Just recently, an al-Qaeda field commander in Afghanistan called for Muslims to leave the U.S., particularly the cities of Washington and New York. Some reports suspect that this call is a warning about a potential nuclear attack on the U.S.
Does Al Qaeda have nuclear capability? If not, is it on the verge of acquiring it? What dangers do we face in this context? Is a jihadist WMD attack on U.S. territory an inevitability? What can we do to prevent this horror?
To discuss this issue with us today, Frontpage Symposium has assembled a distinguished panel of experts. Our guests are:
David Dastych, international journalist for over 40 years, now operating his own media agency in Poland. A former Polish covert intelligence agent, he joined the CIA in South Vietnam (1973-1987). Jailed in Poland for his work against the USSR, the Warsaw Pact and communist interests (1987-1990), he was given an eight 8 years’ sentence, but communism collapsed in 1989 and he was released. He monitored illegal nuclear trades for an Israeli organization from 1992-1994.
Hamid Mir, a Pakistani journalist who has more than 18 years experience in covering conflicts and wars in Afghanistan, Kashmir, Bosnia, Chechnya, Sri Lanka, Iraq and Lebanon. He has interviewed Osama bin Laden three times. He is an expert on Al Qaeda’s nuclear ambitions and has travelled to Russia, Uzbekistan, Iran and Syria in his research work. He is currently working with Geo TV in Islamabad and writing for Jang Group of Newspapers.
Paul Williams, a journalist and the author of The Al Qaeda Connection: International Terrorism, Organized Crime, and the Coming Apocalypse; The Vatican Exposed: Money, Murder, and the Mafia; and Osama’s Revenge: The Next 9/11-What the Media and the Government Haven’t Told You. He has served as a consultant for the FBI, as editor and publisher of the Metro in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and as an adjunct professor of humanities at the University of Scranton.
Harvey W. Kushner, Ph.D., the chair at a major university department of criminal justice. He advises and trains a number of federal agencies and appears regularly in the media. Kushner is a contributing editor for FamilySecurityMatter.org. He is the author of many books on terrorism, including the award-winning Encyclopaedia of Terrorism and the widely quoted Holy War on the Home Front: The Secret Islamic Terror Network in the United States.
FP: David Dastych, Harvey W. Kushner, Paul Williams, and Hamid Mir, welcome to Frontpage Symposium.
Paul Williams, let’s begin with you.
What are the dangers we face right now in terms of a WMD attack by Al Qaeda or another Islamist entity?
Williams: The danger is very real. Accounts of the al Qaeda nukes first appeared in such reputable newspapers as The Jerusalem Report and The London Times, and Arabic magazines, including al-Watan al-Arabi and al-Majallah. These sources verified from British, Israeli, and Russian intelligence sources that bin Laden had purchased tactical nuclear weapons from the Chechen Mafia in 1996.
In subsequent years, the foreign press and intelligence sources, including the CIA, have been able to verify additional sales of off-the-shelf nukes and nuclear materials (highly enriched uranium and plutonium) from the former Soviet Union to al-Qaeda. The sellers included not only by the Chechens but also the Russian Mafia and black-marker arms-dealers, such as Semion Mogilevic from the Ukraine. Such information can be obtained by any journalist with a telephone, a computer, and a library card.
These sales to al-Qaeda have been verified by a host of weapons inspectors, including Hans Blix, former director general of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency. They were even verified by bin Laden and al-Zawahiri in their pronouncements that they have obtained a small arsenal of nuclear weapons from black-market sources.
But these sales are not the scary part. That comes from the ties between bin Laden and Dr. A. Q. Khan and the fact that over 20 nuclear scientists and technicians from Khan’s research laboratories in Pakistan worked with al-Qaeda on a regular basis to maintain and modify the weapons that had been purchased and to develop other weapons, including highly portable “bespoke nukes.”
