The Potential For A Terrorist Group To Smuggle A Nuclear Device Into The Continental U.S — Is Widely Recognized As Not Only Plausible, But Probable’ — Right Of The Boom: The Aftermath Of Nuclear Terrorism: By Benjamin Schwartz; And Reviewed By Max Boot
Max Boot, a Senior Fellow at The Council On Foreign Relations; and author most recently of, “Invisible Armies: An Epic History Of Guerrilla Warfare – From Ancient Times To Present,” has a review of Benjamin Schwartz’s new book: Right Of Boom: The Aftermath of Nuclear Terrorism,” in today’s (Sunday, February 8, 2015) New York Times Book Review section.
Mr. Boot begins by noting that “nuclear terrorism has long been a staple of movies and television shows. But typically, Hollywood productions end with the bomb being defused. What would happen if heroes didn’t save the day; and, the United States experienced the worst 24 hours in its history?”
“That is the important question Benjamin E. Schwartz, a career government official, who has worked at the Department of State, Defense, and Energy — sets out to answer in his clunkily titled first book, “Right Of Boom.” (“Right Of Boom,” is government-speak for “after an explosion.”). “His analysis begins with a fictional narrative that unfolds in a flat, matter-of-fact tone: “On an otherwise calm, and uneventful morning, a small nuclear weapon explodes in downtown Washington D.C….The casualty count rises to over 100K; and the destruction is measured in hundreds of billions of dollars.”
“Schwartz, rather arbitrarily assumes that the POTUS is out of town at the time of the explosion,” Mr. Boot writes “along with other key officials. They must then figure out what to do, when a “little known terrorist group,” (no ideology is specified) claims responsibility. Experts, suggest the group is “linked to three hostile governments, all of which have issued statements condemning the attack, and denying involvement.”
“Eventually,” Mr Boot writes, “in Schwartz’s story line, intelligence concludes that the nuclear material most likely came from one nation (unnamed), but that “negligence within that country’s weapons industry; and, at its nuclear complexes, is at least as plausible as a scenario, as a deliberate transfer by government officials to the terrorist group.” “What then, should the POTUS do,?”
“Schwartz notes that people may assume the answer to nuclear terrorism is tragic; but, quite straightforward: retaliation with nuclear weapons. But, it may not be so simple,” Mr. Boot writes — and, it isn’t. “It is far from certain that the POTUS would be willing to incinerate the people of say, North Korea, Iran, or Pakistan. And, as Schwartz notes, “American maneuver room would be severely curtailed, if the nuclear threat network emanated from Russian, or Chinese territory.” “Only Dr. Strangelove would suggest starting WWIII with a state that possesses hundreds, if not thousands of nuclear weapons,” Mr. Boot argues.
“What’s more, taking out the nuclear weapons of even a smaller state like Pakistan or North Korea, would not be easy. It would be necessary to wipe out the entire arsenal, but of course all states camouflage and disperse their nuclear stockpiles. If American strikes left some nukes intact, the danger of further nuclear attack on the American homeland…would be very real,” Mr. Boot warns.
“What about using “boots on the ground?” “U.S. military forces could invade a country and forcefully take control over nuclear-related sites and facilities,” Mr. Schwartz writes. “He [Schwartz], may go too far in suggesting such action would have “limited prospects of eliminating the threat,” Mr. Boot says, “but, he is right that it would be a “high-risk” venture, whose downside could include many of the problems the United States encountered in Iraq and Afghanistan.” “While Schwartz believes (rightly), that airstrikes against suspected nuclear proliferators would be the most likely initial response, he argues that dealing with an act of nuclear terrorism in the long term, would require a much more complex series of actions, designed to “blunt global nuclear threat networks.” “Washington would need “capabilities to conduct missions ranging from halting the sale of dual-use components through legal and diplomatic processes, to freezing funds of weapons proliferators, to isolating and immobilizing terrorist groups, to improving security practices at nuclear material storage sites, to coercive interdictions on the high seas, to seizing and securing nuclear weapons sites, and even to destroying nuclear weapons arsenals,”
“Schwartz most intriguing suggestion,” Mr. Boot notes, “is that an act of nuclear terrorism could revive an idea briefly entertained by the Truman administration — to establish “an international structure to control nuclear energy,” an International Atomic Energy Agency on steroids. Countries that fail to comply with its edicts, could face more than sanctions, or strong rhetoric,– they could be “presumed guilty,” and declared “a legitimate target for retaliation — following nuclear terrorism — even in the absence of proof of complicity.” “Whatever happens,” Mr. Boot notes, “there is little doubt that we would be entering a brave new world, whose contours can be glimpsed only dimly. Schwartz is to be commended, for thinking about the unthinkable,” Mr. Boot observes. “It’s a shame he hasn’t produced a better book.” Ouch.
