Nanoweapons: A Growing Threat to Humanity

Nanoweapons: A Growing Threat to Humanity

by Louis A. Del Monte

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Nanoweapons just might render humanity extinct in the near future—a notion that is frightening and shocking but potentially true. In Nanoweapons Louis A. Del Monte describes the most deadly generation of military weapons the world has ever encountered. With dimensions one-thousandth the diameter of a single strand of human hair, this technology threatens to eradicate humanity as it incites world governments to compete in the deadliest arms race ever. 

In his insightful and prescient account of this risky and radical technology, Del Monte predicts that nanoweapons will dominate the battlefield of the future and will help determine the superpowers of the twenty-first century. He traces the emergence of nanotechnology, discusses the current development of nanoweapons—such as the “mini-nuke,” which weighs five pounds and carries the power of one hundred tons of TNT—and offers concrete recommendations, founded in historical precedent, for controlling their proliferation and avoiding human annihilation. Most critically, Nanoweapons addresses the question: Will it be possible to develop, deploy, and use nanoweapons in warfare without rendering humanity extinct?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781612348964
Publisher: Potomac Books
Publication date: 04/01/2017
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 264
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Louis A. Del Monte is an award-winning physicist and speaker and is the chief executive officer of Del Monte and Associates, Inc. During his thirty-year career as a physicist and business executive at IBM and Honeywell, he led the development of microelectronics and sensors and developed patents fundamental to the fabrication of integrated circuits. He is the author of The Artificial Intelligence Revolution: Will Artificial Intelligence Serve Us or Replace Us? and How to Time Travel: Explore the Science, Paradoxes, and Evidence.

Read an Excerpt


A Growing Threat to Humanity

By Louis A. Del Monte


Copyright © 2017 Louis A. Del Monte
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61234-912-1


What You Don't Know Can Kill You

Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don't know we don't know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.

— Donald Rumsfeld

Scenario of a Nanoweapons Attack — An enemy could kill you before you finish this sentence. The enemy need not be present nor the killer human. You are a civilian, not a military combatant. You are not associated with any political action group. In fact, you cracked open this book for a quick read while finishing your morning coffee and getting ready for work. You're employed as a chef for a nursing home, nothing strategic to the national defense. Your political beliefs are a conglomeration of the previous week's news cycles. Friends say you are easygoing and likable. You have a loving fiancée whom you are marrying next month. The calendar on your refrigerator is your "to do" list, surrounded by business cards from the wedding photographer, florist, caterer, and such. You have plans for a honeymoon and a family. Yet for some unknown reason you are one of the first victims of a nanoweapons attack. There will be no way to see it coming and no way to escape. Your autopsy will show that you died from an "unknown cause." Some at your funeral will mourn and openly ask, Why?

Their grief will be short-lived and their question quickly answered. Many of them will meet the same fate within days. Your death was only the beginning. In fact, numerous people like you are dying in major cities around the world. If you live in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may just be beginning to understand the nature of the attack. Some high-ranking government officials know the United States is under attack. They and their families are at secure locations to ensure continuity of government. The president and his family have been in the White House bunker for several days. The enemy responsible for the attack remains unknown. All national resources are working to find a way to neutralize the nanoweapons attack. The president is getting ready to address the nation and launch a counterattack. Every branch of the U.S. military is at DEFCON 2, signaling that a nuclear counterattack is imminent. U.S. submarines are strategically scattered throughout the world's oceans. A third of all U.S. strategic bombers are airborne 24/7. Every missile silo stands ready to launch. NORAD is sealed.

While Americans await the president's address, the chill of dread is in the air. Schools close, and the streets are empty. Television news coverage has devoted more airtime to the "mysterious deaths" than to any news story in TV history, with a bombardment of cold statistics and "expert" commentary from every major network for the past four days. The Emergency Broadcast System interrupts repeatedly to advise all citizens to stay indoors and avoid contact with others to whatever extent possible. The shelves of food markets and gun shops are bare, victims of hoarding and looting. Three days ago, the president suspended all unnecessary government services, like the U.S. Post Office and the Internal Revenue Service. The National Guard is maintaining order and keeping hospitals operational as daily tides of new victims arrive who often die before a bed becomes available. Finally, from the White House bunker, the president addresses the nation.