Dr. Mahmood and Dr. Majeed, two of the leading officials at the Khan facility, confessed to CIA and ISI interrogators that they participated in al-Qaeda’s nuclear projects. The fact that the Chechens possessed the nukes should be no surprise to any reporter or investigator. In 1995, the Chechens under Com. Shamail Basayev planted a radiological bomb in Izmailovsky Park near Moscow. The bomb was made of cesium-137, and, if detonated, would have killed thousands of Russians. This incident represented the first case of a nuke to be deployed as a weapon of terror. Later that same year, Dzokhar Dudayev, the leader of the Chechen Mafia, offered to sell his collection of nuclear weapons to the United States in exchange for U. S. recognition of Chechnya’s independence. The Clinton Administration declined and so the weapons were sold to al-Qaeda.
More importantly, there is empirical proof that al-Qaeda possesses nukes. In 2000, British agents posed as recruits from a London mosque to infiltrate al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. In Herat, they saw nuclear weapons being manufactured. Similarly, an al-Qaeda operative was arrested while crossing the Allenby Bridge toward the checkpoint at Ramallah in Israel in a rusty old Volkswagen van. Within the van, Mossad discovered a bomb which turned out to be a highly sophisticated plutonium-implosion device with an explosive yield of 10 kilotons (equivalent to the bomb dropped on Hiroshima). There are more examples of tangible proof, including the canister of uranium 238 that U.S. military officials discovered in a lead canister in Kandahar at the outset of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Few military and intelligence officials question bin Laden’s ability to launch his plan for the American Hiroshima. Gen. Eugene Habiger, former Executive Chief of Strategic Weapons at the Pentagon, said that an event of nuclear mega-terrorism on U. S. soil is “not a matter of if, but when.” During the 2004 presidential debates, President Bush and Sen. Kerry said that nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists represent the greatest danger facing the American people, while Vice President Cheney, on the campaign trail, warned that a nuclear attack by al-Qaeda appears imminent. Before leaving office, Attorney General John Ashcroft and Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge both voiced that belief that al-Qaeda’s plan to nuke cities throughout the country soon might come to fruition.
From the private sector, Warren Buffet, who establishes odds against cataclysmic events for major insurance companies, concluded that an imminent nuclear nightmare within the United States is “virtually a certainty.” From the academic community, Dr. Graham Allison, director of Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, said: “Is nuclear mega-terrorism inevitable? Harvard professors are known for being subtle or ambiguous, but I’ll try to the clear. ‘Is the worst yet to come?’ My answer: Bet on it. Yes.” Finally, from the mainstream media, Bill Keller, editor of The New York Times, concluded that the only reason for thinking a nuclear attack won’t happen is because “it hasn’t happened yet,” adding that such reasoning represents “terrible logic.” And so, the message has been delivered but few are listening, and the threat is real but precious little is being done to avert it.
Kushner: Dr. Williams is on point. He carefully describes why we should take measures to deal with a potential American Hiroshima. Thinking about the unthinkable is necessary given the mindset of our enemy-radical Islam.
Dr. Williams is also on point when he concludes that “precious little is being done to avert” an American Hiroshima. We are more than five years past the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and millions of steel-frame ocean-going containers enter our port without inspection. These 20- and 40-foot containers are crammed with everything from furniture to parts for General Motors, and they can weigh as much as 30 tons each. Each one has a potential to contain a weapon of mass destruction that could be detonated when the ship reaches an American port or offloaded and transported to be detonated in one of our major cities.
Customs and Border protection has stepped up inspections of incoming containers-from 2 percent to approximately 4 percent of the total. Four percent of 8 million means 320,000 get inspected-and 7,680,000 do not. Government officials argue that they look at 100 percent of those that are high risk.
That is not a comforting thought when you consider that terrorists have already used such containers for transport. In 1998, an al Qaeda vessel transported explosives into Mombassa that were used in the East African embassy bombings. And in October 2001, a container headed for Toronto was opened during a stop in Italy. Authorities found inside a suspected al Qaeda member who fitted the liveable container forged documents, electronics equipment, and blueprints and floor plans or a number of facilities throughout North America.
In 2003, Undersecretary for DHS Asa Hutchinson told Congress, “If terrorists used a sea container to conceal a weapon of mass destruction and detonated it on arrival at a port, the impact on global trade and the global economy could be immediate and devastating-all nations would be affected.”
Yes, Dr. Williams is on point-we are doing precious little to counter the threat of an American Hiroshima.
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