“Schwartz, to put it mildly, is no thriller writer,” Mr. Boot writes. “His nuclear-attack plot is presented with a minimum of drama, and it’s hard not to roll your eyes when he sketches an imaginary conversation on an unnamed television show between experts from nonexistent think tanks chatting in language no human being would actually use. As the late Irving Kristol noted many years ago, “one of his pundits declaims, “international law is a fiction, abused callously, or ignored ruthlessly,, by those nations that, unlike Western democracies, never took it seriously in the first place.” “Back to you Bret,” Mr. Boot colorfully writes.
“Schwartz also takes long detours into historical case studies of limited relevance. For example, he compares possible responses to terrorism, with America’s campaigns against the Comanche’s; and Britain’s against the Pashtuns in the 19th century. He even suggests that “war against al Qaeda, waged through unmanned aerial vehicles and informants on the ground,” is similar to the “punitive expeditions undertaken by the British Raj in what is now Pakistan.” “The analogy doesn’t hold up,” Mr. Boot argues. “British forces routinely burned villages in retaliation for Pashtun raids. Winston Churchill, who was a young Army officer, participated in one such campaign, left a memorable description of how the Tirah Valley “was filled with smoke,” which “hung like a cloud over the scene of destruction.” “If Washington were engaged in such a policy today, our armed forces would be bombing villages in Pakistan,” Mr. Boot contends. “But, they’re not. Current policy is actually “leadership targeting,” — “trying, with great discrimination, to eliminate key players in al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. This approach also has a long history, dating back to the Roman assassination, in 139 B.C., of a rebel leader in Hispania (Spain) named Viriathus, but, it goes entirely unmentioned here. And, more disturbing than Schwartz’s failure to cite relevant historical examples, is his conceptual error in failing to differentiate between decapitation strikes, and punitive expeditions,” Mr. Boot contends.
“Right Of Boom,” is marred by other problems as well,” Mr. Boot concludes, “like Schwartz’s unwillingness to consider the possible impact of the nation’s entire political leadership being wiped out. Another curious omission, is the neglecting to think about what would happen if more than one nuclear bomb went off, or if more nuclear attacks were threatened. That possibility was raised in Andrew Krepinevich’s “7 Deadly Scenarios,” a more compelling look at this same issue that also goes unmentioned here. Finally,” Mr. Boot writes, “Schwartz does not explain what steps policy makers should take to stop nuclear terrorism….before it occurs. What, for example, should we be doing to prevent Iran from getting the bomb? Schwartz never says.”
“Nonetheless,” Mr. Boot warns, even if “Right Of Boom,” is not the book we need on nuclear terrorism, it can still do some good….if it spurs greater study of; and conversation about, what is arguably the our most important, and least understood national security threat.”
The Potential For A Terrorist Group To Smuggle A Nuclear Device Into The Continental U.S — Is Widely Recognized As Not Only Plausible, But Probable’
So says Stuart Rabin and David Waller in an editorial in the Aug. 20, 2013 Washington Times They write, “the the potential for a terrorist group, etc., to smuggle a nuclear device into the continental U.S. is widely recognized as not only plausible, but probable.” Apparently, there is also more than enough unaccounted for/missing fissile material to construct a device here — without having to smuggle in the nuclear material. And, our port security and ability to ferret out/discover a covert attempt to smuggle in such material remains a vulnerability. As three members of Congress recently wrote, “Cargo containers arriving on ships from foreign ports offer terrorists a Trojan Horse for a devastating attack on the United States.” Quoting Harvard University’s National-Security Analyst Graham Allison, they noted that a nuclear attack on the U.S. homeland “is far more likely to arrive in a cargo container than on the tip of a missile.”
As the author’s note, “the potential for a terrorist group, etc., to smuggle a nuclear device into the continental U.S. is widely recognized as not only plausible, but probable.” Apparently, there is also more than enough unaccounted for/missing fissile material to construct a device here — without having to smuggle in the nuclear material. And, our port security and ability to ferret out/discover a covert attempt to smuggle in such material remains a vulnerability. As three members of Congress recently wrote, “Cargo containers arriving on ships from foreign ports offer terrorists a Trojan Horse for a devastating attack on the United States.” Quoting Harvard University’s National-Security Analyst Graham Allison, they noted that a nuclear attack on the U.S. homeland “is far more likely to arrive in a cargo container than on the tip of a missile.”
Mr. Stuart and Mr. Waller say that 74yrs. after Einstein’s warning, “American technology is now capable of providing a much-needed safeguard” against this threat. “Research initiated by Los Alamos National Lab and further developed by private industry has resulted in a passive detection system that meets all the requirements of safety, reliability, speed and cost. The authors add that this technology has been independently tested, operationally deployed and successfully demonstrated at a major U.S. port.”
