On Wednesday, the New York Times reported the curious case of Glendon Scott Crawford, a man with Ku Klux Klan connections who wanted to build an X-ray weapon to "help Israel kill its enemies while they slept." It's an act so unsubtle and cartoonishly evil that Hollywood execs would probably laugh the premise out of the room.
Crawford was arrested Tuesday, after a sting operation by FBI agents in which they provided Crawford and his co-conspirator, engineer Eric J. Feight, with an nonfunctioning X-ray machine. This begs the question: Could an actual weapon be made from a working X-ray machine?
X-rays are best known for taking pictures of the insides of people. While a regular dose in a medical setting is harmless, increased exposure to X-ray radiation can cause harm. In the grand scheme of radiation, it's a modest dosage.
Like ultraviolet radiation, the kind that comes from the sun, too much X-ray radiation can cause cancer. That can be a death sentence, but it hardly compares to the kind of death sentence that would come from, say, a regular gun. The typical chest X-ray is 1 rad, or the base unit of radiation.
An intense X-ray that gives off 5-20 rad can cause chromosomal damage, and at 20-100 rad X-rays cause temporary reduction of white blood cell counts, risking reproductive health and sterility. At 200 rad, the earliest forms of radiation sickness can take effect, and 800 or more rad absorbed in a short time is almost always fatal. Crawford planned to create a device capable of generating lethal dosages of X-ray very quickly, probably taking no more than a few hours. He described his plan as "Hiroshima on a light switch," according to the complaint.
If X-rays can be this deadly, why don't militaries use them?
Before answering that, it's worth acknowledging that this is the weapon design of a crazy man, so probably not all that rooted in reality. While the agents in the sting operation disabled the X-ray generator Crawford intended to use, it's very likely that whatever he built wouldn't have worked anyway.
That said, the military
is was in fact trying to develop directed-energy weapons. While not strictly focusing onunrelated to X-rays, directed radiation beams were the key behind an experimental military weapon, later adopted as a "pain ray" used considered but never used by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department to control prison riots. Using a much lighter dosage than Crawford and Feight's lethal intent, these weapons would heat up the skin of their target, forcing the person to jump back.
That's a non-lethal use, designed to stop prisoners or rioting crowds. Using a higher dosage would defeat the purpose of a non-lethal (or, more accurately, a less-than-lethal) weapon, which was the military's goal. Besides, if the military wants an actual lethal weapon, they have far more effective, time-tested, and cheaper alternatives.
An earlier version of this article neglected to mention the X-ray lasers planned as part of the "Star Wars" Strategic Defense Initiative in the 1980s. The system intended to use X-rays to shoot down Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, unlike Crawford's human-targeting plan.
Other than excessive stupidity, what did they charge him with? I wasn't aware an x-ray source is illegal.
there is nothing wrong with policing authorities investigating someone making open threats of this scale. I assume they are bright enough as to address only real threats they may find.
Conspiracy to provide support to terrorists. It's fairly odd since from what I read, THEY were the terrorists, so how do you conspire to support yourself? Regardless, those FBI lawyers surely know what they're doing.
I agree, open threats like this are the main bread and butter of the FBI and other intelligence organisations. This guy allegedly walked into a synagogue and openly asked if anyone wanted to help kill enemies of Isreal. Good on the leaders of that community for going to the FBI.
Yes you can buy x-ray materials like cobalt-60 with a licence. If you want to create a gun that takes x-rays of people without their consent, I think would be possible. But if you want to create a gun that shoots a concentrated gamma ray burst to incapacitate an individual instantly you would need a nuclear power source, something way more radioactive and volatile than x-ray equipment, and the fallout even from cobalt-60 would not be pretty. So imagine some form of dense cosmic radiation being released on Earth. REAL SMART.
tertertert, a terrorist conspires to support terrorism with efforts to raise funds specifically for that use. That particular terrorist may not be the terrorist using the funds raised.
The KKK is now a friend of the Jews?
