FC: Rotten.com: Was U.K. paper's nuke expose based on joke essay?

From: Declan McCullagh (declanat_private)
Date: Fri Nov 16 2001 - 23:43:05 PST

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    The Times of London caused a media sensation this week when it reported:
        The Times discovered the partly burnt documents in a hastily abandoned
        safe house in the Karta Parwan quarter of the city. Written in Arabic,
        German, Urdu and English, the notes give detailed designs for
        missiles, bombs and nuclear weapons. There are descriptions of how the
        detonation of TNT compresses plutonium into a critical mass, sparking
        a chain reaction, and ultimately a thermonuclear reaction.
    Rotten.com claims to have analyzed photos of these papers; it reports that 
    at least one is a widely-circulated one-page Internet essay spoofing how to 
    build a nuclear bomb:
        Well, this is where it gets a little funny. You see, those words
        appear on a semi-famous document that has made the rounds on the
        Internet since the late 1980's. It's a reprint of a scientific parody
        called "How to Build an Atom Bomb" from a humor newsletter called The
        Annals of Improbable Research (AIR). At the time this document was
        originally written (1979!), the newsletter was called the "Journal of
        Irreproducible Results". (In scientific circles, a finding must be
        reproducible to be considered valid. Hence... well, it's geek humor.
        You understand.)
    You can find a copy of the Journal of Irreproducible Results article here:
            The project will cost between $5,000 and $30,000, depending on how
            fancy you want the final product to be. Since last week's column,
            "Let's Make a Time Machine", was received so well in the new
            step-by-step format, this month's column will follow the same
    Other news organizations have reported the existence of other biochemwomd 
    evidence in Afghanistan 
    (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A35529-2001Nov15.html), so 
    it seems unlikely that the Times relied solely on one printout. Still, if 
    the photos that rotten.com reprints are accurate, it's mighty strange. 
    Lending support to that theory is this BBC article:
        US Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge said the information could
        have been found on the internet and it did not mean Bin Laden was able
        to build a nuclear device.
    Then again, Ridge's colleagues remain plenty worried:
        But does the al Qaeda terrorist network headed by Osama bin Laden have
        nuclear weapons? Nobody who knows for sure is talking publicly. Yet for
        much of the last decade, government reports and intelligence experts
        have been warning that bin Laden has been trying to build the bomb.
    Contrary to what government officials like Ridge have been warning, the 
    hardest part seems to be securing the materials. Once you have those, 
    building a nuclear bomb appears to be within the grasp of your average 
    college physics student:
        Interestingly enough, the United States government conducted a
        controlled experiment called the Nth Country Experiment to see how
        much effort was actually required to develop a viable fission weapon
        design starting from nothing. In this experiment, which ended on 10
        April 1967, three newly graduated physics students were given the task
        of developing a detailed weapon design using only public domain
        information. The project reached a successful conclusion, that is,
        they did develop a viable design (detailed in the classified report
        UCRL-50248) after expending only three man-years of effort over two
        and a half calendar years. In the years since, much more information
        has entered the public domain so that the level of effort required has
        obviously dropped further.
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