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Nords-Q on Strategic Role of Nuclear Subs
Old 12-09-2004, 09:28 PM   #1
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Nords-Q on Strategic Role of Nuclear Subs

I admit this doesn't have anything to do with retirement, early or otherwise, but I was thinking about the long history of conflict between Russia and Germany, and got to thinking about Russia's problems with an Atlantic Navy, and....finally came to this-Are our nuclear subs just a part of strategic deterrence-"MAD", or do they have a role in projecting power around the world? As in keeping shipping lanes open, dealing with maritime bottlenecks, etc. Do they in any way support the carrier fleet?

This is the kind of thing one can get into if he is not kept busy trying to make a living!

I figured you could tell me better than anything I could find myself, and I hope you have time to say a few words on the topic.

Thanks, Mikey
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Answers... (part 1 of 2)
Old 12-09-2004, 11:02 PM   #2
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Answers... (part 1 of 2)

The big picture is that the U.S. Navy has about 55 attack subs, 14 ballistic missile subs, and 4 more boomers being converted to TOMAHAWK-carrying subs. The fleet is half the size of 15 years ago and I fear it'll drop by another 20% before we get a handle on budgets & construction.

The attack subs work with carrier battlegroups and special operations forces (mostly SEALS). Every battlegroup (carrier & amphibious) deploys with at least one attack sub (and normally two). Attack boats also perform independent surveillance and the infamous "special missions". A "typical" attack sub will carry about 30 TOMAHAWK (TLAM) missiles and a dozen torpedoes. Ironically we've shot dozens of TLAMs in the last couple decades but we haven't fired a wartime torpedo since WWII. These are the subs that keep the sea lanes & bottlenecks open-- or close them. Driving a LOS ANGELES class sub is like having a Ferrari on nitrox. (With about as much habitability.)

The Navy's official website has more details here.
http://www.chinfo.navy.mil/navpalib/.../ship-ssn.html . Another great book is, oddly enough, Tom Clancy's "Submarine". http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/AS...010977-2463373 . He's become the military's best ambassador with an uncanny ability to translate a sailor's feelings & emotions into great stories. For more on the surveillance & spook stuff try a library copy of "Blind Man's Bluff" http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/AS...010977-2463373 . These authors were geniuses at interviewing disgruntled submariners and ambushing others with surprise questions. Apparently we fear them more than the Russians or the Chinese-- on one staff tour we had to sign a specific warning where we promised to immediately notify the authorities if we were contacted by Sherry Sontag... yet we never had to do that for named Communists.

Ballistic missile submarines (boomers) handled the MAD mission, but I think we've officially "detargeted" that policy. OHIO class submarines carry 24 Trident missiles which can throw a number of warheads about 4500 miles. We used to keep over half the boomers continuously alert at sea with the missiles aimed, armed, and ready to launch within as little as 10-15 minutes. The Blue crew would complete a 90-day patrol, turn it over to the Gold crew in a mad four-day scramble, and then cram a month's maintenance/repairs into two weeks. Then the Gold crew would take it out for 90 days and so on. With the newest Trident missiles these subs can hit nearly all their targets without leaving the pier, so now they don't spend as much time at sea. As I retired there was crazy talk about combining the two crews into one and only going out for a month at a time. (That saves a lot of payroll.) http://www.chinfo.navy.mil/navpalib/...ship-ssbn.html

Boomers are built like Hummer limousines and their sailors live the life of Reilly. Instead of sardine-can berthing they sleep in 9-man bunkrooms with actual desks & chairs. Running machines are built in so that the crew can stay in shape after snorkeling through all the food. (I'd gain 10 pounds a patrol.) Attack sailors pity boomer sailors and vice versa. I've served with the best of both; I'm glad I was on a boomer when I was young, dumb, & didn't know any better. I left the boomer fleet in 1989 without looking back and, without a Cold War to give them a sense of purpose, I don't know how these guys stay awake-- let alone maintain the will to live.

The strategic arms treaties are putting boomers out of business. As the warhead numbers are lowered, the subs can't carry a full loadout and the Navy can't afford their upkeep. Today the subs still patrol but they don't have their missiles armed/aimed and it'd probably take at least an hour to do something offensive.

