Transcript from The Power of Nightmares: the Rise of the Politics of Fear. A film by British documentarian Adam Curtis. The program first aired on BBC TV in 2004.
JOHN ASHCROFT , ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES : Recent intelligence reports suggest that Al Qaeda leaders have emphasized planning for attacks on apartment buildings, hotels, and other soft or lightly-secured targets in the United States.
[ CUT TO ANOTHER PRESS CONFERENCE ]
ASHCROFT : Terrorists are considering physical attacks against US financial institutions.
[ EXCERPT , GODZILLA: MONSTER RAMPAGING THROUGH STREETS , CRUSHING CARS ]
VO: And Abu Zubaydah also told his interrogators of a terrifying new weapon the Islamists intended to use: an explosive device that could spray radiation through cities, the “dirty bomb.”
[ EXCERPT , CBS EVENING NEWS ]
DAN RATHER : First, a CBS News exclusive about a captured Al Qaeda leader who says his fellow terrorists have the know-how to build a very dangerous weapon and get it to the United States.
VO: And the media took the bait. They portrayed the dirty bomb as an extraordinary weapon that would kill thousands of people, and, in the process, they made the hidden enemy even more terrifying. But, in reality, the threat of a dirty bomb is yet another illusion. Its aim is to spread radioactive material through a conventional explosion, but almost all studies of such a possible weapon have concluded that the radiation spread in this way would not kill anybody because the radioactive material would be so dispersed, and, providing the area was cleaned promptly, the long-term effects would be negligible. In the past, both the American army and the Iraqi military tested such devices and both concluded that they were completely ineffectual weapons for this very reason.
[ CUT TO INTERIOR , LIVING ROOM ]
INTERVIEWER : How dangerous would a dirty bomb be?
DR THEODORE ROCKWELL , NUCLEAR SCIENTIST AND RADIATION RISK EXPERT : The deaths would be few, if any, and the answer is, probably none.
INTERVIEWER : Really?
ROCKWELL : Yes. And that’s been said over and over again, but then people immediately say after that, “But, you know, people won’t believe that, and they’ll panic.” And then all the people working on this project, you know, the defence and so forth, breathe a big sigh of relief because they got their problem back: you know, we’re gonna all panic. I don’t think it would kill anybody and I think you’ll have trouble finding a serious report that would claim otherwise. The Department of Energy actually set up such a test and they actually measured what happened. And they—they—the measurements were extremely low. They calculated that the most exposed individual would get a fairly high dose—not life-threatening, but fairly high—and I checked into how the calculation was done, and they assume that after the attack, no one moves for one year. One year. Now, that’s ridiculous.
[ CUT TO ANOTHER INTERIOR , LIVING ROOM ]
LEWIS Z KOCH , BULLETIN OF ATOMIC SCIENTISTS : The dirty bomb—the danger from radioactivity is basically next to nothing. The danger from panic, however, is horrendous. That’s where the irony comes. This—instead of the government saying, “Look, this is not a serious weapon; the serious danger of this is the panic that would ensue, and there is no reason for panic. Don’t panic.”
[ CUT TO VIEW OF ATOMIC BOMB EXPLODING , DESTROYING TEST HOUSES AND OBJECTS ]
BRITISH NARRATOR : Ladies and gentlemen, this is not the end of our show; however, something very much like this could happen at any moment. We just thought we ought to prepare you and more or less put you in the mood. Thank you.
And now, back to our story.
The Power of Nightmares (transcript)