Rants and Raves

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The order of succession

With all the focus on Iran and the possibility of an "Islamic bomb" these days, the fact that there already is one seems to have slipped between the cracks of our collective conscious.

Pakistan is a nuclear power. At present Pervez Musharraf is the autocrat/president, but he sits on an uneasy throne. Remember how many of his predecessors have been deposed or assassinated and you've got to wonder how long it'll be before he's replaced, probably by someone a lot less friendly to the US than he is.

Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, North Korea, "?". Sooner or later rogue nukes are going to be let loose on the world and into the hands of terrorists crazy enough to use them.

If we don't know when and where they are coming from, we can be reasonably sure where they'll be going, New York and Washington D.C. The political and commercial capitols of the Great Satan.

We can make it more difficult for terrorists, but we cannot make it impossible. As the IRA pointed out to Maggie Thatcher, they only have to get lucky once - we have to be lucky forever.

This situation is actually not so bad, in comparison with the Cold War scenario I grew up with. Back then we were looking at the destruction of civilization on Earth and the prospect of having to survive in the new wilderness with radioactive winds sweeping across the country. These days we can avoid being casualties just by not living in D.C. or Manhattan.

Back then we had a Civil Defense program that was comprised of some disaster preparation plus a lot of wishful thinking - but at least we had one.

There was a system of shelters built to house the federal government in the event of total nuclear war. In hindsight it looks really naive to think that they'd have time to move the whole shebang to these shelters, but at least it was a plan.

So what are we doing now about the possibility of a terrorist nuke on Washington? As far as I can tell, nothing.

There really ought to be some preparation, and what I have in mind is nothing so costly as a system of shelters. In fact, it wouldn't cost anything at all.

We should extend the line of succession.

The order of succession is currently:

1Vice President of the United States and President of the Senate
2Speaker of the House of Representatives
3President of the Senate pro tempore
4Secretary of State
5Secretary of the Treasury
6Secretary of Defense
7Attorney General
8Secretary of the Interior
9Secretary of Agriculture
10Secretary of Commerce
11Secretary of Labor
12Secretary of Health and Human Services
13Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
14Secretary of Transportation
15Secretary of Energy
16Secretary of Education
17Secretary of Veterans Affairs
18Secretary of Homeland Security

Currently two of the above office holders are ineligible by reason of not being native-born citizens.

The first thing that comes to mind about this is that it is quite possible that a nuke in Washington at just the right time might very likely get all of them, plus congress.

Is it asking too much to take some time to consider who'll be in charge if and when that happens?

And while we're at it, are the records of the New York Stock Exchange duplicated anywhere outside of the Big Apple?


  • At 1:02 PM, Blogger Leon said…

    Although I think that we should prepare for it more like you recommend, I think the odds of such a catastrophic attack are very low.

    You see, if they even do set off a nuke in New York or Washington DC, its not going to be the kind of nuke that we were threatened with during the Cold War.

    Unlike the multi-megaton monsters that Russia or China can deliver with cruise missiles or bombers, the kind that the terrorists can use are a lot smaller.

    They have two options basically:

    1. Build it themselves from stolen material. This is very hard and the kind of nuke created from this project would blow up no more than a few city blocks.

    2. Steal one. The most likely option. However, even here they cannot possibly steal anything particularly big. To be able to somehow transport it to their target it would have to be pretty transportable. Further, the effectiveness of it will be reduced compared to the Cold War scenario because they will have to detonate it at ground level, which severely lowers a nuke's effectiveness. If they detonate it on a ship in the harbor, a likely method of smuggling it in, the effectiveness would be reduced even further.

    I would say that there is no chance that terrorists could destroy all or even most of New York of Washington.

    Probably if you're not living in Manhattan, you're fine.

    Just my 2 cents.

  • At 7:13 PM, Blogger gun-totin-wacko said…

    So who would you extend the succession to? It would seem that the line is pretty good- I honestly didn't realize it went that far.

    I'm not sure how likely it is that they could all be there at once. Although Tom Clancy came up with an interesting scenario a few years back.

  • At 7:34 PM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    Leon, there's a third alternative. Someone gives them one.

    A nuke on a ship looks the most likely to me too. How close is the capitol building to the harbor? It's been awhile since I passed through D.C.