But recycling is a time-honored Navy tradition, and four OHIOs are being overhauled to carry TLAMs & special forces. The marketing guys wanted to call it the "TOMAHAWK Six-shooter" but cooler heads prevailed and they'll go to sea with 154 TLAMs stuffed into the old missile tubes-- roughly seven TLAMs to a tube. I don't know the facts but they have the design to "offload" 30 TLAMs a minute while still submerged. At least one of these on each coast will, instead of TLAMs, carry 100+ special ops forces and all their hardware. http://www.chinfo.navy.mil/navpalib/...ship-ssgn.html

On my boomer I rotated through the typical jobs of reactor radiological controls, boiler chemistry, damage control, and auxiliaries (hydraulics, high-pressure air, atmosphere control, sewage, and other yucky stuff). I was also briefly the communications guy with all the radios and top-secret crypto gear. I stood watch in the engine room and also Officer of the Deck. On my attack boat I was the Weapons Officer, one of the best Navy jobs you can have. (I think today's fascination with home improvement is a deep-seated obsession with inspecting & fixing things. But I can't blow them up anymore.)

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... and issues.  (Part 2 of 2)
Old 12-09-2004, 11:02 PM   #3
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... and issues.  (Part 2 of 2)

Lemme make two more points on issues that always seem to come up:

(1) During my career I wore dosimeters continuously. (You don't want to know what happens if you accidentally drop one of these into the toilet.) I've received documented exposure to a few hundred millirem of nuclear gamma/neutron radiation. If there was additional exposure to the reactor (or to the ballistic missile's nuclear warheads) it's not documented so... clearly it never happened. I've read studies indicating that commercial airplane's aircrews and the residents of high-altitude towns like Denver get more cosmic-ray radiation exposure in a year than I got in my entire career.

(2) However the liability concerns of low-level radiation exposure effects on women's eggs and early (undetected) pregnancies have kept women off the nuclear submarine force since its creation. (Yes, there were a few women sailors & officers on diesel submarines.) That's not the official Navy line but that's my opinion after evaluating all the other crap put out on the subject. Personally I think integrating women into submarine crews would raise everyone's performance standards by an order of magnitude, and I'm darn glad that I never had to compete for promotion with my wife on the same watchbill. I hope this situation is corrected by the time my daughter's old enough to participate, but I hope even more that she's smart enough to make a better choice!

BTW someday I'd like to see formal statistical studies on two submarine urban legends, but I'm not holding my breath. (1) More than 75% of submariner's kids are female. I'm not sure if it's radiation or atmosphere-control chemicals or pressure changes, but it's sure started a lot of arguments with our other warfare communities. (2) The submarine divorce rate is rumored to be 75%. From my observations, that's too low and I think that only SEALs experience a higher rate.

If any of you are itching to see your local Navy recruiter, please PM Cut-Throat or me immediately for counseling!
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Re: Nords-Q on Strategic Role of Nuclear Subs
Old 12-09-2004, 11:34 PM   #4
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Re: Nords-Q on Strategic Role of Nuclear Subs

Hey, Nords. I'm a stone's throw from Subase Bangor. You probably heard about the recent incident in which they dropped a ladder through the nosecone of a nuke:

http://www.thememoryblog.org/archives/000010.html

Is there anything I should be doing to prepare for the next mishap? Maybe a set of bunny suits for the family?
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Re: Nords-Q on Strategic Role of Nuclear Subs
Old 12-10-2004, 07:56 AM   #5
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Re: Nords-Q on Strategic Role of Nuclear Subs

Fascinating stuff Nords, thanks for posting.

While I certainly don't agree with invading other countries for no good reason, I am a big supporter of a strong military. Good to hear some of the background stories.

Peter
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"A series of unfortunate events."
Old 12-10-2004, 11:23 AM   #6
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"A series of unfortunate events."

Quote:
Hey, Nords. I'm a stone's throw from Subase Bangor. You probably heard about the recent incident in which they dropped a ladder through the nosecone of a nuke. Is there anything I should be doing to prepare for the next mishap? Maybe a set of bunny suits for the family?
Er, I probably trained some of those guys. Sorry.

From what I remember of the missile design, they couldn't have spread any radioactive contamination even if you'd followed that ladder with a claw hammer and a power drill. Most of the hoopla was concern over the awe-inspiring lack of common sense, procedure-following skills, & supervisory negligence that could have allowed such a lapse to occur in the first place. It takes months of idiocy for things to degrade to that cesspool of poor performance. IIRC the Navy captain lost his job, had to explain himself at admiral's mast, and is no longer on active duty. I'm sure he took half-a-dozen of his pointy-haired assistants with him.

