produces a nuclear chain reaction similar to the domino chain reaction . . . .The chain reaction then promptly produces a big thermonuclear reaction. And there you have it, a 10 megaton explosion!"

To find these faux atomic-bomb plans, do a Web search for "The device basically works" or "Let's Build an Atomic Bomb!" instructs the Daily Rotten. "It gives us pause and joy to know the Taliban are wasting their time downloading what amounts to joke mail and spending time trying to discern the facts therein."

The Bush administration acknowleged the plans had been found, but downplayed their importance. With this Daily Rotten report, the public may get a glimpse of why.

Reached at the Pentagon spokesperson Major Tim Blair said, "I can't comment on that. You can find all kinds of reports, and you have to look at which ones are credible. We issue briefings and press releases, but we don't talk about anything dealing with intelligence. I'm not throwing stones, but the media should check the credibility of their sources. You all have to do your job."

The foreign editor who handled the story for the Times was not immediately available for comment.

James Ridgeway, with reporting by Sarah Park.
Published by the Village Voice.
(c) 2001 Village Voice.

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