WI: American Airlines Flight 11 is armed with a stolen 40 kiloton Pakistani atom bomb

According to Nukemap blast would be enough to obliterate Wall Street, the rest of the Financial District, and the NY Fed too, and it would even cause mild damage to buildings as far away as the Empire State Building and Madison Square Garden. It would be too high for any fallout, but the short term effects would kill over 200,000 people and hundreds of thousands more would be injured.

Let's assume that the Pakistani government quickly confirms that only one bomb was stolen, so al-Qaeda doesn't possess more. How devastating would the economic consequences be? Would the War on Terror be much more violent? What would be the long term political and social consequences?
 
Well, I don't think that an airliner has the engine power to carry a nuclear bomb, but since this is an interesting scenario I will dish that a side for a moment. First and foremost, people in the US would be far more angry at Al-Qaeda for what happened, and there would be much heavier support behind the war. In fact, there may even be less "we shouldn't have gone there" because of talk like, "Well they nuked us, so is us going there even as bad as what they did to us?" Not that there still wouldn't be any anger towards starting the Iraq war, it's just that it would be harder to argue against it in the future.

The most realistic option is to assume one nuke is put on a plane (How that happens is its own ordeal, but that can be ignored for now.) If it hits New York, then there actually could be more notable damage to the economy. Also, it would only take one plane then to do the damage needed in New York, so no two plane attack on the twin towers. This would free up another plane to attack somewhere else. (Probably either the Capitol Building or the White House assuming the guesses about the fourth planes target is correct.)

Now if you attack DC with the nuke, well it depends where. If you can get the Capitol Building with enough congressmen in it, well then the US government has a serious problem on its hands. (Even without a nuke this still would have been pretty serious; also really quick, but I am personally not sure about whether any congress meetings where happening at the time or not, so if anyone could help that would be appreciated.) Also, the nuking of DC in general would be a serious blow to the people of the US. The city that is (more or less) the symbol of their country would have a giant stain on its history, and people would be livid.

How this affects Pakistan is based on what happens with the blame. People will obviously be mad about Pakistan allowing a bomb to be stolen, but suspicion would be another thing. I mean... how could that happen? While we would most likely try to avoid war with Pakistan because, well, two countries with nukes going to war is not exactly a good idea due to a whole host of issues (Environmental, societal, etc.)

This is my take on the scenario. Again, not the most realistic because of whole prospect of getting the bomb on a plane, as well as that plane being able to carry it (An interesting scenario would be one of these planes failing to take off due to the weight, and then crashing at the end of the runway and exploding the bomb. Another one could be the bomb being discovered, and then being immediately detonated upon the news of this discovery reaching the terrorists.) Still an interesting scenario though.
 
Well, I don't think that an airliner has the engine power to carry a nuclear bomb, but since this is an interesting scenario I will dish that a side for a moment.

The W-80 carried by the Tomohawk cruise missile (1.2kt) had a reported weight of 130kgs.

Well, this is a Pakistani device. Pakistanis missile warheads over the last 20-years have consistently had a weight of 1,000-1,200 kilograms, although that would include extra weight from stuff like the re-entry vehicles that might not necessarily be present in this case. According to Feroz Khan, the Pakistani's managed to miniaturize their devices down to 500 kilograms by the late-1990s for their ballistic missiles and tactical aircraft. He claims they managed to cut that in half again at some later point, although he does not say when or how. I imagine a Boeing-767-200ER could haul 500 kilos quite comfortably, although how nobody would notice a package of that mass is a completely different question.
 
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Well, I don't think that an airliner has the engine power to carry a nuclear bomb

Flight 11 used a Boeing 767-200ER, which has a payload of ~73000 lbs, which is enough for even a large, primitive, heavy nuclear device.

As for targets, Al-Qaeda made the right choice. The US government has significant Continuity of Government plans, with many assets located outside of DC, plus huge redundancy in the military chain of command. While a decapitation strike would be helpful in the event of military action, one bomb in the Pentagon may very well cause only a couple years' worth of staff inexperience and lost records (until the backups are found). Attack the capitol building- Congress would have been irrelevent in Martial Law (literally, rule by the military) anyway. Attack the White House, and Bush needs to get himself a few new staffers. The federal government has plans for dealing with this sort of thing, and the physical infrastructre in the city either already exists elsewhere or can be moved or rebuilt easily.

New York, meanwhile, is both a major port and has far more infrastructure (especially financial) in place. Hitting the WTC with a nuke airburst will render the entire port unusable for months at least, will require major reconstruction and has a much higher population density than Washington. NYC itself is also more compact than Washington, so more will be in the blast radius.

Economically- both the DOW and the Nasdaq stock indeces would probably be closed for weeks. The actual damage to the city could affect America's total economic output. Bonds would also stop trading, as in OTL- the largest traders are in the affected area. Martial Law would only exacerbate this.