With the number of handling evolutions and the inevitable sine wave of training & proficiency, to say nothing of overload & fatigue, this sort of thing happens a couple times a year. The good news is that systems analysts & human-factors engineers have finally realized that the less you can mess with it, the less you can mess it up. (The technical term is "sailor-proofing.") So the really nasty stuff is tightly packaged and surrounded by inert materials, while the procedures are so redundant & safety-conscious that even dropping a wrench is grounds for canceling the entire day's plans.

The Navy's stack of nuclear (both propulsion & explosives) required reading is about six feet high and contains some fascinating history. We used to train on the live stuff all the time with the inevitable regrettable incidents. I don't know if you remember the Palomares B-52 crash that dumped three hydrogen bombs in a tomato field. http://www.commondreams.org/views01/0803-08.htm Part of the settlement was an agreement to buy lots of tomato sauce from the affected parties, which is why Contadina is so cheap today. Other still-classified "oops" reports from the 1950s & 60s are even more hair-raising.

So in the last 20 years, a huge Navy bureaucracy has grown up around containment & minimizing the risk of spreading these materials. We rarely even carry the live stuff unless we're expected to use it. The engineering has greatly improved and the maintenance has dropped off almost to zero. 14 years ago I moved nuclear TOMAHAWKs seven times for torpedo-room maintenance & repairs, but today's maintenance guys would be fired for such poor planning. In 1991 all the attack subs offloaded them for good. I don't think the boomers even go out with a full load anymore because of the warhead-limits treaties.

A friend of ours is a GS-13 emergency planner who works 60-hour weeks year-round on training & exercises. His entire life revolves around procedures, contingencies, and responses. He's a good guy but he has absolutely no sense of humor around safety, and his bosses are even tighter. The practice is relentless, too-- you've probably seen at least one annual exercise with the guys in canary suits waving radiacs around your front yard. (If you haven't seen them, that's dandy-- it means your home is outside the "contamination zone".)

Even if the Navy has to do something and it goes badly, the incidents that occur today are four or five orders of magnitude (literally) less dangerous than the problems we had in the 1950s/60s. From the analyses I've seen, even a Three Mile Island or a Chernobyl at Bangor would result in less exposure than you'd get on a plane flight to Hawaii or a couple of dental x-rays.

The problem with buying duct tape or gas masks is that the shock wave has passed and the radioactive plume is over your house before the word gets out. The price of living so close to a nuclear facility is the lack of response time. If you're aware that something is happening but it hasn't killed you or destroyed your property yet, then generally the best response is to stay indoors and call the radio station for a news update... I wouldn't be alarmed until a govt employee shows up at your door offering tablets to prevent the radioactive iodine fallout from accumulating in your thyroid!

Here's another comforting thought. The neighborhoods around Bangor have one of the highest concentrations of retired flag officers in the entire nation. These guys have plenty of inside info to decide for themselves where it's safe to live.

Considering the Navy's design, training, & supervision of various hazardous systems, I'd be more worried about the diesel fuel tanks or the missile rocket's solid-fuel storage. And their blast arc is inside the chain-link fence.


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No offense Nords...
Old 12-10-2004, 11:45 AM   #7
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No offense Nords...

But I'd still feel a lot safer if the military stopped playing with nuclear toys.
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Re: Nords-Q on Strategic Role of Nuclear Subs
Old 12-10-2004, 11:47 AM   #8
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Re: Nords-Q on Strategic Role of Nuclear Subs

Quote:
Hey, Nords. * I'm a stone's throw from Subase Bangor.

Slick! Me too. Years ago (obviously before 9-11) when I was in boy scouts,we got to stay at the base and take a tour of a trident that was in drydock.... I still can't express to people who HUGE those suckers are! When you see them in the water (and you do in puget sound), you're only seeing a very very small part. The technology inside the sub looked right out of the 50s (they mentioned "proven tech" as the reason... makes sense), but was still pretty darn cool. The food on the base was AWESOME, but the "kill zones" were a bit unnerving to see.

All in all, I was very impressed =)
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Re: Nords-Q on Strategic Role of Nuclear Subs
Old 12-10-2004, 12:32 PM   #9
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Re: Nords-Q on Strategic Role of Nuclear Subs

Thanks Nords for a really helpful answer. I'll check out the links you provided this weekend.

