Submarine Info On The Internet -- Good And Bad
Dealing with information about submarines in a public forum is always a mixed bag -- there are lots of things we know that we can't talk about, and because people can pretty much say whatever they want on the 'net, it's sometimes hard for people without the necessary background to figure out what's right and what's B.S.
On the "good" side, there's lots of great information out there on submarines that the discriminating reader can find -- some of it in unlikely places. A reader sent in this photo of a U.S. Los Angeles-class submarine (probably USS Minneapolis-St. Paul on her final journey) transiting the Panama Canal earlier this month that they got from the Canal's live webcams:
On the other hand, sometimes information of a more questionable nature makes it onto the web. Consider the recent report that a U.S. submarine had sunk a North Korean freighter carrying nuclear supplies and enriched uranium to Iran two weeks ago. From the article:
In reports first published by DEBKAfile, American naval and air forces intercepted two North Korean vessels clandestinely en route for Iran with cargoes of enriched uranium and nuclear equipment in the past month. The shutdown of Pongyong's nuclear facilities has made these items surplus to North Korea's requirements and the Islamic Republic was more than willing to pay a hefty price for the goods.It's fairly obvious why this claim hasn't gotten more play in the regular media -- it just doesn't make sense. Besides that fact that it's fairly unlikely that North Korea has enough weapons-grade uranium to start exporting, the "information" in the article that U.S. aircraft were able to "pick up signs of radioactivity" from uranium -- an alpha emitter -- is enough to set off the B.S. detector for those who know about such things.
On July 12, the second intercepted North Korean freighter was sunk in the Arabian Sea by torpedoes fired from a US submarine 100 miles southeast of the Iranian naval base-port of Chah Bahar. Delivery of its freight of enriched weapons-grade uranium and equipment and engines for manufacturing more fissile material including plutonium in its hold could have jump-forwarded Iran's nuclear bomb and warhead project, lopping off at least a year of work. For this Iran's rulers were ready to reportedly pay out a cool $500 million.
A few hours earlier, President Bush received an intelligence briefing on the vessel, its freight and destination. Apparently the shipment was brought forward by several weeks to evade detection by UN nuclear inspectors scheduled to visit Pyongyang this week to verify the dismantling of its nuclear facilities.
US airplanes had been tracking the freighter and picked up signs of radioactivity, indicating the presence of nuclear materials aboard.
President Bush had the option of ordering US Marines to board the vessel or to sink it. He decided on the latter - both because the North Korean freighter was approaching an area patrolled by Iranian naval units and seizure of the vessel by American marines might have provoked a clash; secondly, it was the better choice in order to avoid exposing US troops to radioactive contamination. American naval and air units in the Persian Gulf, Middle East and seas opposite North Korea were ordered to go on a high state of readiness and the torpedo the North Korean vessel was accomplished without delay.
After the attack, US warships raced to the spot where the ship went down where they picked up three lifeboats. Most of the North Korean sailors aboard were either injured or dead. Twenty in all died in the attack. They all bore symptoms of contamination. After the episode, the area was cordoned off and underwater equipment dropped to salvage the cargo from the sunken ship.
All the parties to the incident, the United States, North Korea and Iran, have kept the incident under wraps as the situation in and around the Gulf is inflammable enough to explode into a full-blown Iranian-US clash at the slightest provocation.
Bottom line: Submariners can help raise the level of public discourse by providing facts about whatever submarine-related tidbits of information make it into the public domain -- bound of course by the restriction that we can't use any classified information. The submarine bloggers listed at the right perform such a public service. With regards to the specific claim discussed above, while I could see a submarine being used for such a mission, this particular report doesn't really ring true, so I have to throw the flag at it.