- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 6, 2002

Foul foes often find a way to use the foulest weapons available. That's probably why so many individuals are so worried that terrorists al Qaeda or otherwise will detonate either a nuclear bomb or a "dirty" radiological device somewhere on American soil.

It's a terrifying possibility that could all too easily come to pass. The Washington Post reported on Sunday that the Bush administration has placed the Delta Force on alert to respond to warnings from hundreds of radiological sensors it has placed in strategic locations around the country and at overseas U.S. facilities.

On Monday, Time reported that the Nuclear Emergency and Search Team (NEST) forces had been placed on high alert last October, a consequence of a terrorist plot to detonate a nuclear bomb in New York City. This was first reported in Insight magazine.

The threats we face today are unprecedented, though. Dave McIntyre, deputy director of the ANSER Institute for Homeland Security, points out that even enemies usually establish a certain understanding of acceptable means to ends as the United States and the Soviet Union did throughout the Cold War. However, that consensus can no longer be counted on, as both the indiscriminate attacks of September 11 and the brutal murder of Daniel Pearl so tragically illustrated.

Since Americans are potential targets of radiological or nuclear attack, the question for policy-makers is how to reduce the risk of such an event and how to deal with its potential consequences.

At least part of the solution is abroad. Heat and pressure must be kept on Osama bin Laden and his cohorts, since thermobaric bombs have the tendency to suck the breath out of planned terrorist operations. So does good intelligence, and while the point has been made before, the United States needs to continue to develop human intelligence resources in terrorist communities. America and her equally vulnerable allies also need to continue to share intelligence information on terrorist plots and potential targets.

Information is also important at home, it has to be said. While it is understandable that the administration did not want to create the potential for panic in New York, Mayor Rudy Giuliani should have been informed of the suspected nuclear threat to his city. Indeed, Mr. Giuliani handled the potential for panic during last fall's anthrax attacks, showing sound judgment.

The administration seems to have become more sure-foooted since then. Deploying radiological sensors was a smart idea, as was almost doubling the budget for homeland defense.

But even if every precaution is taken, terrorists might still find a way to strike at Americans with the foulest weapons imaginable. In that terrifying case, Americans should be told how to respond. As we know, September 11 may just have been the beginning.


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