My kids could never decide which they liked more- going aboard ships at Everett or Seattle during Seafair, or going to airshows.

I wish I were at the beginning of that part of my life rather than looking back on it.

Mike
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Re: "A series of unfortunate events."
Old 12-11-2004, 12:25 AM   #10
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Re: "A series of unfortunate events."

Quote:
Er, I probably trained some of those guys. *Sorry.
Just to show that there are no hard feelings, I'm going to send you one of these very interesting fruits that have been growing in my garden since the incident. The seeds are on the outside, and there's a weird glow, but they're really delicious :)

I wonder if I can find a bargain on canary suits if I shop the hood canal thrift shops....
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Re: No offense Nords...
Old 12-11-2004, 06:48 AM   #11
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Re: No offense Nords...

Quote:
But I'd still feel a lot safer if the military stopped playing with nuclear toys.

Make that everyone.... To wander a little from the original topic, has anyone else read the true story with the inane title "The Radioactive Boy Scout"? It's a book and was also a magazine article, available at:
http://www.findarticles.com/p/articl..._21281407/pg_1
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Re: Nords-Q on Strategic Role of Nuclear Subs
Old 12-11-2004, 10:16 AM   #12
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Re: Nords-Q on Strategic Role of Nuclear Subs

Nords
Quote:
more worried about the .. fuel tanks
Agreed.
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Re: Nords-Q on Strategic Role of Nuclear Subs
Old 12-11-2004, 10:38 AM   #13
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Re: Nords-Q on Strategic Role of Nuclear Subs

Quote:
But I'd still feel a lot safer if the military stopped playing with nuclear toys.
It would be nice if all of the nations of the world disbanded their military forces, and lived together in peace. However, if we dismantle our nukes, and the bad guys don't, how long do you think we would last?
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Re: Nords-Q on Strategic Role of Nuclear Subs
Old 12-11-2004, 10:50 AM   #14
 
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Re: Nords-Q on Strategic Role of Nuclear Subs

This is pretty non-PC. I heard it first on the Rush Limbaugh program. He opines that the main purpose
of armed forces is to "kill people and break things".
Guess he decided to skip the euphemisms.

JG
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Re: Nords-Q on Strategic Role of Nuclear Subs
Old 12-11-2004, 02:00 PM   #15
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Re: Nords-Q on Strategic Role of Nuclear Subs

Nords,
Your posts on this topic were facinating to read ..

Just ordered both of your recommended readings.

Thanks
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Re: Nords-Q on Strategic Role of Nuclear Subs
Old 12-11-2004, 06:46 PM   #16
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Re: Nords-Q on Strategic Role of Nuclear Subs

Quote:
He opines that the main purpose
of armed forces is to "kill people and break things".
That's absolutely true John. There is no such thing as a sanitary police action. If a war starts, a lot of people will die. Not all of them will be soldiers. You can only hope to stay strong enough so that the bad guys leave you alone, and try to make friends rather than enemies in the world. War is horrible, and particularly so if it is fought on your own soil. A large scale nuclear war would cause inimaginable suffering. Let us pray that day never comes.
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Re: Nords-Q on Strategic Role of Nuclear Subs
Old 12-11-2004, 07:04 PM   #17
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Re: Nords-Q on Strategic Role of Nuclear Subs

Quote:
This is pretty non-PC. I heard it first on the Rush Limbaugh program. He opines that the main purpose
of armed forces is to "kill people and break things".
Guess he decided to skip the euphemisms.
Agreed. We need a military, and we need it trained to kill people effectively and efficiently. Violence should be applied only when absolutely necessary and then in full force. It's not something that can effectively be done halfway.

The debate about when it should be used is for another thread.

Fascinating info about the nukes Nords...thanks. I think I'll rewatch The Hunt for Red October tonight. I might even have the paperback around here somewhere. After that I have the old PC game Red Storm Rising I think I'll play.
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Thanks Nords...
Old 12-11-2004, 08:34 PM   #18
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Thanks Nords...

Nords,

Thanks for the interesting reading. Maybe this is a little off topic--but I think we are leaving our kids a safer world than the one our generation received. Yes, we still face some very important threats and challenges from other belief systems. Yes, there are still environmental issues, etc. But the whole thing isn't 30 minutes away from coming to a screeching halt. The strategic nuclear deterence issue no longer colors all other areas of our international affairs. Domestically, we're able to spend time debating and moving ahead on other important areas--all because we "won" the Cold War thanks in large part to a lot of very dedicated folks in subs, in SAC, on planning staffs, and elsewhere (and don't forget the taxpayers who made it possible). No parades, no hoopla--but war was held at bay long enough for the West to win the most important idealogical struggle of our lifetime.

re:
Quote:
But I'd still feel a lot safer if the military stopped playing with nuclear toys.

