Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Graham Allison writes another alarming column on a possible future Hiroshima


Today, April 23, 2008, The Washington Times ran, in its “Briefing/Middle East” page, another alarming article by Graham Allison, following up on an earlier piece from March 30. The headline reads “Nuclear attack: a worst-case reality?” and the article is titled “Terrorist strike is ‘inevitable’ by preventable, author insists.” The implication of that sentence is that a lot is left undone in rounding up the leftovers from nuclear proliferation. The link is here (moved 4/24 to a new link).

Admittedly, the presentation in the newspaper is a bit sensational in tone, and The Washington Times is known for alarming and strident presentations (in comparison to the Post). This time, it’s necessary to be alarmed.

Allison had written in 2004, “I offer my own considered judgment that if all governments stay on autopilot, doing no more and no less than they are doing today, a nuclear 9/11 is more likely than not within a decade” – by 2014. Richard Garwin, who helped to design the hydrogen bomb in the 1950s, is quoted as estimating a 20% per year probability of a nuclear explosion somewhere in North America or Europe every year (starting in 2007). Imagine calculating the probability within ten years as a probability and statistics homework assignment.

The print version of the paper has a diagram simulating the impact of an incident centered near the White House with a 10 kiloton Hiroshima-sized device. (It also has a bw photo of the Hiroshima mushroom cloud.) Total destruction exists for about four blocks in any direction. On a weekday, 100000 people would be killed. Fallout would spread over a wide area, depending on wind. A northeast wind common with winter coastal storms would blow fallout into Arlington and Northern Virginia. Cham E. Dallas, director of the Institute for Health Management and Mass Destruction Defense, says “It would be wishful to think it won’t happen by 20 years.” I couldn't find the map on line, so apparently the newspaper wants you to buy the $.25 hardcopy. Have at it. Or visit Allison's website for the maps, here (requires I.E. to work properly).

Allison believes that the greatest threat stems from the political and economic damage that Al Qaeda inflict with a single device anywhere in the West. Either a crude weapon crafted with HEU or possibly a stolen loose suitcase nuke (the “24” scenario) could lead to that result. He seems less concerned about the idea of a series of incidents coming with demands, as that has not been Al Qaeda’s MO (and as it may be less achievable), although that could be the case with other future enemies.

In the same issue of The Washington Times today, on p A3, Sara A. Carter has a consolidated article “Al-Zawahri threatened U.S., allies in tape,” link here. This has become “old hat.” But what is perplexing is the boldness of otherwise reactionary and anti-modernist enemies using the Internet, and being able to cover their tracks well enough that the source escapes detection. In this regard, Morgan Spurlock’s recent film “Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden” (review here ) bears watching.

Update: April 24

The Washington Times today has more stories about nuclear proliferation in the Islamic world. "Syria's nuke facility was nearly finished" by Nicholas Kralev and Sara A. Carter (when Israel struck it from the air), link here.
and "Intelligence panel decries secrecy on North Korea - Syria nukes link" by Nicholas Kralev and Sean Lengell, link here; also the print version adds the headline "N. Korea ceased help after bombing".

When I was working on my first book in 1997, I considered terrorism a threat in discussing military service, but I actually thought then that North Korea, not radical Islam, was the greatest threat, as long as the possibility of the resurgence of pseudo-Communism (Russia, China, SE Asia).

CNN Politics has a story today " White House: Syria reactor not for 'peaceful' purposes," link here.

The ABC News story today by Kirit Radia "N. Korea Linked to Syrian Nukes: White House Unveils Video and Images That Draw a Connection," link here.

April 26:


An article by Marc Fisher "Washington's Future, A History," in The Washington Post Magazine, Apr. 26, speculates on a small nuclear device going off in midtown Manhattan in 2016; the print version contains a photo that approximates what Graham Allison's model predicts; link.

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