Al Qaeda wants to get its hands on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.
(Note that my reference to al Qaeda is somewhat generic, in the same way we refer to organized crime as ‘the Mafia.’ Whether the perpetrator is al Qaeda or some parallel or spinoff gang really doesn’t matter. If al Qaeda isn’t the ultimate perpetrator it will be something that looks just like it.)
As I pointed out yesterday, the biggest problem anyone faces in building a nuke is acquiring enough weapons-grade nuclear fuel to build a bomb. Building the bomb itself is relatively easy. Yes, you can do it in a cave.
When it comes to building a nuclear weapon, the only real advantage a technologically-advanced society has (outside of fuel production itself) is in higher destruction per unit of fuel and, probably, a physically lighter and smaller device.
Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, a former CIA official, has detailed al Qaeda’s 20-year quest to acquire nuclear fuel. al Qaeda are infinitely patient, believing in the aphorism, “the Americans have the watches but we have the time.”
When asked why al Qaeda has apparently done little visible mayhem in the United States most government experts will cite our heightened law enforcement and surveillance techniques.
The real reason is that al Qaeda has not yet been able to come up with something more devastating, more horrifying, than the 9/11 attacks. 9/11 is a tough act to follow. Bringing down 2 100-story buildings and killing 3000 isn’t easy to repeat. Airliner hijacking is pretty much out. That was a trick that worked once, but won’t work again. (Well, not even once, really. Don’t forget that the last of the four hijacked planes failed in its mission when the passengers discovered, via cell phone, what had happened to the other three planes. The passengers managed to cause enough chaos on United Flight 93 so that it crashed into a field in Pennsylvania, rather than its likely target, the Capitol or the White House).
al Qaeda is known to have experimented with a variety of WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction) including chemical and biological agents. There is credible evidence that they learned what Western nations have known all along—managing chemical and biological weapons on a large scale is difficult at best. If you want guaranteed results, the only WMD worth considering is a nuke.
And, for a nuke you need weapons-grade fuel. And, what’s the best source of weapons-grade fuel? Why right next door to Afghanistan—in Pakistan. That’s the reason there’s so much commotion along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border right now. All the Islamic radicals can smell the prize that awaits them in a destabilized Pakistan: weapons-grade nuclear fuel.
Once you’ve got the fuel, building the bomb is easy; smuggling it in to the United States is only slightly more difficult.
Once the bomb is in the United States, what will they do with it? It depends on the quality of the weapon.
According to the New York Times, “al Qaeda seems focused on the nuclear option. Its stated goal is to kill four million Americans.” If they can acquire or build a state-of-the-art nuke, their best chance for this kind of kill would be to detonate the device in the middle of Manhattan—about the only place in the US where the population is sufficiently concentrated so that a single nuke can achieve this kind of result.
But, if they are unable to build a bomb that has a reasonable prospect of this kind of death toll, their best alternative is Washington. Because of its much lower population density, 4 million deaths are unlikely but the destruction of virtually every physical symbol of the American government would be assured. A smaller-than-Hiroshima device would take out every memorable building and monument in the capitol.
Neither of the above scenarios would likely destroy our country or our government but either would likely light the fuse to World War III.
I make no guesses as to what WWIII might look like.