"My fellow Americans," he begins with a solemn demeanor, "I regret to report that nine days ago the United States and many of itsNATO allies, as well as Russia and China, suffered attacks from unknown forces using a new type of weapon. This new weapon is similar to a biological weapon, but it is not biological. It is technological. We describe it as a 'nanoweapon.' Our best scientists are working to put an end to the mysterious deaths. I am confident we will do so, and those responsible for the attacks will face justice. As I speak, the combined forces of the United States and its NATOallies, along with Russia and China, are launching a full counteroffensive against all nations and terrorist groups we deem enemies of humanity. We act with resolve that our nations will not perish from the Earth."

The president pauses, taking a deep breath, looks directly into the camera, and continues: "In this time of emergency, I urge all to remain calm, with goodwill toward each other. Let those who can help reach out to those less fortunate. I pledge that our offensive will mete justice and cripple any adversary's ability to continue their attacks. We are past the point of diplomacy. Those we deem enemies of humanity and responsible for, or in support of, these attacks forfeit their right to share planet Earth. Tomorrow they will be gone. Tomorrow we will prevail. God bless the United States of America."

Concurrent with the president's two-minute national television address, the most devastating counterattack in history begins. Unfortunately, the counterattack has to target all possible perpetrators, in other words, a broad-spectrum attack against every suspected adversary in an effort to thwart the release of more nanoweapons on the United States and its allies. For the first time in nearly a century, nuclear weapons have unleased, as the book of Revelation put it, "the lake of fire" on Earth. Countless millions die, the innocent along with the guilty. Tomorrow and the future of humanity have become questionable.

Although the preceding scenario is fictitious, it is entirely plausible. Nanoweapons are real and a new arms race is under way. Based on publicly available information, China, Russia, and the United States are competing in a multibillion dollar nanoweaponsarms race. Other nations, like Germany, are close on their heels. A new paradigm fuels this race. The superpowers of the future will be those nations with the most capable nanoweapons. This is easy to illustrate. Recall the first sentence of this chapter: "An enemy could kill you before you finish this sentence." Here is how such a nanoweapons attack could happen. Assume one nation develops artificially intelligent nanobots, with functionality similar to mosquitos. Also, assume the nanobots are capable of seeking and injecting toxin into another nation's humans. The smallest known flying insects are fairyflies, belonging to the family of chalcid wasps. Fairyflies are approximately 139 microns long (139 millionths of a meter). This suggests a plausible size for a lethal nanobot. If the toxin is botulism, the human lethal dose is 100 nanograms. If we assume the toxin payload each nanobot carries is 1,000 nanograms, similar to the weight ratio of a fighter aircraft to its ordinance payload, each nanobot could theoretically kill ten humans. An autopsy will reveal the presence of botulism and may attribute the death to food poisoning, not foul play. Even worse, if it is botulinum toxin type H, the most deadly in existence, there is no known antidote. Once injected, it becomes only a matter of days before your brain shuts down and you die. Most medical examiner labs are unfamiliar with botulinum toxin type H and not able to detect it. The injection point would be invisible to conventional autopsy techniques. This means that it is entirely possible that the medical examiner will attribute your death to an unknown cause, but not suggest foul play. The actual injection could take place within seconds. You may not be aware of it. You may never have heard of nanoweapons and botulinum toxin type H. It does not matter. Once injected, you are going to die.