Militarily- this is only the second time nuclear devices have been used in anger, and to a far greater death toll than the previous occasion. Afghanistan and Pakistan will probably recieve military security "aid" not only from the US, but from Russia, the PRC and Europe as well. If Bush invades Iraq, he probably will not recieve similar condemnation as he did in OTL. Prepping/survivalism will probably become far more prevalent in th eUS, with things like home canning and gun ownership becoming major things. Our national security apparatus will probably become far more extensive, possily by ATL 2020 resembling the one found in OTL PRC- indeed, preventing such an occurance is part of the reason for it in the PRC>
 
According to Nukemap blast would be enough to obliterate Wall Street, the rest of the Financial District, and the NY Fed too, and it would even cause mild damage to buildings as far away as the Empire State Building and Madison Square Garden. It would be too high for any fallout, but the short term effects would kill over 200,000 people and hundreds of thousands more would be injured.

Let's assume that the Pakistani government quickly confirms that only one bomb was stolen, so al-Qaeda doesn't possess more. How devastating would the economic consequences be? Would the War on Terror be much more violent? What would be the long term political and social consequences?
While an airliner could carry the bomb, it would be difficult to smuggle one onboard. Too heavy for even first class baggage allowance and subject to X-ray scrutiny. Shipped as freight is less implausible but then there's problems with hijacking the right aircraft and ensuring the bomb is ready to go off at the right moment.

Could a hired executive jet be used instead? Would one be able to carry a bomb?

Using a small boat to explode it in the harbour is more plausible. IMHO obviously.
 
Why not use a 747 freighter?, organize it so it looks like you're bringing in some palletised freight to JFK.

A 40kt device, with a 100 ton payload of lithium-6 deuteride surrounding it! We an average of 5.6 MT per ton, you might get around 560 MT of blast!

Much obliged!
Wouldn't you need to charter the aircraft and get the bomb through any inspections of freight? Plus normally there'd be no passengers on the plane to hijack it. while the freight plane's owner would usually supply their own crew.

A boat still seems easier to organise in my view.
 
Obviously I'm speculating that they'd already worked that out, paperwork, manifest, crew members as operatives etc. They don't even need to land it, just fly it over NYC at nighttime for an air burst.

Why night? Wouldn't the immediate casualties be higher during the midmorning?
 

DougM

Donor
If you give an anti US terrorist a nuke they are probably going to think Washington DC not New York.
 
The main reason the terrorists were so successful in their plan was that they didn't have to try to smuggle weapons or bombs into the country or aboard an aircraft. Once you start adding stuff like that, the chances of success plummet dramatically.
 
Flight 11 used a Boeing 767-200ER, which has a payload of ~73000 lbs, which is enough for even a large, primitive, heavy nuclear device.

As for targets, Al-Qaeda made the right choice. The US government has significant Continuity of Government plans, with many assets located outside of DC, plus huge redundancy in the military chain of command. While a decapitation strike would be helpful in the event of military action, one bomb in the Pentagon may very well cause only a couple years' worth of staff inexperience and lost records (until the backups are found). Attack the capitol building- Congress would have been irrelevent in Martial Law (literally, rule by the military) anyway. Attack the White House, and Bush needs to get himself a few new staffers. The federal government has plans for dealing with this sort of thing, and the physical infrastructre in the city either already exists elsewhere or can be moved or rebuilt easily.

New York, meanwhile, is both a major port and has far more infrastructure (especially financial) in place. Hitting the WTC with a nuke airburst will render the entire port unusable for months at least, will require major reconstruction and has a much higher population density than Washington. NYC itself is also more compact than Washington, so more will be in the blast radius.

Economically- both the DOW and the Nasdaq stock indeces would probably be closed for weeks. The actual damage to the city could affect America's total economic output. Bonds would also stop trading, as in OTL- the largest traders are in the affected area. Martial Law would only exacerbate this.

Militarily- this is only the second time nuclear devices have been used in anger, and to a far greater death toll than the previous occasion. Afghanistan and Pakistan will probably recieve military security "aid" not only from the US, but from Russia, the PRC and Europe as well. If Bush invades Iraq, he probably will not recieve similar condemnation as he did in OTL. Prepping/survivalism will probably become far more prevalent in th eUS, with things like home canning and gun ownership becoming major things. Our national security apparatus will probably become far more extensive, possily by ATL 2020 resembling the one found in OTL PRC- indeed, preventing such an occurance is part of the reason for it in the PRC>

Sorry but it would be the Third time as the US dropped two on. Japan
 
Having a nuke stolen or compromised is every security experts worst nightmare. Pakistan is no different. In fact, because their prospective nuclear enemy shares a land border with them, they are probably more so. Coordinating stealing a nuke from Pakistan might be a more complicated operation than smuggling it into the US and detonating it in NY. And that is saying something. This seems like it would be well beyond Al-Qaeda's resources.
 
