The Ultimate Nightmare : Al Qa’ida With the Bomb
Wikileak documents that report Al Qa’ida rhetoric about unleashing a “nuclear hell storm” are worth noting in passing. But not to be overlooked is the nightmare that haunts Western civilization, second only to the risk we are taking with our experiment in changing the world’s climate. It is the relatively high risk that a terrorist cell will one day obtain fissile material and detonate it in a Western city.
Compared to this the September 11 attack was a pinprick, an amateur-hour stunt. If the religious fanatics running strategy for the organization had had real patience they would have pursued the nuclear option. Instead they stayed trapped in the old plane highjacking mentality and brought down two buildings at the price of being driven out of their bases in Afghanistan, when with more time they could have wiped out London or New York or, more cleverly still, set off bomb after bomb – Dallas, Phoenix, Detroit, Chicago – while holding America to blackmail. “Get all your forces out of the Middle East or the next one goes off in greater New York.”
This threat was delineated by academic Graham Allison in his 2004 book, Nuclear Terrorism. He warned that, “No other weapon of mass destruction, whether chemical or biological, sits in the same class. Thousands of nuclear weapons and potential nuclear weapons remain vulnerable at poorly secured storage sites throughout Russia.”
He said that if terrorists only got their hands on highly enriched uranium or plutonium they could easily make a bomb operational within a year. America’s porous borders would offer little protection. There is no promise of any technology that would detect fissile material concealed in a container. We are talking here about what might be called a backpack nuclear bomb, easily delivered by a terrorist cell into Times Square.
In weighing all the risks, Allison concluded that, “On the current course, nuclear terrorism is inevitable”. His book makes suggestions for altering course. It pays tribute to two former US Senators, Sam Nunn and Dick Lugar, for hard, unglamorous work in getting better security for Russia’s stockpiles. He concludes that, with more such effort, this nightmare is preventable.
But when you hear nuclear and terrorism uttered in the one sentence think about this reality, the lives at stake and the economic catastrophe that would probably follow. Think about the blow to our civilization of one or more of our great cities being taken out the way the Taliban took out Afghanistan’s great Buddha statues.