Above, we discussed mosquito-like nanobots. They do not exist now, but the technology to build such a nanoweapon is only one or two decades away. No nation has a defense against such a nanoweapon. You may think this is far-fetched, but the idea of poisoning someone with a nearly imperceptible device is not new. A well-documented case involves Georgi Markov, novelist, playwright, and broadcast journalist for the BBC World Service. As a Bulgarian dissident, Markov was critical of the incumbent Bulgarian communist regime under Chairman Todor Zhivkov. Because of his criticism, many speculate that the Bulgarian government decided to silence him. On September 7, 1978, Markov walked across Waterloo Bridge spanning the river Thames. While waiting to take a bus to his job at the BBC, he felt a sharp pain in the back of his right thigh. He described the pain as a bug bite or sting. The pain caused Markov to look behind him. He saw a man picking up an umbrella and hurriedly crossing the street, where he got into a taxi and sped away. After arriving at the BBC World Service offices, Markov noticed a small red pimple had formed at the site of the sting, which continued to cause pain. He told one of his colleagues at the BBC about this incident. That evening he developed a fever and sought treatment at St. James' Hospital in Balham. He died on September 11 at the age of forty-nine. Due to the suspicious circumstances, the Metropolitan Police ordered an autopsy, which revealed a spherical metal pellet the size of a pinhead embedded in Markov's leg. The pellet had two holes drilled through it, producing an X-shaped cavity, which showed traces of ricin. A sugary substance coated the tiny holes, trapping the ricin inside. Once the pellet was injected into Markov's body, the sugary coating melted and the ricin found its way into his bloodstream. At the time, there was no known antidote to ricin. The intelligence communities term this event the "Umbrella Murder." In this case, a tiny pellet carried the toxin. Although this is arguably much larger than mosquito-like nanobots, it demonstrates a significant point. Something extremely small, with an almost miniscule amount of toxin, can kill a human.

If you imagine 50 billion mosquito-like nanobots, each carrying 1,000 nanograms of botulinum toxin H, released into the world's population, it is easy to understand that nanoweapons could represent a threat capable of rendering humanity extinct. Even more frightening, these nanobots could be carried in a suitcase.

Current nanotechnology projections suggest that by 2050 artificially intelligent self-replicating nanobots will become a reality, designed and manufactured by superintelligent computers. We will discuss this further in a later chapter. However, at this point, it is important to understand that nanoweapons are not science fiction. In fact, the United States is already deploying nanoweapons, and their use in warfare is only a matter of time. However, we may be getting a bit ahead of ourselves. Let us start at the beginning.

If you have never heard of nanoweapons, you are in the majority. Most people have never heard the words "nanotechnology" or "nanoweapons." Even in technically advanced countries, like the United States, the majority of adults are unaware that nanoweapons even exist. Is this an exaggeration? No! Just look at the facts.

Fact 1: The National Nanotechnology Initiative intentionally omits any mention of nanoweapons in its mission and goals, but it allocates a significant portion of its budget to their development.

In 2000, under President Bill Clinton, the U.S. government launched the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), a research and development initiative involving twenty-five federal agencies with a range of research and regulatory roles and responsibilities. Its mission and goals suggest no role in developing nanoweapons, but its budget allocations tell a different story. According to public records, in 2015 Department of Defense (DoD) programs accounted for more than 11 percent of the NNI budget. However, this excluded funding to agencies like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which also develops nanoweapons. In my judgment, the actual funding into nanoweapons is likely Top Secret or, at a minimum, Secret.

Let us be clear on what it means when information is classified. Generally, Top Secret applies to information that, in the wrong hands, could cause grave damage to national security. An example would be our nuclear launch codes. Secret applies to information that could cause serious damage to national security. An example would be fabrication techniques used to make radiation-hardened integrated circuits. These are circuits able to withstand high radiation, typically associated with a nuclear explosion. DoDapplications include communication satellites and strategic missiles, since both are likely to experience high radiation exposure during a nuclear war.

I held a Secret clearance during my work on DoD programs at Honeywell. This meant that I could have access to information classified as Secret, but only if I had a "need to know." Having a Secret clearance did not allow me open access to all information classified Secret. I had to have a need to know the information in order to perform my work. This may mean that even the president of the United States and members of Congress may not know how much money is going into nanoweapons. It is also likely that technologists working on nanoweapons have at least a Secret clearance. This means they cannot publish their research on nanoweapons in a scientific journal, speak about it at conferences, or give media interviews. Given all the secrecy that surrounds nanoweapons, it is not surprising that most people have never heard of them.

