Conspiracy Theory Time: Today in Turkey, (a pseudo-ally of the United States and a NATO member) 15kg of weapons-grade uranium was recovered. Not depleted uranium--the real deal. In a lead container under the seat of a taxi. Written on the container are the words "MADE IN .W. GERMANY". Remember West Germany? They were also a NATO member. The other text on the container is blurry, but this is what we know about that container (and by inference, its contents):

  • It came from West Germany, and was therefore made before 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall. However, the men arrested were suspected of smuggling it from "Eastern Europe"--meaning a non-NATO country.
  • It was found in Turkey in transit at least 13 years after its creation. That's a long time for uranium to remain unused, but due to its long half-life, it probably didn't deteriorate much.
  • It was found by paramilitary police after they received "a tip-off".

Turkey is against a war in Iraq because of the Kurds, but could be vulnerable to Western pressure due to their NATO membership and reputation for being a smugglers' paradise. It's also the home of Incirlik Air Base--a great strike point for a potential war with Iraq.

The Voice of America news story (not a terribly objective source)includes the following blurb to place the story in perspective for those of us who have had our heads under rocks for the last six months:

The seizure comes less than one week after the British government published a report claiming that Turkey's neighbor, Iraq, has been trying to acquire uranium for a nuclear weapons program. London and Washington accuse Iraqi President Saddam Hussein of trying to develop nuclear weapons, and they have been working to build international support for a military operation to oust him.

So, it smells a little fishy to me. Uranium smuggled out of a Cold War-era reactor or NATO weapons depot (remember how paranoid we used to be, back then?), from one U.S. ally to another. Two poor Turks are picked up after an anonymous tip, accused of moving this stuff through Eastern Europe (of course it came from Eastern Europe--that's how you go east through Europe!). Not buying it yet? Read this article, from almost a year ago, when the U.S. and the U.K. were trying to drum up support for bombing Afghanistan:

Police in Turkey have detained two men who attempted to sell enriched uranium suitable for use in nuclear weapons. A police official in Istanbul said the two men offered over a kilogram of uranium, wrapped in a newspaper, to undercover agents. The detentions came just a day after the US President George Bush said Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda organisation was seeking to acquire nuclear, chemical and biological weapons "to destabilise entire nations and regions". A Turkish police official said the arrested men - an ambulance driver and his friend - were not aware of the uranium's real value and agreed to sell it for $750,000. "They were barely aware of what they were selling. They only knew it was a very expensive substance and wanted to make money," he told the Associated Pressnews agency. The men said they bought the substance from a Russian man several months ago. It is believed that the uranium comes from one of the former Soviet republics. The seizure in Istanbul took place as undercover agents arranged a final meeting with the two men, with whom they had been in contact for a month.

So: in two cases, just as it becomes politically convenient, a pair of incompetent Turkish smugglers are caught by sheer luck (or their own ineptitude) after they are caught with weapons-grade uranium (don't those three words sound great in a headline or a press release?). In each case, the American public, and the rest of the world that watches CNN, has been bombarded for a week or two with vague warnings that swarthy unscrupulous types just might try to smuggle this stuff into the hands of some very bad brown person we don't like.

Is it just me, or does this look like a Hollywood frame-up? Sucker Turkish patsies with promises of a few million American dollars and then send those rubes up the river. You can't make an omelette without killing a few people...

* update * (29 Sep 02) The uranium has been found to weigh only hundreds of grams. Will that headline make the news tonight?
* update * (1 Oct 02) Fifteen pounds of uranium actually discovered to be "harmless, containing zinc, iron, zirconium and manganese." Total weight less than 5 ounces. The discrepancy was due to the fact that the Turkish police weighed the lead container with the material and reported its total weight.