Thursday, December 16, 2010

Terrorism and diplomatic immunity

Is it possible to smuggle enriched uranium onto a commercial flight?

I was having a conversation recently about the problems that the United States faces with terrorism, and the question surrounding diplomatic immunity when it comes to the smuggling of weapons of mass destruction came up.

Consider the problem of diplomatic pouches and the way in which a diplomat/foreign agent/terrorist, after proper packaging, would seemingly have little trouble smuggling in enriched uranium, something bacterial such as smallpox or maybe something chemical like VX.

In 2008 the United States allegedly sent a sample of what was supposed to be Uranium-238 from Burma to the U.S. for analysis inside a diplomatic pouch on a commercial flight. The sample had been brought to the embassy by a Burmese man looking to sell it in quantity.

“The subject brought with him a small bottle weighing 1.8 ounces (50g) and measuring 70mm long by 26mm in diameter, which was half-filled with a grey metallic powder. He claimed the material was uranium-238 in powder form. The subject claims to represent a small group that wants to sell uranium to the US. The sample was wrapped in several layers and placed inside multiple containers, including glass, lead, and wooden boxes/crates. He estimates there are at least 2,000kg more that could be dug up from the site in Kayah State." (The Australian)

So the question is, absent any changes in the law concerning the treatment of diplomats, if the United States can get Uranium-238 onto a commercial flight with innocent intentions, what the hell could our enemies do!


  1. Well, diplomatic immunity doesn't stop law enforcement from physically preventing a person, even if they're a diplomat, from harming someone.

    A diplomat pulls a gun on a cop, the cop can shoot him, diplomatic immunity notwithstanding. Of course, if the diplomat shoots the cop, and is later arrested, diplomatic immunity comes up. It would simply result in the U.S. requesting the diplomat's home country to waive immunity (the privilege lies not with the diplomat, but his home country, so the government can waive diplomatic immunity if it wants).

    In such a severe case, the country would almost certainly agree to waive immunity, if they're on remotely friendly terms with the U.S.

    Alternatively, the diplomat can be expelled, and his home country can deal with him.

  2. But what if the diplomat at the behest of his country smuggles in WMDs whether biological, chemical or nuclear?