Warren Buffet, the "Oracle of Omaha," board member and a sponsor of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, and the 2nd wealthiest man in the world said in 2002 before an annual meeting of the shareholders of his company, Berkshire Hathaway: "We are going to have something in the way of a major nuclear event in this country. It will happen. Whether it will happen in 10 years or 10 minutes or 50 years... it is a virtual certainty."
More than one American city being victim of nuclear terrorism combined with the credible threat of other attacks would pose a threat to our very existence as a modern nation. Perhaps even far worse than the direct blast and radiation damage of nuclear terrorism would be the compounding effects due to the likely near total disruption of society and critical systems on which it depends. In this case casualties from the explosions and radiation could represent way under half the potential victims...
New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is but a very small taste of what a nuclear terrorist attack would do. The more massive casualties may result not from the direct effects of blast and radiation as horrendous as this would be but from starvation, disease and civil conflict caused by chaos, panic and systems breakdown of our very fragile computerized society. The government and the public are almost completely unprepared either psychologically or on a practical level to cope with or recover from a nuclear terrorist attack in all its horrific dimensions.
Moreover the pattern of al Qaeda is to duplicate the same terror method in either a series or in multiple simultaneous attacks as they did in 911 and many other incidents. Whether it is al Qaeda using IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) along roadsides against the US Army in Iraq or the terrorist group Hamas in Israel employing walking suicide bombers on public buses, once radical Islamic terrorists find a method that works they just keep using this technique dozens and dozens of times.
The Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) and many writers on the subject of terrorism since 911 have underrated the risk of nuclear terrorism in general instead focusing mostly on other terrorist methods. The reason stated for the low risk being the supposedly very small probability terrorists could obtain the required fissionable material, construct and deliver a nuclear device.
Moreover DHS threat assessments and planning are based on scenarios involving only an isolated nuclear terror attack on a single city and only the direct damages from the explosion and radiation.
Even if one assumes the DHS is correct and (non-state) terrorists would have a prohibitively difficult time in acquiring the fissile material and constructing crude nuclear explosive devices the same assumption certainly does not stand if the "terrorists" are sponsored by a rogue nuclear terror sponsoring nation like North Korea or Iran.
The suggestion of a high risk of state-sponsored nuclear terrorism would then immediately bring the argument that the MAD doctrine would certainly dissuade any rogue state leader from dare giving nukes or bomb core material to terrorists.The M.A.D doctrine (Mutual Assured Destruction -- meaning no first use of nukes since it would certainly mean the annihilation of perpetrator) has limited deterrent value against the first use by rogue state actors employing nuclear terrorist weapons for a couple of reasons.
Although having entirely different perspectives the likes of Kim Jong II of North Korea or President Ahmadenejad of Iran may not be deterred for both tactical reasons and/or due to personal belief systems that share a common sense of omnipotence. Kim Jong II, a sociopath, who allowed millions of his own people starve to death several years ago might not be greatly concerned by loosing a few million more in a US nuclear retaliatory strike as long as he was likely to survive in one of his palatial deep underground bunkers with his "joy brigade" of adolescent women sex slaves and large stocks of his favorite food, wine and DVDs. As for president Ahmadenejad, a religious fanatic of a more extreme variety than is Osama bin Laden, Allah and the "12th Imam" are behind him and if he be gloriously martyred in the climactic battle with the "Great Satan:" it is a sure ticket to heaven, a paradise in which he firmly believes he will continue to live in far greater glory and splendor than in this earthly existence. The very fact that Ahmadenejad happens to be the president of a country of 70 million people does not mean that he does not think and act like the suicidal religious fanatic which he is.
To some extent these rogue leaders should be viewed as terrorists who hijacked a country and who don't have normal values or the fear of death that even the leaders of the post war Soviet Union had.
