FBI taking scheme by GE maintenance tech to build an "X Ray Laser" seriously - Should they?

Story in link below.

Glendon Crawford, X-Ray Weapon Suspect: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

FBI investigation

So far as I know X ray lasers that can wield deadly, focused gamma rays are still in sci-fi territory as there is (so far) no workable way to focus gamma rays. This whole operation sounds more like an elaborate con job than a terrorist scheme. Does this claim (by “experts”)that he was going to produce a workable crowd killing death ray hold any water?

Conspiracy to build it for the stated use would be a crime even if the overall idea wouldn’t have worked anyway. I think.

But from what I can tell by reading that short slide show it seems they were trying to obtain xray tubes from an FBI agent so they could get radioactive material out of them. That would make people sick (with radiation sickness) when the device was triggered, not zap them with a focused beam.

Item 7 on the investigation report seems to indicate quite clearly they were working on a focused death ray not some irradiated material dispersement scattering scheme.

And with X-rays, no less? How 1920s-style of them.

I wonder what Mulder would say?

They were trying to make an X-ray laser. They almost certainly would have failed. But their failure would still end up being very dangerous, whatever it was.

X-rays are in a different part of the spectrum than gamma rays (though they’re next to each other.) But focused X-rays of sufficient intensity can be quite deadly too, despite the existence of proven safe (low intensity) X-ray scanners as used in hospitals.

That doesn’t appear to be quite clear to me at all. It says that the device would be “remotely initiated”. To me, it sounds more like they wanted to put the device in a truck, park the truck near their target, and then turn the device on once they had moved a safe distance away.

Huh??!! I am not in any relevant profession, but to my knowldge X-Ray tubes don’t have radioactive material in them.

Correct. The relevant quote is subtly different however: “never actually got his hands on a radiation source, he tried to procure x-ray tubes from an undercover FBI agent posing as a supplier.” An X-Ray tube is itself a source, it doesn’t contain one.

One can only assume the intent was to bank up a heap of X-Ray tubes and power them up in parallel. X-Ray tubes are not exactly efficient, and you won’t build a laser this way. So at best (worst?) you would get a diffuse flux of X-Rays emanating from the truck, and if you were nearby the truck for any length of time you could get a dangerous dose.

However the power needed to supply (not to mention cool) the tubes is not insignificant, and the voltages and currents needed will turn you into a raisin. I would predict a swift and spectacular demise on the part of the conspirators.

X-Ray tubes used for inspecting welds and fabricated structures need to be pretty powerful, but their duty cycle need not be great. I would guess they were after these tubes, rather then diagnostic X-Ray machine tubes.

Yeah I misinterpreted that quote and also didn’t see that you could scroll through the entire complaint shown within that slide.

However it’s still clear what they were trying to build was a big, sloppy x-ray producing machine that would contaminate an entire area where people were present and not some sort of focused beam that could be used to zap individuals from a distance.

It’s not quite that simple, since the definitions of the boundary between the two can vary. One of the most common definitions isn’t even based on their position in the spectrum at all, but on their source: X-rays come from electrons changing states, while gamma rays come from nuclear interactions. By this standard, some X-rays can be higher in energy than some gamma rays, and high-energy photons from an unidentified source, or from a source other than either of those, are unclassifiable.

I agree with your assessment, but I think “contaminate” is kind of a poor word choice here.

An X-ray device like they wanted to build would have produced an area full of X-ray energy while it was on. If a victim wandered into the area while it was on, they’d absorb a dose. But the microsecond it was switched off, 100% of the danger would disappear.

The term “contamination” rather implies a residue of some sort left behind which would produce harm over an extended time.
Conceptually, what they wanted was much more like a device making a loud obnoxious noise or a blinding bright light, rather than one spewing noxious chemicals.

I did not know that; ignorance fought! Thanks.

Yes, they could have built a lethal weapon had they known what they were doing :


An electron beam is more or less what an x-ray tube is actually doing : see this


Anyways, in the case of the Therac-25 accident, the patients were exposed to lethal doses within seconds. It is possible to build an electrically powered machine that produces enough x-rays and gamma rays to kill someone reasonably quickly.

Now, would it be portable? Would it have any significant amount of range? Would it be possible to build without a team including experts in physics and a lot of custom parts?

The answer is probably no to all 3 questions. It would certainly be a lot easier to just use a machine gun instead : a machine gun would have a lot longer range, and would be far more deadly.

The Therac-25 problem was not with X-Rays - but in the electron beam therapy. When the machine was erroneously put into electron beam mode the energy delivered was orders of magnitude more than in X-Ray mode. However the range of an electron beam is very low, and would not get outside the truck. Indeed it won’t get all that far in the atmosphere. The lethal dose wasn’t X-Rays.

The trick is this - to get high energy X-Rays you need high energy electrons - which means high velocity electrons. These can only propagate any distance in a hard vacuum. X-Rays on the other hand are not so constrained, and cheerfully penetrate lots of things. The conversion efficiency of high energy electrons to X-Rays is very poor, hence the difference in energy levels for the two therapy modes. But what can’t be done is get a beam of high energy electrons with the same range and penetrating ability as X-Rays, or a beam of X-Rays with the same energy content as the electron beam.


maybe I should start a new thread:

I’m confused by the KKK connection and coming to the aid of Jewish people.
I was under the impression the KKK was a pretty anti-semetic group.

can someone clarify for me?

From what I can tell from the story, they weren’t trying to build an X-ray laser. They were trying to build a device to emit X-rays using X-ray tubes, which are already directional. So no focusing or lasering needed. An analogy would be to think of each tube as a flashlight, and they were trying to assemble enough flashlights to harm people. I don’t know what level of X-ray radiation they could have achieved, but I’d say the charges are justified.

Does Batman wait for the mad scientist to complete and use his doomsday weapon before he stops him?