When I heard on NPR that a blue ribbon panel (an offshoot of the 9/11 Commission) had delivered this message in a report released today, I thought I’d find more about it all over the news. Surprisingly, Google News turned up just this one article:
When it comes to the threat of nuclear terrorism, the government must do more to secure fissile materials abroad, set spending priorities and better prepare the U.S. public for the aftermath of a possible domestic attack, a panel of experts said Monday.
“We need to have a rational, mature discussion in this country about what our priorities are,” said Steven Brill, founder and chairman of the America Prepared Campaign, which was formed to help the public, government and media prepare for terrorist attacks and other emergencies.
Isn’t that the same guy who published the erstwhile Brill’s Content? Man, he gets around…
Ashton Carter, co-director of the Preventive Defense Project at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, noted that the Bush administration wants to spend tens of millions of dollars to create a Domestic Nuclear Detection Office. But Carter said the best way to stop nuclear terrorism is to secure fissile materials at their source, rather than try to detect them in transport.
“I think we have a war on terrorism. We don’t have a war yet on weapons of mass destruction,” Carter said.
Leonard Spector, deputy director of the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute for International Studies, said the amount of fissile material being produced is actually growing. He said the administration is actively working to address the issue of securing fissile materials, but is not doing enough.
“Much, much more work needs to be done,” Spector said.
I believe this is a far, far more serious concern, frankly, than conventional terrorism–and I include the 9/11 attacks under that rubric. When you get right down to it, no matter how awful a tragedy it was for a few thousand people and their communities, it was way overblown in terms of the actual threat to the vast majority of Americans.
But a properly placed, properly timed Hiroshima-style fission bomb (say, left with a timer in a locked closet, on a high floor of a Manhattan skyscraper) could kill hundreds of thousands instantly, and produce suffering and/or slow death for millions more. (An H-bomb, which would be essentially impossible for terrorists to construct but might be stolen from the loosely guarded Soviet stockpiles, would essentially incinerate the entire metro area.)
Beyond that, think of the civil liberties implications. The very moment I saw the Twin Towers collapse, the thought that chilled my blood was “great, there goes the Bill of Rights”. And though I detest the Patriot Act as much as anyone, it was actually milder than what I feared might come. I can guarantee you, if a major U.S. city is nuked, the Bill of Rights will be toast.
So we have to do whatever we can, as a society, to prevent a nuclear attack: not just for the sake of the immediate impact to lives and property, but to head off the police state that would inevitably ensue from such a catastrophe. And part of that is getting out the word that Bush and the Republicans aren’t on the ball.