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Author Topic:   Air and Space Museum and terrorism
LCDR Scott Schneeweis
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posted 10-04-2009 05:53 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for LCDR Scott Schneeweis   Click Here to Email LCDR Scott Schneeweis     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
One of the high risk scenarios in the National Capitol region is for the detonation of a nuclear device in close proximity to the Capitol building (a recent special on the History Channel offers good discussion of how this would play out). The National Air and Space Museum's close proximity to the Capitol would ensure that anything exceeding a single kiloton explosion destroys the museum or at a minimum will contaminate and render inaccessible its collection.

The chance is appreciably above zero that sometime in the future, the U.S. will experience such an event. We can reconstitute government if the attack occurs but not the artifacts. I believe it is prudent to reposition one of a kind/irreplaceable artifacts like Columbia to alternate facilities rather then leaving them in an area of the Capitol which is significantly vulnerable and a high value target for terrorists.

It would be great to hear from any of the National Air and Space Museum curators following the thread if consideration has been given to the above point or if a contingency plan is available for implementation to relocate/preserve artifacts under an elevated threat level to the Capitol area.

xlsteve
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posted 10-04-2009 06:58 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for xlsteve   Click Here to Email xlsteve     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The National Museum of the Native American is actually closer to Capitol than NASM, so I would think that institution would also benefit from a similar plan. As would several of the other museums at that end of the National Mall.

cspg
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posted 10-04-2009 11:40 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for cspg   Click Here to Email cspg     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Another option: move the Capitol and the White House (and the Pentagon) to some remote region of the US. It will be probably much cheaper to achieve!

xlsteve
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posted 10-05-2009 07:56 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for xlsteve   Click Here to Email xlsteve     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Then the Cosmosphere would be in danger.

ilbasso
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posted 10-05-2009 08:57 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for ilbasso   Click Here to Email ilbasso     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
At about the same distance as the NASM from the Capitol - and closer to the White House - are the Archives, with the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Bill of Rights, etc. They can be lowered into vaults, but that assumes you'd have some warning of an attack.

I would love to see all of our heritage preserved, but it would be of secondary importance if there was a nuclear attack. I remember once, when the concept of the Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) first hit the media, someone wrote into a magazine asking how he could protect his PC from an EMP blast. Kind of misses the point about the implications of there being a nuclear blast to begin with.

micropooz
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posted 10-05-2009 09:59 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for micropooz   Click Here to Email micropooz     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Plus if we start moving our national treasures out of our capital because we are scared of what the terrorists may do, then the terrorists have already won a victory without firing a shot. Just my humble opinion...

LCDR Scott Schneeweis
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posted 10-05-2009 11:43 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for LCDR Scott Schneeweis   Click Here to Email LCDR Scott Schneeweis     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
We have already modified our behavior and practices in response to terrorism to adapt and defeat the threat (not because we are scared). To be clear... am not recommending relocation of all artifacts and museums, just those singularly iconic relics which cannot ever be replaced. Send Columbia to Udvar Hazy now for instance. As somebody mentioned above, the National Archives at least has options for protecting the most historic documents - this is not the case with much of the collection on the mall. Would rather concede the possibility that an attack can occur and take precautionary steps in advance then loose one of a kind artifacts on a principle which means little to the terrorists.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 10-05-2009 11:59 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
At Udvar-Hazy, Columbia would be at an increased risk of being destroyed in an accidental plane crash given its location along the Dulles Airport flight path or being water damaged due to blizzard conditions given the facility's design.

Moved elsewhere in the country, Columbia could be subject to increased risk of hurricane, tornado, earthquake or humidity damage, or if moved outside high trafficked areas, theft or vandalism.

To deprive Columbia the rightful honor of being displayed on the highest pedestal this country has to offer -- the National Mall -- because of the remote risk of a nuclear attack would be a disservice to it, and would only be trading one set of risks for another, in my opinion.

Hart Sastrowardoyo
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posted 10-05-2009 01:55 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Hart Sastrowardoyo   Click Here to Email Hart Sastrowardoyo     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
With all due respect, terrorism, by its very definition, is random. That is, it would do no good to move Columbia or any other artifact anywhere (short of perhaps Cheyenne Mountain) because any place can be a target. I would argue that museums, because of its openness, large crowds of people and relatively lenient security (compared to that of the Capitol or the Pentagon) are more of a target for terrorists.

ilbasso
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posted 10-05-2009 02:48 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for ilbasso   Click Here to Email ilbasso     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
A museum as a terrorist target was realized pretty early on in the NASM's history. When the NASM first opened, the public could park in the multistory parking garage under the museum. After the Marine Barracks bombing in Beirut in 1982, the NASM parking garage was permanently closed to the public.

