Glendon Scott Crawford allegedly wanted to use a death ray to hurt New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. If that makes Cuomo nervous, he should blame the FBI, because it seems highly unlikely Crawford would have had much success if undercover agents hadn't supplied him with X-ray parts, money, plans, and assembly. "These extreme right wing nutsies think of everything," Cuomo said Friday, in response to the New York Daily News' report that he was the target of the nefarious plot. He shouldn't give the nutsies so much credit.
"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 Hartunian said in a statement. Hartunian must adopt a very loose definition of "potential." There are several reasons to be skeptical that the FBI has saved the nation from a great menace.
First, the plan allegedly crafted by Crawford and alleged co-conspirator Eric J. Feight was ridiculous — the death ray would't work. The plan involved mounting a remote-control operated X-ray laser on top of a truck to kill people without them noticing. Yes, you can aim radiation, but it requires a ton of electricity, and the target has to stand still for a long time and be close to the source. "There is no instant death ray... It's not feasible. It's the stuff of comic books," Dr. Frederic Mis, radiation safety officer at the University of Rochester Medical Center, told the Associated Press. Think how the machines that deliver radiation for cancer treatment take up whole rooms, Peter Caracappa, a lecturer in nuclear engineering program at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, told All Over Albany. "The idea of it might be theoretically possible, but is extremely infeasible because of the tremendous amount of power and or cooling that would be required to deliver a lethal radiation dose in a short period of time," Caracappa said.
Second, the death ray was inoperable. Crawford and Feight never got a real radiation source.
Third, the death ray was built with the help of the FBI. The undercover FBI agents or informants gave Crawford the tools to build his death ray — X-ray tubes — and technical specs on how to use it. (The specs were altered to change their output capacity.) Crawford had some engineering experience, and was trying to figure out how to make them more powerful. An FBI informant also financed the plot, giving Feight $1,000 to build the remote control device. Undercover agents told Feight they'd get him access to an X-ray assembly facility.
Fourth, Crawford appears to have had minimal technical expertise — he relied on Wikipedia. "During a meeting with that source on May 30, 2012, Crawford allegedly gave that confidential source a webpage printout of the specs of the radiation emitting device, a printout of the Wikipedia page on Acute Radiation Sickness, a two page hand-written sketch of a radiation emitting device, and a business card for the United Northern and Southern Knights of the Ku Klux Klan," Talking Points Memo reports.
Fifth, they couldn't sell the death ray without the FBI. Crawford was unable to find a a group that would use the weapon — the synagogue he approached called the cops. It was after Crawford approached the synagogue in April 2012 that the FBI put an informant in place, and two months later was offering him X-ray tubes. A member of the KKK affiliate Crawford talked to was working with the FBI.
Sixth, Feight expressed unease about participating in the plot. He allegedly told undercover agents, "So, I mean, I, I, I have to admit having never been involved in anything like this before, you know, at first it made me a little bit nervous and, I’m like, okay, well, you know, as long as I still have some, you know, real good separation, plausible deniability, you know."
Seventh, the men expressed reluctance to actually kill people multiple times. "I figured you were going to have the business. Um, I was just going to be your technical advisor and let you turn him loose with it," he told an FBI agent and informant in June. "The only difference is I don't know — I don't know if I would be capable of doing it," he said in July. In November, Feight said he "would prefer not to know" who was going to operate the death ray.
If the allegations are true, Crawford and Feight are idiots, bigots, and immoral. But would they have posed any risk to anyone without the aid of the FBI?
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.