Even if one gives the benefit of the doubt to the opinion that "rogue state" leaders like Kim Jong II and president Ahmadenejad are more rational and less deranged in their behavior this may not necessarily lessen the risk by much. These rogue leaders may even calculate rationally that the risk (of atomic terrorism) is worth it if in destroying America it gets the 'Yankees' off their backs who they may believe with some good reason are trying to assist their oppressed subjects into staging a US supported "rogue regime rollback" revolution. The rogue leader may even feel less of a threat to his personal security from a US nuclear retaliatory strike than from the vengeance of his subjugated citizens. The US nuclear retaliatory strike may even have the added benefit of turning the rage of his surviving subjects away from him and towards the United States.
Moreover, the growing proliferation of terrorist organizations, new nuclear states and large poorly secured stockpiles of nuclear material in the former USSR means that any rogue leader and potential atomic terror sponsor would be only one of several potential state and non state actors with both motivation and/or potential means to commit such a crime. A more rational "rogue state" leader may simply calculate as many rational criminals who are later caught do all the time that they can get away with being accomplices of nuclear terrorism -- after all what better way to destroy evidence at the crime scene than by vaporizing both the terrorist foot soldier witnesses and the nuclear device at the center a multi kiloton fireball hotter than the sun!
One of the crucial dilemmas for the US president would be: with only 'hearsay' and flimsy circumstantial evidence pointing to the guilt of a rogue state even after the US homeland suffers the horror of atomic terrorism, would the president be willing to kill millions of innocent civilians who are oppressed victims just because the tyrant who rules them by terror might have been an accomplice in the atomic attack against America?
It is perplexing to this author why some other authors on this subject as well as DHS (Department of Homeland Security) examine mainly scenarios of a single isolated nuclear terrorist incident in one city... If the terrorists can build one of these crude nuclear cannon devices they could assemble a dozen of them in the same small machine shop with the same small number of staff. The consequent panic and breakdown of the fragile order of our society following an atomic terrorist attack which is more likely than not to follow the pattern of other radical Islamic terrorist methods will be profound and will not end with one isolated incident in one city.
What DHS (Dept. of Homeland Security ) does not take fully into account in its planning and disaster response preparations is the compounding and cascading effects of paralyzed critical systems, especially if the severe effects of EMP (nuclear-induced Electro Magnetic Pulse) are present...
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) rates the probability of nuclear terrorism as so low that only a tiny percentage of their time and budget is devoted to thwarting and/or mitigating the degree of calamity of nuclear terrorist attacks should they occur.
Is this appropriate? To put it in very blunt terms of human lives at risk: what would be the very worst case scenario one could reasonably expect from another (non-nuclear) terrorist incident involving airplanes vs. a bad case scenario of nuclear terrorism keeping to the same al Qaeda pattern? Probably it would be something like the August 2006 plan of Pakistani immigrant terrorists in Britain busted by Scotland Yard to blow up approximately 10 US bound commercial jet liners over the US east coast. It was estimated by British &. US authorities that in the worst case if such an attack was 100% successful it would have resulted in fatalities just under the 3000 which occurred on 911.
A nuclear terrorist attack, however, may involve a half dozen or so crude multi kiloton uranium gun type bombs going off in the same number of cities resulting in the mass evacuation of the majority of major US urban areas due to threats that the terrorists still have many more terrorist nukes in other US cities. This author has examined all the multi-faceted implications of such an attack... and given the total un-preparedness of our government and society the probability is that there could be at least tens of millions of fatalities within the 1st year alone if the multiple atomic terrorist ground bursts were accompanied by one high altitude Scud launched EMP (nuclear generated Electro Magnetic Pulse) detonation over New Jersey crippling northeast electrical based infrastructure. The majority of the fatalities would not be from atomic bomb blast and radiation but from disease and starvation. Juxtapose that with 2500 people perishing in a very bad aviation terror incident like the August 2006 plot and one comes up with a probable death ratio of 16000 to 1!
The Cannons of Armageddon, Alexander Monroe