David R. Henderson  

The Numerate John Mueller

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The public has now endured a decade of dire warnings about the imminence of a terrorist atomic attack. In 2004, the former CIA spook Michael Scheuer proclaimed on television's 60 Minutes that it was "probably a near thing," and in 2007, the physicist Richard Garwin assessed the likelihood of a nuclear explosion in an American or a European city by terrorism or other means in the next ten years to be 87 percent. By 2008, Defense Secretary Robert Gates mused that what keeps every senior government leader awake at night is "the thought of a terrorist ending up with a weapon of mass destruction, especially nuclear." Few, it seems, found much solace in the fact that an al Qaeda computer seized in Afghanistan in 2001 indicated that the group's budget for research on weapons of mass destruction (almost all of it focused on primitive chemical weapons work) was some $2,000 to $4,000.
This is from John Mueller, "The Truth About al Qaeda: Bin Laden's Files Reveal the Terrorists in Dramatic Decline," Foreign Affairs, August 2, 2011. The whole thing, which is short, is worth reading.

Mueller is one of the most grounded analysts in the area of "homeland security."


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CATEGORIES: Economics of Crime



COMMENTS (3 to date)
PrometheeFeu writes:

I always find such claims of nuclear terrorism absurd beyond belief. There are only a couple hundred or thousand jihadists in the world who are actually beyond retaliation. But making a nuclear weapon requires a very long supply chain. You need all sorts of gizmos that must be precisely manufactured and are very expensive. That means you need a lot of different people to be willing to deal with terrorists. And those people are not crazy. They have families, lives and businesses and they understand that they would bear a very high cost if they helped a nuclear bomb explode in a European or American cities. Furthermore, illegal arms traders and black market financiers are like all businessmen: They have substantial investments what would be significantly harmed if an event of such scale was to occur. Overall, they have no reason to want to touch such an operation with a 10 foot pole.

Mike Rulle writes:

Aren't you conflating Al Qaeda in 2001 with all potential "nuclear terrorists"? I have no idea what the odds are of any one pulling off a dirty nuke bomb trick---although I am willing to concede it is probably low. But time flies---and many Islamist Fundamentalists have certainly shown a willingness to commit suicide to inflict damage with no possible strategic objective other than to inflict damage per se.

Just because some in Govt are addicted to code red forecasts, does not mean this is not a serious issue.

Hindsight is always 20/20.

"In 1924 ... Mitchell came back with a 324-page report that predicted future war with Japan, including the attack on Pearl Harbor." Billy Mitchell in Wikipedia

As with this Al Qaeda/nuclear problem, the whole Billy MItchell story is complicated. I underscore Mike Rulle above: time flies. 1924... 1934... 1944...
2001 ... 2011 ... 2021 ...

Certainly, after the 1923 Tokyo Earthquake, the idea of Japan attacking Hawaii seemed far-fetched. However, equally ridiculous was the idea (1932... 1942...) that Germany could conquer the world. No matter what they claimed in mass rallies, "planned chaos" would make life as difficult in Germany as it was in communist Russia, and for all the same reasons.

All in all... you never know... It is best to keep your powder dry...

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