LCDR Scott Schneeweis
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posted 10-05-2009 05:54 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for LCDR Scott Schneeweis   Click Here to Email LCDR Scott Schneeweis     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Robert Pearlman:
At Udvar-Hazy, Columbia would be at an increased risk of being destroyed in an accidental plane crash given its location along the Dulles Airport flight path or being water damaged due to blizzard conditions given the facility's design. Moved elsewhere in the country, Columbia could be subject to increased risk of hurricane, tornado, earthquake or humidity damage, or if moved outside high trafficked areas, theft or vandalism.
All of the above can be reasonably mitigated or are of such low probability they do not constitute equivalent risk (or degree of catastrophic damage) to that of a targeted terrorist attack against the Capitol.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 10-05-2009 06:05 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Can you point to any data that suggests that a terrorist attack on the Capitol area (specifically) is greater than the risk of a plane falling from the sky, or a freak tornado?

LCDR Scott Schneeweis
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posted 10-05-2009 06:10 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for LCDR Scott Schneeweis   Click Here to Email LCDR Scott Schneeweis     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Hart Sastrowardoyo:
With all due respect, terrorism, by its very definition, is random. That is, it would do no good to move Columbia or any other artifact anywhere (short of perhaps Cheyenne Mountain) because any place can be a target.
While terrorism can be random, it usually isn't and involves considerable planning and decisions about what to target for maximum impact. I say that the artifacts within NASM are at risk not because they are the target but because of their proximity to the Capitol. Nuclear devices which are difficult to acquire or produce would not be indiscriminately detonated - they will be triggered at a time and adjacent to high value targets with the objective of decapitating the government and maximizing psychological impact to the population.

LCDR Scott Schneeweis
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posted 10-05-2009 06:20 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for LCDR Scott Schneeweis   Click Here to Email LCDR Scott Schneeweis     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Robert Pearlman:
Can you point to any data that suggests that a terrorist attack on the Capitol area (specifically) is greater than the risk of a plane falling from the sky, or a freak tornado?

The Pentagon was hit just 8 years ago; I cannot recall the last time a tornado or aircraft accident resulted in damage to any high value targets (from the terrorists perspective) in the DC area. On a daily basis the government receives intelligence reports which suggest there are many different groups who are planning to do the US harm (I see a lot of them). DHS and the government are doing everything they can to interdict the threats but it only takes one WMD slipping through (absent shutting down traffic in DC there really is no absolute way to secure the city from such an attack).

Delta7
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posted 10-05-2009 07:42 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Delta7   Click Here to Email Delta7     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I hate to say it, but if D.C. is taken out by a WMD attack, museum artifacts are going to be the least of our rather significant worries.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 10-05-2009 08:01 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by LCDR Scott Schneeweis:
I cannot recall the last time a tornado or aircraft accident resulted in damage to any high value targets (from the terrorists perspective) in the DC area.
On September 24, 2001, a series of tornadoes touched down in and around Washington, DC, one of which was near the Washington Monument on the National Mall.

Fortunately, the museums and monuments were spared, although homes were damaged, two died and more than 50 people were injured.

I raise that storm as an example that a freak tornado could significantly damage the National Air and Space Museum. And given that you cannot prevent natural disasters from happening, but you can work (such as they are) to prevent man-made threats, I would think more information is needed to discern that the risk from weather is still not greater than that of the risk from man.

MB
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posted 10-05-2009 08:57 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for MB   Click Here to Email MB     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I would like to respectfully argue that the greatest potential threat to "Columbia" or the other artifacts at NASM is not from a nuclear device as has been theorized in this post but from the threat of a suicide bomber. If you look at the history of terrorism in Europe, Asia, Israel, and elsewhere, the greatest effective targets for terrorists have not been government buildings (except for homegrown terrorists i.e. the Oklahoma Federal Building) where there is a lot of security. They have been "soft" public targets, such as night clubs, hotels, marketplaces, etc, where there is little to no security. Columbia and the other exhibits at NASM are at most at risk from this kind of attack than a nuclear device. Even the Declaration of Independance and other documents are more at risk to damage in this kind of event than from a nuclear device, since they could not be moved to their underground vaults in time. As a result, moving Columbia away from the Capital and placing it at the Udvay-Hazy center (or any other public place), does not diminish the potential for this unique artifact or other one-of-a-kind artifacts from being damaged or destroyed in such an event. NASM and the other Smithsonian museums have been doing their best to mitigate this threat. The only thing that would help would be conduct the screenings further away from the artifacts than what is being done now. For that it would be necessary to build screening rooms at all of the entrances to the museum buildings.

I think that our money would be better served in bolstering our existing screening facilities and other security measures than moving artifacts like Columbia. Moving Columbia and other artifacts would give the impression to our adversaries that they have won, and the impression to the American people and our world wide guests that we place a higher value on property than people, who I consider to be just as valuable and one-of a kind as any artifact at NASM.

LCDR Scott Schneeweis
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posted 10-06-2009 08:56 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for LCDR Scott Schneeweis   Click Here to Email LCDR Scott Schneeweis     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
NASM has in place security measures (guards, magnetometers, X-Ray machine) and building offset/physical barriers which essentially render it a hardened target - as do most federal facilities in DC. Doesn't mean the guards are particularly vigilant (just a month ago I brought in a SE-8 thrust chamber in my backpack that went through the machine and it was never flagged despite its size, and composition).