The author’s end with a plea that the POTUS, and the Congress ensure that funding is provided so that we have this technology liberally spread around the U.S. Homeland in an expeditious manner. I couldn’t agree more — especially, in light of the leakage of sensitive U.S. intelligence sources and methods and ongoing scrutiny and constraints on NSA and elsewhere in the Intelligence Community.
I have been a defender of NSA throughout the Snowden leak debacle, and perhaps more sunlight needs to be shed to ensure that those who ‘watch the watchers’ stay vigilant and keep our intelligence collection methods and activities bound within what is legally permissible. Having said that, I am deeply worried that these investigations and mounting criticism of NSA could put a chilling effect on collection methods and activities that we must not only maintain but perfect — in order to hopefully detect and deter a WMD attack on the U.S. homeland.
The Islamic State, Al Qaeda, and their militant Islamic brothers in arms would love nothing more than to smuggle in and explode a nuclear weapon on U.S. soil. In all of this scrutiny and criticism of NSA, and the hemorrhaging of our sensitive intelligence collection methods and operations — we must not allow the dismantling of intelligence programs that are aimed at detecting and deterring WMD attacks on the U.S. homeland and our allies abroad. Those who are now so intent on “hanging NSA out to dry,” would do well to keep this in mind. Otherwise, we’ll have a lot more to worry about than unauthorized intelligence collection against U.S. persons.
This is also why Ms. Rice was so mistaken when she stated in her speech at The Brooking’s Institution on Friday, that there “is no existential threat to the United States,” downplaying the threat the Islamic State and al Qaeda pose. They would love nothing more than to detonate a tactical nuclear weapon/s right here in the U.S. homeland — and, that is an existential threat.
Stopping Nuclear Terrorism
13 October 2013 | Issue 5233
By William Tobey and Pavel Zolotarev
The two gentlemen above, wrote in the October 13, 2013 issue of The Moscow Times, that “In 2011, experts from Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies produced a joint threat assessment on nuclear terrorism. It concludes that the threat of nuclear terrorism is both real and urgent. Amazingly, one reason why nuclear terrorism remains a credible threat is that we still have not done all that we can to secure stocks of the highly enriched uranium that could be made into weapons. How do we know this, besides the debacle at Y-12? Over the past 20 years, weapons-grade fissile material has repeatedly been seized outside of authorized control, including incidents in Georgia and Moldova in 2003, 2006, 2010 and 2011.”
“Although none of these cases involved enough material to make a nuclear weapon,” they warn, “they are all gravely serious. First, in many of the cases, the individuals involved claimed that the material was a sample of a larger quantity available for sale. Secondly, the cases constitute physical proof of nuclear security failures.”
“Moreover, they note, “simulations and exercises conducted over the past several years by former U.S. and Russian officials reveal that their respective governments are not organized to cooperate effectively on suppressing illegal trafficking of nuclear material or to deal with a nuclear terrorism event.”
They Recommend That
“Jointly, the U.S. and Russia could establish teams that would meet together regularly to share specific steps that they are undertaking to prevent nuclear terrorism and to share best practices. Additional teams could meet to coordinate plans in the event of a real nuclear terrorism plot. Military, intelligence, scientific and diplomatic professionals would plan a response before they faced the hard choices and deadlines of a real crisis. A third set of teams could investigate the past instances of stolen fissile material to discover what went wrong and prevent such failures in the future. Incredibly, this has never been done.”
Additionally, they recommend “In parallel, the U.S. and Russia could undertake actions to ensure that all of the nuclear weapons, highly enriched uranium and separated plutonium under their control are protected to the highest standards. These include ensuring that professional regulatory oversight and sufficient financial resources are in place to maintain effective security. It also means minimizing the number of facilities that store such stocks and exploring ways to phase out civilian use of highly enriched uranium.”
“The U.S and Russia could work with other countries to promote best nuclear security practices. They could draw on their twenty-year experience of working together to secure Russian nuclear stocks and apply that knowledge to helping other countries improve their nuclear security. They could also encourage other nations to recognize the importance of sharing nuclear security practices and appropriately funding the International Atomic Energy Agency’s security efforts.”
“We have known for years that the threat of nuclear terrorism affects all nations because a detonation anywhere would diminish life and commerce everywhere,” they observe. “Over the past 20 years, the U.S. and Russia have taken many steps to stem proliferation, but those efforts remain insufficient. There are concrete steps that the U.S. and Russia could take — jointly, in parallel and with other nations — to reduce the threat. Now is the time to push for those policies, to ensure that the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit succeeds. The threat of nuclear terrorism is urgent and real; so is the need for action.”
William Tobey is a senior fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. Major General Pavel Zolotarev is a retired member of the Russian Armed Forces and deputy director of the Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Read more: http://www.themoscowtimes.com/opinion/article/stopping-nuclear-terrorism/487767.html#ixzz2hckZTzhH
The Moscow Times