"Those who beat their swords into ploughshares will do the planting for those who do not."
(author unknown).

samclem
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I'm glad the Cold War is over too.
Old 12-12-2004, 08:19 AM   #19
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I'm glad the Cold War is over too.

Quote:
... but I think we are leaving our kids a safer world than the one our generation received.
I don't know if it's safer or not, but the media has certainly gone to extraordinary lengths to make us more aware of how unsafe it is. Or could be.

BTW, I'd certainly be happier if I hadn't had to work with those nuclear weapons either. The training, record reviews, and inspection bureaucracy were beyond belief. (The Navy's nuclear-weapons program was about the only thing in the world that made the Navy's nuclear-reactor program seem enjoyable by comparison.) But while the Cold War was engaged, especially during the Reagan years, most of the people involved in the program felt they were serving a valuable purpose.

Another benefit of this "exposure" was to turn me into a belt-&-suspenders planner. I don't take less risk, but I sure don't take unacceptable ones. It's probably the foundation of being a good parent and the ability to achieve ER. I cringe when I hear "No problem, we're safety professionals", "It's different this time!", and "What could possibly go wrong?"

I wonder how far from midnight the Doomsday Clock is now...

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Re: I'm glad the Cold War is over too.
Old 12-12-2004, 08:53 AM   #20
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Re: I'm glad the Cold War is over too.

Quote:
I wonder how far from midnight the Doomsday Clock is now...
Now you made me go look. *It's sitting at 7 minutes to midnight right now.
http://www.thebulletin.org/doomsday_clock/

I used to read the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists pretty regularly growing up (my local library carried it) but it's been a lot of years since I've looked at it. *It appears that some of the big worries now are more "home grown" like this one in the current issue. It's not like this is a new thing (read up on the US anarchist bombings at the beginning of the 20th century) but now they have a lot more powerful weapons and the damage that can be done is much larger.

http://www.thebulletin.org/article.p...n=nd04reynolds
Quote:
On April 10, 2003, a team of federal agents armed with a search warrant entered a storage unit in a small Texas town and were stunned to find a homemade hydrogen cyanide device--a green metal military ammo box containing 800 grams of pure sodium cyanide and two glass vials of hydrochloric acid. The improvised weapon was the product of 62-year-old William Joseph Krar, an accomplished gunsmith, weapons dealer, and militia activist from New Hampshire who had moved his operations to east central Texas just 18 months earlier.

<snip>

Along with the sodium cyanide, hydrochloric acid, acetic acid, and glacial acetic acid, Krar and Bruey's armory included nearly 100 assorted firearms, three machine guns, silencers, 500,000 rounds of ammunition, 60 functional pipe bombs, a remote-controlled briefcase device ready for explosive insertion, a homemade landmine, grenades, 67 pounds of Kinepak solid binary explosives (ammonium nitrate), 66 tubes of Kinepak binary liquid explosives (nitromethane), military detonators, trip wire, electric and non-electric blasting caps, and cases of military atropine syringes. [2]

The storage unit also contained an extensive library of required reading for the serious terrorist: U.S. military and CIA field manuals for improvised munitions, weapons, and unconventional warfare; handbooks on assault rifle conversions to full-auto and manufacturing silencers; formulas for poisons and chemical and biological weapons; descriptions of safety precautions in handling; and information on means of deployment. Many of the same easily acquired, open-source materials, translated into Arabic, were found in Al Qaeda terrorist manuals recovered in Afghanistan and Europe.

<snip>

Krar carried copies of Hunter and The Turner Diaries, the fictional ur-texts for white American revolution and terrorism written by the late neo-Nazi William L. Pierce under the pseudonym Andrew McDonald. The books have been favorites of white nationalist and anti-government terrorists for more than two decades. McVeigh carried stacks of the Diaries with him during his army days and later sold them at gun shows, pressing copies into the hands of potential allies in the years running up to the Oklahoma City bombing. When federal agents searched McVeigh accomplice Terry Nichols's home in Kansas after the bombing, they found copies of the Diaries and Hunter.
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