    How about a nuke on a launcher of some sort that lofts it just high enough off the deck to make a decent air burst?

    Wacko, I haven't the foggiest idea who it should go to. Could the governors of the states establish some sort of precedence?

  • At 7:38 PM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    P.S. I agree we're talking about a low probability scenario - in any given year. But, nukes ain't going away any time soon. What we're talking about is the probability of this happening sometime over the foreseeable future of our nation...

  • At 8:42 AM, Blogger Edward said…

    Perhaps extend by tacking on the governors of the 50 states, in order of admission to the Union?

  • At 11:11 AM, Blogger Brian Dunbar said…

    In hindsight it looks really naive to think that they'd have time to move the whole shebang to these shelters, but at least it was a plan.

    If there was a strike to behead the government - say from a SSBN offshore there would not be.

    During most of the Cold War we thought we could get as many as several days to 30 minutes warning. With a few days warning we could get the leadership removed from D.C and established in shelters. With 30 minutes they could move the president out of D.C. and on the way to shelter.

    Or so I have read, was told and inferred. In a prior life I had a very minor role in all of this - the company I was stationed with at Marine Barracks 8th and I was responsible for a small shelter way the heck out in the woods in Maryland. I spent a long week there once guarding the place.

    It was stocked for a few months stay by 3rd tier VIPs. Even had retro 60s furniture in the VIP 'suite'. I'm sure glad it has never had to be used.

    That particular facility was sold in the late 80s - but I am sure there are still active sites.


    I have read or heard that by statute all the members in the line of succession cannot be in the same location at the same time.

  • At 4:16 PM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    So how do they define "same location" I wonder?

    Rules like the British royal family operate under specify that the queen and crown prince cannot ride on the same plane together. They don't (to my knowledge) cover being within the average blast radius of a tactical nuke.

  • At 7:52 AM, Blogger MattQ said…

    I remember reading that one member of the government who is in order of succession is always outside D.C. when the full Congress meets. Unfortunately, I do not remember where I read this.

  • At 8:28 AM, Blogger Brian Dunbar said…

    So how do they define "same location" I wonder?

    You got me - I'm just a dumb former Marine. My definition would be 'not within fifty miles of each other'.

  • At 11:13 AM, Blogger bmac said…

    Mr. Browne,
    Just want to say how much I enjoy your blog, been reading for about a year, never commented. My only critique would be, you don't post enough. Thanks for such insightful blogging, it's refreshing.

  • At 5:50 PM, Blogger Steve Browne said…

    Thanks bmac, "We authors ma'am"* are a neuroticly insecure lot always in need of reassurance.

    I'd like to post more often too, but new baby in the house...

    I grew up around sailors and Marines Brian (which led to some polite language problems). "Dumb" is not how I'd characterize them, never confuse "uncomplicated" with "simple". Seems like they had the best-looking servicewomen too, and I always wondered about that.

    * Benjamin D'israeli toadying to Queen Victoria after she published a book. She probably ate it up, we all do.

  • At 8:18 AM, Blogger Brian Dunbar said…

    "Dumb" is not how I'd characterize them,

    A habit of speech I picked up from a gunnery sergeant.

    We received new hand-held radios. The comm section at that post was run by the Air Force. The zoomie giving the class on 'how-to' operate the radios was going on about crypo theory and how the units would frimjam the yabba-dabba-do in really deep technical detail. For twenty minutes. You could tell he loved his job and was infatuated with the new toys. We were falling asleep.

    Gunny Watson stood up, said "Now I'm just a dumb jarhead but .." asked the zoomie if this button was the one you pushed to talk, that switch changed the channels. Yes? Yes. Class dismissed. Thanks, Gunny!

    Seems like they had the best-looking servicewomen too, and I always wondered about that.

    Lots and lots of mandatory exercise.

  • At 2:13 AM, Blogger Galt-In-Da-Box said…

    A more likely scenario, is the detonation of a nuke at high enough altitude that the electro-magnetic pulse takes out our electric grid.
    This would be most likely if they had a country favorable to terrorism that got hold of both warhead and missile / built same.
    There are any number of potential candidate nations for that role, not just Iran as the Khazars would have U.S. believe.
    Whoever we least expect (China, anyone?) would probably make the best "delivery boy".

  • At 2:18 AM, Blogger Galt-In-Da-Box said…

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


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