If you recall, early combat use of modern stealth aircraft only came to the public's attention in December 1989 during Operation Just Cause in Panama and later in 1990 during Operation Desert Shield to liberate Kuwait. However, the actual engineering to create stealth aircraft started in 1975, when engineers at Lockheed Skunk Works found that an aircraft made with faceted surfaces could have a very low radar signature because the surfaces would radiate almost all of the radar energy away from the receiver. Their inception to deployment spanned about fifteen years. If the need to deploy stealth aircraft had not emerged, their existence would still be classified Top Secret and the public would be in the dark.

Fact 2: There is little to no public information regarding nanoweapons. For example, the 2007 New York Times Almanac, claiming to be "the world's most comprehensive and authoritative almanac," did not include the word "nano" in its thirty-page index. A Google search on March 24, 2016, using the keyword "nanoweapons" yielded 10,800 search returns. That may seem like a lot of information, but in the larger scheme, it suggests there is scant information available. A second Google search using the keyword "nuclear weapons" yielded over 14,000,000 search returns. The amount of information on nanoweapons is .07 percent that of nuclear weapons. Many may attribute this difference to the relatively recent emergence of nanoweapons. To some extent, that is true. However, the U.S. government has been pursuing nanoweapons since 2000. Clearly it is not only the age of the technology causing the disparity of information. It is the secrecy. Unlike nuclear weapons or even stealth aircraft, the United States has not deployed nanoweapons in combat. As a result, they remain secret and garner little press coverage.

Given these facts, it is not surprising that a national poll of U.S. citizens in 2007 revealed 79 percent had not heard about nanotechnology. A Harris Poll of 2,467 U.S. adults in 2012 found over 60 percent had never heard of nanotechnology. The simple fact is that even today it is likely that most Americans are not aware of nanotechnology, let alone nanoweapons.

At this point you may wonder, What started the nanoweapons arms race? Like most things in science, nanoweapons started with a concept. Physicist and Nobel laureate Richard Feynman's talk "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom" introduced the concept at the American Physical Society meeting at the California Institute of Technology on December 29, 1959. Although Feynman never used the words "nanotechnology" or "nanoweapons," he described a process in which scientists would be able to manipulate individual atoms and molecules. At the time, no such process existed.

Inspired by Feynman's talk, engineer Kim Eric Drexler popularized the term "nanotechnology" in his 1986 landmark book, Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology. In 1991, while Drexler was at MIT, his doctoral thesis became the foundation for another book, Nanosystems: Molecular Machinery, Manufacturing, and Computation.

It is fair to argue that Feynman and Drexler are the fathers ofnanotechnology. In many ways, though, their prophetic visions were ahead of the prevailing scientific dogma. In 2001 Nobel laureate Richard Smalley criticized Drexler's work as naïve in a Scientific American article, "Of Chemistry, Love, and Nanobots," and subtitled "How soon will we see the nanometer-scale robots envisaged by K. Eric Drexler and other molecular nanotechnologists? The simple answer is never." Smalley made several technical arguments that Drexler refuted point by point as a "straw-man attack." Unfortunately, this is normal in the scientific community, when the proposed science stretches beyond the limits of the known science. Details aside, history favors Drexler. Point of fact, nanotechnology exists. Unfortunately, nanoweapons also exist, and even more are under development.


Excerpted from Nanoweapons by Louis A. Del Monte. Copyright © 2017 Louis A. Del Monte. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Part 1. The First Generation of Nanoweapons
1. What You Don’t Know Can Kill You
2. Playing LEGOS with Atoms
3. I Come in Peace
4. The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
5. The Rise of the Nanobots
6. The “Swarm”
Part 2. The Game Changers
7. The “Smart” Nanoweapons
8. The Genie Is Loose
9. Fighting Fire with Fire
Part 3. The Tipping Point
10. The Nanoweapons Superpowers
11. The Nano Wars
12. Humanity on the Brink
1. Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies
2. Nanoweapons Offensive Capability of Nations
3. The Events Leading to the Chernobyl Disaster

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