The Government recognizes a substantive threat is present from WMD to DC hence the huge investment in the last few years in COOP/COG and moving or replicating essential governmental functions out of the district.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 10-06-2009 11:14 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by LCDR Scott Schneeweis:
(just a month ago I brought in a SE-8 thrust chamber in my backpack that went through the machine and it was never flagged despite its size, and composition).
Terrorism threats aside, a word of advice about bringing artifacts into the museum: you should stop at the security desk (not the information desk, but off to the side of the x-ray machines on the Independence Ave. side of the building), to register the artifact as yours.

Otherwise, should you be stopped inside the building or as you exit, you could run into questions about whether the artifact is yours or museum property.

I have brought artifacts into the building, registered them with security and have had no issues doing so.

machbusterman
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posted 10-06-2009 02:08 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for machbusterman   Click Here to Email machbusterman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I think talking about this kind of thing on a public forum just gives these idiots more ideas of potential targets and also how important those targets may be to the country.

Rizz
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posted 10-06-2009 02:37 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Rizz     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Yup.

cjh5801
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posted 10-06-2009 06:07 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for cjh5801   Click Here to Email cjh5801     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
As important as these artifacts are, I have to agree that we'd have more important things to worry about in the event of a terrorist attack on our nation's capitol. I've been to the National Mall a couple of times, and would hate to see any of our historical treasures destroyed, but it is the potential loss of human life that would be a far greater tragedy than the loss of artifacts.

Many of the historical artifacts in Europe and other parts of the world have been lost to war and plunder, but they've managed to survive the loss. I suspect that we, as a people, would be able to survive it as well.

LCDR Scott Schneeweis
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posted 10-06-2009 06:25 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for LCDR Scott Schneeweis   Click Here to Email LCDR Scott Schneeweis     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by cjh5801:
As important as these artifacts are, I have to agree that we'd have more important things to worry about in the event of a terrorist attack on our nation's capitol.
How does this preclude relocation of significant artifacts to other institutions now, prior to a strike on the Capitol? It's a little late after the attack has occurred.

With respect to the earlier posts about the wisdom of discussing this issue in a public forum; I concur that any coverage of specific vulnerabilities or countermeasures is probably out of bounds but the general notion that DC and the Capitol building in particular are high value targets is not unknown to those who wish to do this nation harm. And I think for those of us, as members of a community which advocates preservation of space heritage, and as citizens who continue to perceive 911 a wake-up call and only fractionally representative of a much greater catastrophic event that can be inflicted by terrorism - it is appropriate to publicly discuss and influence actions which improve the survivability of NASM's artifacts.

Delta7
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posted 10-06-2009 07:03 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Delta7   Click Here to Email Delta7     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I'm pretty confident no Jihadist is going to suddenly have "targeting inspiration" based on cS posts. The value of particular targets, or lack thereof, will be quite obvious long before and regardless of what we post here!

cjh5801
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posted 10-06-2009 10:32 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for cjh5801   Click Here to Email cjh5801     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by LCDR Scott Schneeweis:
How does this preclude relocation of significant artifacts to other institutions now, prior to a strike on the Capitol? It's a little late after the attack has occurred.

Simply that I believe that our significant historical artifacts belong in the capital where they can readily be seen and appreciated by the citizens of, and visitors to, this nation. It gives me pride to visit Washington D.C. and see our nation's great treasures.

If they are destroyed, it would be a great loss. But the loss of national pride if they are moved would be greater, in my opinion.

gliderpilotuk
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posted 10-07-2009 04:12 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for gliderpilotuk   Click Here to Email gliderpilotuk     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by MB:
I think that our money would be better served in bolstering our existing screening facilities and other security measures than moving artifacts like Columbia.
I agree. Although I'm not a US citizen I am familiar with the consequences of the 30-year domestic "war on terror" that we fought alone. These were the days when targets really were unpredictable and impossible to protect, but the IRA nevertheless succeeded (albeit as a by-product) in destroying a 700 year old church and its contents.

London is just as likely to be a target of a dirty bomb or suicide bomber as DC and while significant measures have been taken to protect certain buildings, it is impossible to protect 2000 years of heritage, whether it is the Magna Carta, the first jet engine or HMS Victory.

I don't want to see these things hidden away: the best solution is visitor screening at every public venue and for us to accept a degree of risk that comes with the benefits of living in liberal democracies, unlike our enemies.

machbusterman
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posted 10-07-2009 03:35 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for machbusterman   Click Here to Email machbusterman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Delta7:
The value of particular targets, or lack thereof, will be quite obvious long before and regardless of what we post here!
I think you'd be surprised... These people tend to be pretty motivated and are well educated by all the material available online so roll your eyes at me if you want... its my opinion after all.

John K. Rochester
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posted 10-22-2009 09:11 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for John K. Rochester   Click Here to Email John K. Rochester     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I've got a big yard and I'm pretty far away from DC... so I humbly give the NASM permission to place Columbia, Enterprise, the LM, Gemini 4, Friendship 7, Freedom 7, and the Skylab Command Module there. I'll even let you guys stay here when you come to visit them! (Offer void if you are a terrorist..)

All times are CT (US)

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