If you give an anti US terrorist a nuke they are probably going to think Washington DC not New York.
Depends on if your terrorist wants a body count and a spectacle or a blow to power. As outlined before, if the terrorist is clever enough to plan all this and pull it off he would know that nuking Washington is mildly irritating as far as the government and military continuing. Nuking New York, though...
 
Having a nuke stolen or compromised is every security experts worst nightmare. Pakistan is no different. In fact, because their prospective nuclear enemy shares a land border with them, they are probably more so. Coordinating stealing a nuke from Pakistan might be a more complicated operation than smuggling it into the US and detonating it in NY. And that is saying something. This seems like it would be well beyond Al-Qaeda's resources.


The nightmare scenario is that some faction within Pakistan with enough clout to do so allows AQ to get hold of it. (it's a stretch having that much clout and being that insane are hopefully mutually exclusive).

Either way I'd guess the US comes gunning for not just those hiding AQ, but those who supplied the bomb. If the latter can somehow prove that it was stolen without internal collusion then they will be forced to give up their nuclear programme.
 
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The nightmare scenario is that some faction within Pakistan with enough clout to do so allows AQ to get hold of it. (it's a stretch having that much clout and being that insane are hopefully mutually exclusive).

Either way I'd guess the US comes gunning for not just those hiding AQ, but those who supplied the bomb. If the latter can somehow prove that it was stolen without internal collusion then they have be forced to give up their nuclear programme.
True, but Pakistan's boogey man is India, not the US. Their military has a significant role in their civilian government and in their eyes nukes are a big part of keeping them safe from India. I have a hard time seeing any faction within Pakistan's military (because it would pretty much have to be the military) being willing to allow Al-Qaeda (a group they are cautiously OK with using for their own benefits, at best) to take something they see as so integral to their national survival to attack the US, who still supplies Pakistan with arms. That would take serious clout and a lack of concern for the retribution of the rest of the military complex.

I can't say it is impossible but I can't see it.
 
The nightmare scenario is that some faction within Pakistan with enough clout to do so allows AQ to get hold of it. (it's a stretch having that much clout and being that insane are hopefully mutually exclusive).

I'm not sure such a faction could exist with Pakistan's diplomatic situation being what it was at the time. Who would support attacking their own most important great power patron, much less doing so in a way that would irrevocably paint a target on your back? Pakistan would be extraordinarily lucky to even survive this.
 
Obviously I'm speculating that they'd already worked that out, paperwork, manifest, crew members as operatives etc. They don't even need to land it, just fly it over NYC at nighttime for an air burst.
That adds a lot of extra complexity to the operation and provides multiple possible points of failure. Forging pilots licenses etc. might work to hire a light aircraft but not get them to work for a real airline. And freight planes don't need extra crew members.

I don't think having operatives as loaders is enough. Unless they can substitute the bomb for a real load on a scheduled flight.
 
True, but Pakistan's boogey man is India, not the US. Their military has a significant role in their civilian government and in their eyes nukes are a big part of keeping them safe from India. I have a hard time seeing any faction within Pakistan's military (because it would pretty much have to be the military) being willing to allow Al-Qaeda (a group they are cautiously OK with using for their own benefits, at best) to take something they see as so integral to their national survival to attack the US, who still supplies Pakistan with arms. That would take serious clout and a lack of concern for the retribution of the rest of the military complex.

I can't say it is impossible but I can't see it.

I'm not sure such a faction could exist with Pakistan's diplomatic situation being what it was at the time. Who would support attacking their own most important great power patron, much less doing so in a way that would irrevocably paint a target on your back? Pakistan would be extraordinarily lucky to even survive this.

Yep I agree. But I was playing around with the OPost.
 
I think the possibility of nuclear terrorism is worth discussion, but I don't think it can be easily linked to the 9/11 attacks in any meaningful way, especially in terms of tactics.

AA Flight 11 left from Logan Airport. If you've got the weapon in Boston, why are you bothering to try to get it onto an airplane in an extremely risky maneuver so that it can be detonated in New York?
 
IMO, if they did somehow get a Pakistani atomic bomb, a more likely scenario would be for them to just drive it into New York City and go to the site of the World Trade Center--Nukemap says that over 175,000 people die immediately, with 255,000 injured (that doesn't include those caught in fallout (which, if the wind were blowing in the right direction, would blow over a large section of Brooklyn and Queens) or panic, or that some of the wounded will die)...

According to Weather Underground, the winds were from the northwest to north-northwest at 7 to 10 miles per hour, so the fallout would blow over Brooklyn and then out to sea...
 
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