The Right Coast

December 23, 2005
The expectation of privacy in nuclear weapons
By Tom Smith

Here is one account of what the smallest nuclear weapon exploded in a US city would do. Dirty bombs here.

As I have mentioned before, I am not a constitutional lawyer. But I cannot escape the feeling that the various constitutional scholars commenting on the radiological surveillance issue are missing the point or else they are making the point that interpretation of the constitution has reached a reductio ad absurdum.

Here are some things I take to be self-evidently true. You have no expectation of privacy in a nuclear bomb. If you have a nuclear bomb, the Army, the Marines, the salvation army, whoever, should be able to go and take it from you. They should be able to shoot you if you try to stop them. I mean, pardon me, but is it not just a little insane for some law professor to say, as at least one has, oh, well, you can check for gamma rays from the street, but don't you dare drive into the parking lot, because that's invading somebody's privacy. Privacy of what? The right to emit deadly, high energy radiation into your parking lot? Did a right to emit gamma rays sneak into the constitution when nobody was looking? I mean, seriously. Let's look at what we are talking about here in literal terms. This is a van, like a UPS truck, that drives around on the streets, and occassionally pulls into parking lots and such places. Inside is some kind of meter, and if a little red light goes off, that means, holy shit, they seem to have a nuclear bomb in there. If anybody has an expectation that they can keep their nuclear bomb private, at least until they kill thousands or millions of people with it, and condemn many others to slow, horrible death, not to mention the thousands of babies who will be born with heartbreaking defects, I would suggest they change their bloody expectations.

Just from the outside, I get the impression that reasoning backwards from the conclusion they have already decided they like is a large part of what constitutional scholars do. Here, therefore, I would suggest they just start with the proposition that you just can't have a nuclear bomb in your house or your mosque or your synagogue or church or place of work, or even in the sacred precincts of your innermost marital cozy love room. No nuclear bombs. That's just it.

But how far am I willing to go? Won't we be torturing children to get them to tell us where their parents put the bomb, when really there is no bomb, it's just another paranoid Republican fantasy? Dude, calm down. We are talking about a van, driving around the street. And just one more thing. No one seems to have pointed out that, even before you detonate it, keeping a nuclear or radiological bomb in your rec room is a public health hazard. You may well be emitting particles that will make your neighbors sick. It is routine for the sheriff's department to drive up to house where there is a noisy party and measure the decibles coming off of it, but I suppose they can't measure the rays that give people cancer, rather than merely annoy them? Yes, I suppose there will be hard questions down the line, such as how sure we have to be there is a nuclear bomb ticking out there before we attach the electrodes to the suspected terrorist. But driving a van around, "invading" whatever "privacy" you may think you have in the invisible portion of the electromagnetic spectrum in the public spaces (and parking lots) around your place of residence, worship, and possibly weapon of mass destruction storage, is not one of them.