Terrorism Goes Prime Time - by Russ Wellen
nuclear terrorism finally hot? Not like a potato, but as
in what is/what’s not? If the public’s imagination can be
captured by a mysterious organization like the Priory of
Sion via Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, why not by
an even more secret society—say, the Fraternal Order of
Nuclear Terrorists? After all, what plot can top mankind’s
survival hanging in the balance?
film short “Last Best Chance,” which premiered October 17th
on HBO, may go a long way toward luring nuclear terrorism
into the limelight. Produced by Ted Turner’s think tank,
the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), it represents our race
to nuclear doom as a Hollywood thriller.
film’s way was paved by an October 13th segment of ABC’s
“Primetime,” entitled “Radioactive Road Trip,” in which
undercover journalism students sought entry into nuclear
research reactors on college campuses. It featured a star
turn by former Assistant Secretary of Defense Graham Allison,
author of Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable
Catastrophe and godfather to the anti-nuclear terrorism
Best Chance” better not count on word of mouth, though.
By allowing our fingers to slip toward the edge with no
helping hand in sight, it plays fast and loose with the
conventions of a cliffhanger, sending us to our likely doom.
the initial screening for the New Yorker’s “Talk
of the Town,” Hendrik Hertzberg quoted Ted Turner, who claimed
that it was only a few years ago that “I still thought that
nuclear weapons, biological and chemical weapons, was an
area that the government took care of.”
with the Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina, and the economy, voices
once reluctant to speak out against the administration are
taking it to task for its shortcomings. Those who worked
on or endorsed “Last Best Chance” include actor/senator
Fred Thompson; NTI head Sam Nunn; his partner in the Global
Threat Reduction Initiative, Republican Senator Richard
Lugar; the 9/11 Commission’s chair and vice-chair, Thomas
Kean and Lee Hamilton; and Warren Buffett.
it remains to be seen if the issue will remain in the spotlight.
Aside from occasional appearances, such as when Dick Cheney
famously warned us of forces “able to come into the country
and perhaps smuggle weapons of mass destruction in with
them,” up to now nuclear terrorism has been damped down
to a profile as low as that kept by those trading in the
nuclear black market.
the mainstream media, presumably hesitant to scare viewers
and readers away, has doled the issue out in small doses.
Surely, though, the progressive press has been hammering
away at it, right? To the contrary; aside from an encouraging
word about “Last Best Chance” in the New York Press,
a Google search reveals nothing but the occasional acknowledging
blog entry. Nuclear terrorism may be the only threat to
mankind to which the progressive press has devoted even
less attention than the mainstream or hard right has.
fact, Fox News and MSNBC’s Tucker Carlson have both hosted
Graham Allison. More often, though, nuclear terrorism has
been the province of fringe-right websites like FrontPageMag,
NewsMax, and especially WorldNetDaily.
featured on these online outlets is the Jeremiah with the
biggest shofar – Paul L. Williams, who begins where
Allison ends. He’s written Osama’s Revenge and now,
The Al Qaeda Connection, in both of which he’s as
unapologetic about shouting “Apocalypse!” in a crowded theater
as he is meticulous in his footnoting. While a favorite
of the hard right, Williams, too, calls the administration
on the carpet. “I cannot figure out why they have not done
more to address the threat,” he said. “Maybe they don’t
know how or hope nothing will happen.”
gives with this reticence about matters nuclear by an administration
that prides itself on its record combating terrorism? While
it’s never been reluctant to use terror-coded alerts to
put the fear of God in us, none have been nuclear.
administration has taken some steps, such as enlisting other
G8 nations to match America’s $1 billion annual commitment
to secure and eliminate former Soviet nuclear weapons. Also,
it’s trying to launch a Homeland Security division called
the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, to prevent the smuggling
of nuclear materials across borders. Also, in a surprise
move, the National Nuclear Security Administration just
conducted demonstrations on radioactive material theft-prevention
for China’s burgeoning nuclear power industry.
to concede that any constructive measures whatsoever have
been taken by the administration (actually, Allison gives
it a “D”) may be one reason progressives have refrained
from taking on nuclear terrorism. More to the point, however,
progressives may be inclined to think that addressing it
plays into the hands of the administration, which uses fear-mongering
as a means to an end. Finally, due to their capacity for
empathy, some progressives may actually be as faint of heart
as they’re reputed to be, and thus ill-equipped to deal
with the results of nuclear conflict.
elements of the hard right are undergoing a transformation.
Once they were all too happy to contemplate nuclear war
as a strategy. But now that we’re at the mercy of non-state
actors who don’t play fair, they’re taking a long, hard
look at the consequences of the kind of nuclear attack that
slips under the radar. No matter how stealthy, if pulled
off by al Qaeda, it won’t be an independent operation by
an autonomous cell. You can bet that since bin Laden seems
to have shelled out the equivalent of a small country’s
budget for nuclear material, he, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and
their shura (governing council) would sign off on
such an attack.
obvious question arises: What are they thinking? Summoning
up some of that notorious liberal empathy, we wonder if
they’ve addressed the nature and size of an American retaliation
to a prospective nuclear strike?
possible al Qaeda’s command is counting on American confusion
about which state to retaliate against for a private attack.
It’s hard to believe that, since bin Laden experienced America’s
all-out aerial assault on Afghanistan firsthand, he still
clings to the belief we’re weak because we failed to respond
to the bombings of the Marine barracks in Lebanon, the African
embassies, and the USS Cole bombing.
his mania for nuclear accumulation has simply acquired a
life of its own – we in the US know how that works. Bin
Laden’s greatest crime, however, may be against his own
people, for whom he’s presuming to decide that martyrdom
through retaliation is their fate. There goes the rank-and-file
Muslim’s dream of an Islamic state up in an atomic smoke
can those currently sounding the alarms about nuclear terrorism
continue to harmonize? There’s cause for optimism, especially
if progressives come on board and each faction confronts
its respective bias.
hard right would be advised to admit that continued aggression
on our part only steels al Qaeda’s resolve to go the nuclear
route. Furthermore, it needs to realize its pride in and
reliance on our vaunted military might is an illusion; that
it’s, in fact, neutralized by any actor – state or non-state
– that’s in possession of even one tactical nuclear bomb.
their part, progressives need to come to terms with the
reality that a nuclear scenario, while perhaps not the inevitability
that some depict, is a very real possibility and not something
to be dismissed. This would go a long way toward understanding
conservative views on a number of issues, including civil
liberties and border security.
all of us need to consider the legitimacy of the Islamists’
demands. Projecting our traditional Western aims on them,
like the conquering Crusades or the Neocons spreading democracy,
only reveals our own prejudices. Islamists, their occasional
grandiose fantasies of global Islam aside, mainly seek Western
withdrawal from Israel, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. We fear,
among other things, that honoring their grievances might
be interpreted as just another sign of weakness and fuel
bin Laden’s portrayal of us as unable to finish off an opponent.
But as long as we talk the bomb out of a firebrand’s hands,
what skin is it off our back if he spins it as victory?
we have to deal with the stickiest of all sticking points:
Because we make only token attempts to disarm and we’re
actively developing new tactical nuclear weapons, nobody
but nobody heeds our calls for nonproliferation. It hasn’t
escaped anyone’s notice that we only attack those who aren’t
in possession of nuclear weapons.
watch “Last Best Chance,” recommend it to friends, family,
and co-workers, and once they’ve seen it, draw them out
about it. We’ll know nuclear terrorism has officially gone
primetime when “CSI” producer Jerry Bruckheimer develops
a series called “NEST: Nuclear Emergency Search Team.” If
it’s cliffhangers you like, it doesn’t get any better than