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Government The Military Security United States Technology

US Couple Arrested For Transmitting Nuclear Secrets In Sting Operation 372

DesScorp writes "Recalling the famous Rosenberg nuclear spy case of the '50s, the US Justice Department has arrested a couple working at a 'leading nuclear research facility' for giving nuclear secrets to Venezuela. Pedro and Marjorie Mascheroni 'have been indicted on charges of communicating classified nuclear weapons data to a person they believed to be a Venezuelan government official and conspiring to participate in the development of an atomic weapon for Venezuela,' the department said in a statement. If convicted, the couple would receive life in prison."
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US Couple Arrested For Transmitting Nuclear Secrets In Sting Operation

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  • Re:FTFA (Score:4, Interesting)

    by StikyPad ( 445176 ) on Friday September 17, 2010 @07:37PM (#33616394) Homepage

    I don't understand why people (continue to) try to sell government secrets. The risk of getting caught far outweighs the potential reward; especially if you can't spend any of it without drawing attention.

    If you want to sell "secrets", join a bank.. nobody gives a shit about leaked customer information.

  • by Cyberax ( 705495 ) on Friday September 17, 2010 @08:10PM (#33616580)

    I believe, that a crude but working plutonium implosion weapon can be fairly easy modeled even on a fairly modest supercomputer.

    Precision manufacturing? Yes, but it's also much more accessible now (think laser cutting).

  • Re:FTFA (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 17, 2010 @08:22PM (#33616652)

    75 and 67 years old?

    Yeah, that's about the right age. 10 and 2 the day the Bomb was dropped on Japan in 1945. 17 and 9 the day the H-Bomb was tested in 1952. 24 and 16 the day the Russkies launched Sputnik in 1959. Perfect timing for a young adult or child to get inspired by the prospects of a career in science and engineering, and to subsequently find themselves in their 30s (or 20s) at a weapons lab building the World's Biggest Fireworks during the heyday of Cold War bomb design.

    (What, you think NASA built all those rockets just to beat the Russians to the moon? Manned spaceflight, satellite phones, GPS, and Google Maps are all spinoffs from things that were fundamentally cold war-era military projects: a fleet of reliable ICBMs, communications systems, navigation and targeting systems, and spy satellites.)

    The present-day stockpile stewardship has led to lots of interesting advances (with civilian applications) in supercomputing, solid state physics, and helped out with the monitoring/cleanup of old nuclear sites, but when it comes to practical applications, most of the folks are going to be old. (Any young adult growing up today - in the post-test-ban treaty era - that considers a career in this direction is aware they'll still be dealing with very interesting problems... but that the closest they'll ever get to knowing if it really works is in the form of analyzing the results from subcritical tests or from computer simulations.)

    I don't have a need to know if there are many (or any) young nuclear weapons designers today, but I suspect that since we haven't fielded a new design in decades, that much of weapons design is rapidly approaching the "lost knowledge" stage, and the demographic is akin to that grizzled (but brilliant!) old guy who still knows how to fix a mechanical typewriter or tune a carburetor.

    Much like the WW2 vets, the people of the Manhattan Project aren't going to be around much longer - and the second generation of weaponeers (who worked on the bombs that brought us the Cold War) is also getting pretty damn long in the tooth. Here's hoping the young'uns at the labs - even if they can never talk about the lost knowledge they've preserved - are at least taking steps to preserve the stories of the people who came before them. Because there are (and shouldn't be!) publicly-accessible papers on much of this research, it's even more vital that the labs who did the engineering (and who are entrusted with the responsibility of keeping it under wraps) to take steps to record, preserve, and secure the history for the next generation of engineers.

    Fuck these two asshats for leaking secrets. But here's a pseudonymous note of civilian thanks to the vast majority of you old fogies who did keep true to your oaths. You did some damn fine engineering while keeping secret the things that needed to remain secret. We random civilian nerds will never (and given the state of the world, probably should never!) have a chance to fully appreciate just how good the engineering was, but from what you have been permitted to declassify so far... yeah, pretty damn good. You gave us a world in which Fallout 3 was a fun video game, not a reality TV show. Thanks!)

  • by causality ( 777677 ) on Friday September 17, 2010 @08:29PM (#33616680)

    That assumes that everyone is equally rational, which we know is not the case. It would only take one psychopath to end the world and laugh as everything around him burned to the ground.

    That's why you don't give political power to psychopaths. The preferred cure is prevention. If they somehow achieve power and show signs of being psychopaths, and nuclear weapons might be involved, then the people of Venezuela should understand that sometimes a rabid dog needs to be put down.

    It's not like there is any shortage of politicians. There are plenty more where that one came from.

    A better long-term solution would be to institute a system like the US Constitution except that all political offices are limited to one short term, assigned by lottery from a random selection of all adult citizens, and conducted like a military draft in that refusing to serve could result in imprisonment. Anyone who has ever held office at any level of government is disqualified from ever being selected again either voluntarily or involuntarily. There would still be popular elections occurring at every quarter of a term of office (so every year if it's a 4-year term), but they'd be for the purpose of deciding whether someone holding office should be removed prematurely and replaced by a new random selection. Corporations and organizations would be strictly forbidden from participating in this process at any level, backed by the penalty of having the entity dissolved and all assets seized and sold off at auction. That's because with the elimination of a need to campaign, any participation by them must be corruption and cannot be called a *wink wink nudge nudge* campaign contribution.

