FBI: DEATH RAY PLOT FOILED. This was the supersized headline screaming atop the Albany Times-Union’s front page Thursday, followed by further breathless lead stories Friday.
Two local guys, Eric Feight and Glendon Scott Crawford, allegedly were building a weapon that, from a van, operated remotely, could direct a radiation beam at a person and mysteriously kill him within days. They are alleged to have been trying to sell the thing to some local Jewish organizations, for offing Muslim targets; possibly also seeking KKK interest, Crawford being an alleged member; and maybe zapping the governor or president. They had built a device, and Crawford was arrested by undercover agents (who had posed as cooperative radiation equipment suppliers) just before flipping the “on” switch.
Pretty frightening, huh?
Yes indeed – frightening that an otherwise respectable newspaper would engage in such overhyped scaremongering.
The first question I thought of, on seeing the story, was the obvious one: could the thing have worked? Then I noticed Paul Grondahl’s smaller story to the left of Thursday’s front page, headed Experts say weapon ‘unfeasible,’ ‘far-fetched.’
Crawford worked for GE, though not in any senior or important technical capacity. Feight had previously worked for some little electronics outfit near Hudson. MIT types these were not.
It’s obvious the plan was crackbrained. Were it possible to build such a death ray – let alone using off-the-shelf parts, in someone’s garage – surely some far more sophisticated technologists would have done it long ago. Like the Russians. Remember how they murdered Litvinenko? But they had to physically get the radiation source into his body. How much better a death ray would have been.
Grondahl’s story makes clear why no such device could work. And that these two guys were just total clowns is evident from their idea of selling it to Jews to kill Muslims. As if local Jewish organizations might want to do such a thing. And as if Israel (which has nuclear weapons, by the way) could not have come up with such a device itself. No – the Jews needed these two shmegegges for that!
I predict that someone will make a documentary film about this case – and it will be a scream.
Were these guys even guilty of any crime? That’s actually far from clear. One thing I do remember from my long-ago intro course on criminal law was that “you had to be on the job you thought you were on” to be guilty of an attempted crime. That is, there had to be some non-trivial possibility of the crime’s actual consummation. Otherwise, there’s no there there.
Perhaps realizing this, the government’s lawyers, in court, do insist the death ray could have worked. Please. The defendants may be morons, but the rest of us aren’t. The chances of these two goofballs creating a device that would do what they allegedly intended were zero, zip, zilch. The only danger was that messing with radiation they’d harm themselves. (Or that someone might laugh himself to death.)
Is the anti-terror crusade so desperate to justify its existence (and gigantic budget) that arrant foolishness is puffed up as though it’s a deadly threat?
The case is unfortunately reminiscent of the two local Muslims, Yassin Aref and Mohammad Hossain, arrested in 2004 and given long prison sentences for involvement in a supposed terrorist plot entirely cooked up by government agents going to extraordinary lengths to entrap them. It seemed obvious that Aref and Hossain would never have done a thing had the government’s con men not deviously entangled them in the make-believe plot.
If this is how we’re fighting the “war on terror,” I’m going AWOL.
Tags: Journalistic malpractice