Two men in upstate New York have been arrested for planning to build a "radiation particle weapon" that could be mounted on a vehicle and used to target people, according to a report by the Albany Times-Union Wednesday. The men allegedly planned to sell the device to either the Ku Klux Klan or Jewish groups.
Citing a federal complaint that was unsealed today, the Times-Union says the man at the center of the alleged plot is Glendon Scott Crawford, 49, whom it identifies as a mechanic for General Electric. He was arrested Tuesday.
The complaint, which is available online, accuses Crawford of planning to build "a truck-borne, industrial-grade x-ray system, thus weaponizing that system and allowing it to be turned on and off from a distance and without detection."
Also arrested was Eric J. Feight, 54, who officials believe intended to build the weapon's electronic control system. The two men were in federal court Wednesday on charges that they conspired to provide material support to terrorists, including use of a weapon of mass destruction.
An affidavit filed with the complaint says the suspects did not acquire a radiation source for the weapon officials say they were working on, but that they finished building a remote control that was meant to operate it. The 67-page document also includes transcriptions of conversations about the technical aspects of the project.
As for whether such a weapon would be feasible, the AP asked an expert to weigh in:
"Dr. Fred Mettler, the U.S. representative on the United Nations' Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, was unfamiliar with the specifics of Crawford's plans but said it's unlikely such a device could work," the agency reports.
"Radiation can be narrowly beamed, as it is in some cancer treatments, but the accelerators require huge amounts of electricity, are not easily portable and any target would have to remain still for a long time."
"I don't know of any of these that you can use like a gun to aim at someone on the street," Mettler tells the AP.
Crawford drew the attention of federal agents in the spring of 2012, when he allegedly approached members of Gates of Heaven, a synagogue in Schenectady, with the promise of a weapon that could benefit Israel.
From a local News Center 10 TV report:
"According to Rabbi Matt Cutler, Crawford tried to discuss a device which was being created to protect Jewish people. Although Cutler says he did not get into details about the actual device, as he tried to pitch his plan, secretaries inside the temple were thinking of a way to get Crawford out of the building.
"The secretaries, scared by the bizarre plan Crawford had discussed, called the police immediately and notified the Jewish Federation he was headed their way."
Once the FBI was contacted, a Joint Terrorism Task Force investigation began.
The FBI says it set up a meeting at a restaurant between Crawford a confidential informant last year. Here's how the Times-Union describes part of that session, quoting the federal complaint:
"'Crawford also told the (source) that the target of his radiation emitting device would be the Muslim community,' the complaint states. 'Crawford described the device's capabilities as 'Hiroshima on a light switch' and that 'everything with respiration would be dead by the morning.'"
The complaint alleges that the two men used the codenames Dimitri (Crawford) and Yoda (Feight), and that they also allegedly met with undercover informants who were posing as potential buyers for the radiation weapon, who presented themselves as members of a North Carolina Ku Klux Klan group.
General Electric issued a statement today saying that it has suspended Crawford from his job, and that the company is cooperating with the investigation.
Crawford and Feight are due to appear in court again Thursday.
"This case demonstrates how we must remain vigilant to detect and stop potential terrorists, who so often harbor hatred toward people they deem undesirable," U.S. Attorney Richard S. Hartunian said in a statement released today. "We give special thanks to those who quickly alerted law enforcement authorities to this devious plan."