August 23, 2003


This might turn out to be interesting:

Canadian police arrested 19 men last week in a case that, according to court documents obtained by a newspaper, has eerie parallels to the preparations for the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

The Toronto Star newspaper said the men were arrested after a "pattern of suspicious behavior" which featured one man taking flight lessons that took him directly over an Ontario nuclear power plant.

Posted by Tim Blair at August 23, 2003 05:07 PM

The Toronto Star article itself:

Police arrest 19 in terror probe.

Posted by: ForNow at August 23, 2003 at 05:49 PM

Thanks for the link ForNow.

It highlights a problem. You can be a terrorist in a country, train to commit a terrorist act and not break any law. It makes it very hard to prosecute and detect.

The lawyer for the 19 makes the case that any lawyer in the western world would, that its a coincidence and bogus trumped up prosecution - I think its something they learn in Crim Law 101.

Problem is the lawyer might have a point, and there is no way of knowing until the nuclear power plant explodes.

Then of course its the fault of the neo-cons for attacking Iraq and Afghanistan - even though the Pakistani's in question in the article you link to have been in North America for longer that Bush has been President.

Posted by: Gilly at August 23, 2003 at 08:23 PM

Why would any self-respecting terrorist attack Canada?
Why not go the whole hog and blitz New Zealand- that'll show 'em.

Posted by: Habib Bickford at August 23, 2003 at 09:49 PM

Canadians appear to have convinced themselves that they can avoid terrorist attacks on their home soil, if they can just appease potential attackers.

That defensive strategy may work. Or, it may not.

Posted by: John J. Coupal at August 23, 2003 at 10:57 PM

There is no appeasing these people, except possibly self-destruction. It is our very existence they despice, not any one thing we do.

Posted by: Jerry at August 24, 2003 at 12:14 AM


it must be as the handwringers said, that supporting the US would make Australia more of a target.

I wonder how Canada and the UN feel ?

Posted by: Nic (RWDB) at August 24, 2003 at 12:21 AM

Its the Jooos and their damned remote controlled airplanes.

Posted by: AG at August 24, 2003 at 12:45 AM

Maple syrup, Flannel, and Molson Golden are an abomination under the Koran.

Posted by: wallace at August 24, 2003 at 02:37 AM

Maybe they had heard of Moosehead and got curious.

I was curious until I found out it was beer.

Posted by: Ken Summers at August 24, 2003 at 04:06 AM

i dunno ken; i heard it originated in the yukon one winter...

Posted by: Mr. Bingley at August 24, 2003 at 06:42 AM

Get real people - you can't take out a nuclear plant with a Cessna, OK?

What's it mean that his flight lessons "took him directly over an Ontario nuclear power plant"? Is it near the practice area where they do stalls and steep turns, or maybe in the traffic pattern for a small airport?

Not saying that there's nothing going on with these supposed towelheads, but don't be worried about the nuclear containment vessel - it can probably take a hit by a heavy.

Oh, I enjoy your site Tim ;-}

Posted by: Jimmy Antley at August 24, 2003 at 07:38 AM

What happens if you pack that Cessna with high explosives? The kamikazes were able to do some serious damage to some pretty big ships (when they actually got through) during WWII. I wouldn't want to take that risk, personally.

Posted by: Greg Hill at August 24, 2003 at 09:24 AM

nuclear plants are built not to leak radioactive material. they could probably kill some people but I doubt there would be a breach. unless the canadians are getting lazy with their design.

Still we don't want to see them try do we.

Posted by: Scottie at August 24, 2003 at 09:38 AM

Nah, why would it hurt to see them try? Another one bites the dust ...

Greg, I don't think the plane has anywhere near enough mass to get the explosives through the concrete, as a good bomb or missile is designed to do. Now, (I say this as a general aviation pilot), why wouldn't the same towelheads drive a rented 24 ft Ryder, which can hold 100 times the mass, on a road that goes right by the plant. No need to take lessons either.

I am writing comments here because all the new restricted airspaces are a crock of s__t, due partly to what I said above. We're fighting the last battle (that happened to involve aircraft), which we all know is bad generalship (or whatever the word is). I hope there is NOT another battle, but let us not fixate on aviation. Time to pick on something and somebody else, like, oh, yeah, the mostly porous(sp?) border between America and Mexico.

Posted by: Jimmy Antley at August 24, 2003 at 10:13 AM


What would a hijacked 747, 767, 727 or any other number with 7's wrapped around it do to a power plant.

From the article the arrested Pakistani student in question was trying to get commercial rating. I don't think its the 'authorities' that are fixated with airliners and aircraft - its the terrorists.

Posted by: Gilly at August 24, 2003 at 12:36 PM

Maybe they're trying to scare people away from nuclear power. More nukes means less oil means less cash for terrorism.

Posted by: Joseph Hertzlinger at August 24, 2003 at 02:35 PM

Take a 767, maximum takeoff weight of 450,000 lbs, including over 23,000 gallons of fuel, and crash it into a nuclear power plant at say 500 mph and the nuclear power plant is least going to be out of operation for quite some time. Do the same to 4 or 5 nuclear or even conventional power plants in Canada and the US and the power grid will be screwed for the near term.

It would be a headline grabbing attack on the infrastructure and the economy. The icing on the cake would be the number of infidels killed.

