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Tad Daley: Watered-Down Terror
Posted on Aug 22, 2006
By Tad Daley
“Liquids on a Plane” may have caught our attention, but the real terror threat is nuclear, as a newly released report makes so apocalyptically clear. An analyst with the Nobel Prize-winning outfit Physicians for Social Responsibility lays out the progressive case for staving off nuclear holocaust.
Blowing up 10 airliners simultaneously. Is that the best they can do?
Unfortunately, probably not. They may have worse in the works.
On Thursday, Aug. 10, British authorities arrested more than 20 individuals suspected of plotting to annihilate as many as 10 passenger jets, in mid-flight over the Atlantic, on the same day. Five days later, the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, Calif., issued a long-awaited study detailing the terrifying consequences—for the entire world, for many years - that would ensue if terrorists were able to detonate a nuclear warhead on a pier at Los Angeles/Long Beach harbor, the busiest in the United States. The juxtaposition of these two stories does indeed, as President Bush said, serve as a “stark reminder” of the realities of modern terror. Two paramount truths stand out.
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The 21st century has seen the emergence of a new kind of terrorist—or, more precisely, new kinds of terrorist goals. In the final three or four decades of the last century, most terrorists appeared to possess specific political goals, and calculated that outrages beyond a certain level would diminish their likelihood of obtaining them. Terror scholar Brian Jenkins put the traditional approach well when he famously said the objective was to have “a lot of people watching, but not a lot of people dead.”
But many of the terror attacks of recent years—Bali, Madrid, London, 9/11—appear to have been driven by a different strategic calculus. In these episodes, the political goal itself seemed to be to inflict maximum pain and suffering upon the target society.
Perhaps the most chilling aspect of 9/11 was that none of the perpetrators left suicide notes. They did not issue a list of demands. They did not recite a litany of grievances. They did not appear to care what message their execrable undertaking conveyed.
They simply wanted to slaughter as many innocent souls as possible.
And at this hour, the London liquid bombers appear to have had identical objectives.
To pursue such objectives, murdering 3,000 people by crashing airplanes into buildings is not bad. Murdering another 3,000 people by blowing up 10 airliners on a single day is not bad either. But there is one potential tool of terror that could outdo these atrocities a hundredfold—300,000 innocent souls. Or maybe even a thousandfold—3 million innocent souls. All murdered in the blink of an eye. The snap of a finger. The single beat of a human heart.
Shortly after 9/11, I picked up a novel published in 1980—political eons ago. It was called ?The Fifth Horseman,? by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre. It was about someone planting an atom bomb in the middle of Manhattan. I will not reveal here how it turns out. I will admit that reading it in September 2001 kept me up, every night, until after 3 a.m.
Listen to the late U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Eugene Carroll on the many varieties of small portable nuclear warheads. “Among the 70,000 U.S. nuclear weapons produced during the Cold War were suitcase bombs, neutron bombs, torpedoes, depth charges, artillery shells, air-to-air missiles and antitank rockets. The laboratories were like nuclear ice cream factories, churning out the flavor of the day to meet the latest craving of the customers.”
The Soviet Union, of course, had similar ice cream factories of its own. And Osama bin Laden, his minions and his imitators want nothing more than to obtain just a single ice cream cone.
It will not be easy. Getting their hands on a nuclear warhead—through theft, bribery, a lightning paramilitary operation on a facility not well guarded in Russia or Pakistan, pick your poison—will surely be hard. Getting it into this country will be hard. Figuring out how to detonate it at the right time and place will be hard. Getting a sufficient quantity of weapons-grade uranium-235 or plutonium-239, alternatively, and building a bomb of their own will undoubtedly be even harder. But if those who aspire to pull off this sequence of events try to do so 1,000 times and fail 999 times, we lose.
And they’re not in a hurry, either. There’s no rush. Time is on their side. The Irish Republican Army used to say: “You [the British] have to be lucky every single time. We have to be lucky just once.”
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