    Maybe that idea is flawed and maybe it isn't. The point though is to remove "politician" as a career and to recognize that the people who want power so badly that they'll campaign, accept corruption, etc. in order to obtain it are not to be trusted with it. It would remove the notion of a ruling class and replace it with a notion of civic duty, much like the way we view jury duty. I think what we'd find is that average working people are not eager to obtain nuclear weapons and play silly games based around flirting with utter destruction.

  • by ChrisK87 ( 901429 ) on Friday September 17, 2010 @08:47PM (#33616766)
    The theory behind making a working fission bomb was considered straightforward back in the late 30's. It's no accident we had a working nuke a decade after learning the structure of the atom and the nature of radiation. The only reason we beat Britain, France, Germany, and the USSR to the first nuclear weapon is because everyone else was putting their entire economy into winning WWII. More important than the design of a nuke, as Chill mentions, is the manufacturing process (and hiding it from the IAEA). Also, effective delivery devices are fairly well controlled. There's a big difference between a medium range ballistic missile MIRVs/SLBMs. I've read that it is uncertain whether Pakistan has small enough nukes and delivery systems to have significant second strike capability, which has some serious implications for stability in the region.
  • Re:FTFA (Score:4, Interesting)

    by cdrguru ( 88047 ) on Friday September 17, 2010 @10:06PM (#33617096) Homepage

    Guns? Well, there are clearly three sorts of people when it comes to guns: those that are frightened of them, those that know how and when to use them and those that are quite willing to use them anytime.

    Nuclear weapons are a bit simpler. There are only two sorts of people when it comes to them: people that value this life and people that only value the afterlife. I'd say the folks that only value the afterlife are fucking dangerous and shouldn't be allowed to have anything more complicated than a safety razor.

    The leaders in the USSR valued this life for themselves and their population too much to throw it away on the possibility of leading the world into a new era of socialist superiority. The leaders of Iran apparently value only the afterlife and likely consider killing someone as advancing them along the path to their reward. We have seen much evidence of this and nothing that contradicts this view.

    The real question is how many people of the Muslim faith agree with that outlook. I don't care what they are praying about if they are afraid of losing their lives and the lives of their children. If they consider their lives better spent as martyrs and the lives of their children to be of no importance as long as they have a nice secure afterlife they are dangerous and unfit for the community of Man.

    Oh, and Christians that only value the afterlife are equally as dangerous. It has nothing to do with the specific brand of religion, just the attitude towards the living and the attitude towards whatever possible afterlife you might believe in.

  • by causality ( 777677 ) on Friday September 17, 2010 @10:18PM (#33617150)

    While this sounds nice theoretically, you would be amazed at the amount of horrible damage one idiot could cause in a single year.

    I greatly prefer the horrible damage caused by genuine temporary idiocy to the immeasurable damage caused by carefully calculated incompetence in the style of "Problem, Reaction, Solution" currently perpetrated ad nauseum by our ruling class. Any day. Without question. No contest about it.

  • by WillDraven ( 760005 ) on Friday September 17, 2010 @10:45PM (#33617260) Homepage

    I'm not defending the status quo at all. And I like the basic premise for your system here. I just think it would need a bit more polish, maybe some sort of competency exam to keep out the truly stupid/malicious/insane.

    And there is the small problem of the bloody revolution we would need to have in order to throw out the current rulers and get it implemented.

  • Re:FTFA (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Teancum ( 67324 ) <robert_horning AT netzero DOT net> on Saturday September 18, 2010 @12:01AM (#33617526) Homepage Journal

    This is so true. Anybody with a general understanding of radioactive isotopes is likely going to be able to make something akin to the "Little Boy" or the "Fat Man" bombs that were used on Japan. In the realm of nuclear bombs, those were puny little things that were unbelievably heavy and inaccurate as well. It is sort of hard to miss a target the size of a city, so that wasn't a problem when they were used.

    The trick, as you have pointed out, is to make the bombs small enough to be practical in terms of their delivery and to perhaps amplify the yield to give a genuinely powerful punch. Getting the size of a warhead to a manageable size is the key to much of the research, and to be able to know how to compress the fissionable metal sufficiently to initiate the chain reaction.

    I've seen some magazines, notably an old issue of Analog, that even had a special supplement labeled "give this to your local terrorist" that went into depth about how to make nuclear weapons... at least some crude enough to get the job done. It also gave a rather detailed description of centrifuges necessary to get the material to a concentrated form from material found in a nuclear power plant... with a rather gruesome description of the medical problems nuclear materials workers need to be concerned about unless you have gobs of money necessary to build the proper facilities to get everything put together.

    That is ultimately the largest problem with nuclear weapons: It needs the resources of a major nation-state in order to get one put together. You can trade real estate for cost.... which isn't too bad if you are a 3rd world dictator. Something like that sticks out like a sore thumb if it is done by a group trying to stay covert. Certainly no country is going to be unaware that nuclear bombs are being developed within that country, and it will never happen in a place like Somalia or Tuvalu.

    Even once the bomb is built, unless that country is prepared to use the bomb immediately (with the massive consequences for doing that), the bombs become even more expensive in terms of basic security (making sure somebody other than the leaders of that country are not going to use those weapons) and maintaining the infrastructure necessary for simply hanging onto those weapons. Basically, there isn't a strong compelling reason to even have these weapons unless you are in a life or death struggle for national survival or are one of the top major economic and military powers in the world.

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