Posted by: ZsaZsa at August 24, 2003 at 02:41 PM

I should point out that nuclear power plants can't explode, at least not in the atomic bomb sense. It would also be very difficult to hit a containment dome with a commercial jetliner flying at full speed close to the ground, and a collision would be unlikely to result in any significant damage to the containment anyway. A jetliner is really just a thin-walled aluminum can, optimized for light weight; only the engines have any real mass. With 9/11, we had delicate thin-walled vehicles crashing into delicate thin-walled buildings; a two-metre thick reinforced concrete-and-plate-steel cylinder is an entirely different target, even assuming a plane can hit it head on.

But Zsa Zsa's right; even with a negligible probability of any radiation release, the real damage this kind of attack would do would be in the panic it would cause, and in the shutting down of lots of generation, "just in case".

Posted by: murray at August 24, 2003 at 04:57 PM

Flying a commercial aircraft into a nuclear power plant would be extremely successful, even if very little damage were done in real terms.

A terror attack is successful if it causes fear. As a strategic military target a commercial airliner and power plant might not make much sense - but in terms of angst caused, thats a pretty potent combination.

Canada may find relocation of their asylum seekers to a detention centre while their claims are processed and their bonafides checked to be a better way of sorting out the wheat from the chaff than waiting to see which ones quaff the saki before taking over the controls on the next available 767.

Posted by: Gilly at August 24, 2003 at 05:18 PM

Murray. Whatt about the Pentagon? Those walls aren't exactly 'paper-thin'.

Posted by: Greg Hill at August 25, 2003 at 01:03 AM

thin-skinned or not, murray, the inertia of the aforementioned 450,000lb 767 at 500+ mph would pack one hell of a wallop, no?

Posted by: Mr. Bingley at August 25, 2003 at 01:15 AM

as an example. let's say i take a water balloon ( a reasonable facsimile of a 767, wouldn't you say?) and have a baseball pitcher fling it at 95+ mph at you head, a head which, if it's anything like mine, is nuclear-reactor-containment-dome thick. think they'll be any damage?

Posted by: Mr. Bingley at August 25, 2003 at 01:18 AM

I bet if there is a major attack in/on Canada, they will suddenly flip and become all gung-ho anti-terrorist types. Well probably not, it would just be the US' fault.

Posted by: Andrew Ian Dodge at August 25, 2003 at 01:58 AM

Gilly - a commercial certificate only allows you to make money flying airplanes (i.e. banner-towing, photography, instruction, etc) and requires 250 hrs. This is nothing like the training required for either an ATP or a type rating which you need for any airliner over 12,500 lb (or any turbojet or turbofan). The airlines do their own screening, and that's when these dudes ought to get looked at thoroughly, and they do these days.

I don't thing shutting off power for a few days are what these terrorists want to do. Sure, it's major damage economically, but they want to do highly-visible high-fatality type things (i.e. suicide bombers in Isreal, and the 9/11 attack).

That's why I couldn't understand why it would be terrorism when the NE lost electrical power last week, and people were suggesting that (in the first 1/2 hour, before it became clear that it's just dicked up software running some big relays - always blame the programmers - you're usually right ;-}

I will put money on the fact that terrorists won't use another US Airline as a missile again. The event happened in the first place because of:

a) No guns in the cockpit (in America, for crying out loud). What a crock - 3000 lives due to political correctness! This has not been remedied, though, as the new "TSA" program is a freakin joke.

b) The airlines' policy - written into Flight Operating Manuals, BTW - used to be that the hijacker was to be dealt with, delayed and so on, as to not get anyone hurt. I disagreed with this before 9/11/01. This has changed drastically.

Like I said, y'all, we're fighting the last battle.

Posted by: Jimmy Antley at August 25, 2003 at 02:15 AM

Mr. Bingley,

A water balloon at 95 mph would sure hurt, and probably leave a nasty bruise, but I doubt it would have any penetration ability. As soon as it made contact, it would begin to deform around your head and distribute the impact energy. You need something with the mass concentrated in a smallish, relatively massive non-deformable object, preferably of comparable hardness to your skull. A bullet (or a carefully chosen rock) would do, but you'd still need a speed somewhat higher than 95 mph for penetration, I think(?)

I had an engineering analysis around here in a PowerPoint file, but can't find it now. But this PDF article, from Science, predicts very little likelihood of a containment penetration from any aircraft collision.

Critical comments about the article and the authors' responses are here.

Posted by: murray at August 25, 2003 at 03:11 AM

thanks for those links; very interesting reading, and clearly our skulls (and the containment vessels) seem to indeed be safe from the impact. but neither the article nor the q/a addresses what really brought the wtc down: the fire. much as the elevator shafts created a chimney effect that allowed extremely high temps to develop and thus weakened the steel in the wtc, isn't the same danger there to some extent at nukes with regard to the containment buildings?

Posted by: Mr. Bingley at August 25, 2003 at 04:05 AM

Jimmy Antley makes some good points.

Terrorists want mediagenic opportunities, not so much infrastructure hits.

And turn the cockpit into a problem area, not an opportunity. Make it the bulletproof, pinhole camera-monitored, tap in a 4 digit ingress and agress.

And make it publically clear there's weapons in the cockpit so that anyone who tries to strom the cockpit realises their own plans could very easily take a bullet.

Posted by: Elitism For The Peole at August 25, 2003 at 04:51 AM

screw guns in the cockpit; just put a claymore there...

Posted by: Mr. Bingley at August 25, 2003 at 06:58 AM

For what it's worth: the Canadians have a good reputation for building safe nuclear reactors

Whereas the US Nuclear Power industry has demonstrated some poor engineering in the past (decades ago, but ...)

Posted by: Chris Chittleborough at August 26, 2003 at 01:56 AM