"It's an act so unsubtle and cartoonishly evil that Hollywood execs would probably laugh the premise out of the room."
At least until they've grown tired of remakes. Then again the author probably hasn't seen a hollywood film since the days of the studio system.
The directed beams of radiation used as a "pain ray" was microwave radiation.
Cutting edge science indeed.
I was a health physicist in the Navy. First thing is that medical X-Rays machines produce energy in the sub-10 MEV range. If you check on the transmission of 5 MEV X-Rays thru dry air you will find at 10 meters the transmission is about zero--it is all absorbed by the air. So a machine zapping people at a distance is plain impossible from that standpoint. Very likely this is the reason that the military is not interested in this.
Secondly, a comment above says you can get Co-60 with a license. That's true but getting a significant quantity is not so easy and you would be inspected carefully by the NRC and probably the FBI if you could not demonstrate a very good reason for having it.
My father in law was involved with getting a radiation source to irradiate truck loads of fruits. Getting all the licenses and permits was a multi-year process. They eventually got permission to use a isotopic source but it was by no means a simple process.
So I have to call BS on this whole idea.
I find it very inappropriate to use an image of Nikola Tesla for such an article. Why didn't you use an image of Roenken or Lennard or Einstein or a Grand Master in his robe and hood?
I get really tired of the Tesla bashing or, at least, disrespect when everything in your life, in one way or another, is a result of his work - the electrical system you and the entire internet and every computer in the world are using.
Are you in some way trying to ty Tesla to the KKK or say he was as stupid as these idiots?
I know my nuclear physics education is far from complete but I have worked with several high energy projects over the last few decades. When I was a kid we picked up radio sources for a wireline company in Odessa late at night. They used a drop vault to dispense them. The combination to the vault was the last four digits of their phone number. Sometimes there would be dozens of packages in the vault and we just sorted through them to find the one marked for us. Then we threw it in the glove compartment with our pot stash and went about the evening, all without incident. (and we're all still cancer free) Using a radio source for destructive purposes requires massive quantities or massive energy release in a compressed time. It would be far easier to kill a person with a 9 volt battery and a few capacitors than a commercially available radio source.
Energy is, very time dependant. PBFA II/the Z machine at Sandia labs was once the most powerful particle accelerator on earth. Yet the power expended would barley be enough to bake a potato. Released in 5 billionths of a second it makes for a very impressive light show and even a small earthquake.
Still waiting for those x ray glasses to work.
@ Complete ; No, not even. If we know anything as humans, it's best not to throw out words like 'can't' when talking about our ability to weaponize. Very few ever conceived of have ever earned the term 'totally unworkable' forever. Someone always comes along and figgers out how. We can't figger out how to make car payments, but we can always think up new ways to blow them up.
Problem with these guys is that these are classified as 'dirty weapons' by the people of the world. For them to just go off and start freelancing the production of a weapon of this nature with no rated controls or REQUIRED oversight is in fact a crime. We go after people who do this in other countries, so we damn well better be putting the collar on them at home. Many things that are well known emitters like mercury are actually the preferred things being used in non nuclear dirty bombs or dirty ammunition now. This is going to be a real problem as the commonality of capability increases worldwide--courtesy of this current massive worldwide push of consumer and commercial products all over the planet as we all try to recover financially.
@ Opus ; Xray emitting material-source-is not illegal to have or use-within the limits you are allowed without certifications. And the certifications aren't specific, as evidenced by dentists and their past use of mercury. What was a dentist to know about what mercury really is? The big joke through many of those years was that dentists were generally 2 year med school dropouts. Now while in general that was likely very unfair, it does indeed point to the fact that many of their trade had little in the way of specific knowledge in many areas. Yet they were allowed to use something like mercury, on humans. Lots of people still use it for different things, and with limits it is legal. Gotta be able to prove your containment. Gotta be able to reclaim. And it's best to track your overall handling of it nowadays, whether it's knowing how much you used to repair old mirrors, or how much you extract from how much ore.