Terrorism in Academic, Military, and Civilian Discussions Reaction Paper

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In academic, military, and civilian discussions about terrorism, nothing strikes fear and dread into the hearts and minds of the participants like the thought of a small, splinter group purchasing and delivering a nuclear weapon. While many experts see this as an unlikely action, primarily due to the complexity required to deliver such a weapon; partially due to the notion that harsh reprimands would likely come out of any such attack, and would, in fact, do very little regain territory in disputed areas (Maurer, 2009).

However, one must make a clear distinction between the idea of nuclear terrorism and nuclear terror -- they are different. Nuclear terrorism is about the acquisition and use of a nuclear device against a population group or structure -- nuclear terror is about imagination, about fear, about what "might" happen -- thus causing terror, panic, and fear within the general population. Too, some believe that employing this strategy is quite successful in that it pulls highly needed and trained resources off needed, tactical activities, into expensive equipment, staffing, and planning sessions for something that "might be." In a way, this most powerful tool for enlisting terror, shaped by myth and religious belief, is also part of popular culture in films, tabloid journalism, and suspense novels. Quoting a master, Alfred Hitchcock, who understood what it meant to frighten people, "The terror is not in the bang, only in the anticipation of it:" (Hitchcock.tv/quotes/quotes.html).

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It goes without saying that if terrorists detonated a nuclear device there would be devastating terror -- but this terror was in place with nuclear terrorism. During the 1950s and 1960s, especially, America feared a nuclear attack from the Soviet Union. Many middle class Americans built bomb shelters, students were trained in the "duck and cover" method of civil defense, and popular culture reflected this paradigm of fear (See: "Cold War Culture," 2009).

Reaction Paper on Terrorism in Academic, Military, and Civilian Discussions Assignment

The literature on the subject, though, shows a great deal of material that points to the promulgation of nuclear terrorism. Scenarios from Tom Clancy novels, motion pictures, even a dated James Bond in Thunderball. abound, but do not begin to show either the complexity nor the reality of acquiring nuclear or WMD. In the public's mind, though, the situation is moot -- terrorists have already gone nuclear, and it is just a matter of time before one is detonate (Ibid).

One of the most often debated scenarios about terrorists acquiring nuclear weapons focuses on the situation at the end of the Cold War, in which both the United States and former Soviet Union embarked on an ambitious program of nuclear disarmament. While there has been no diversion or theft of nuclear weapons or of fissile material in quantities large enough to construct a nuclear device, the instability in the former Soviet Republics and lack of strict control from Moscow seriously eroded confidence that all materials of such nature were beyond a terrorist scope. Speaking before Congress, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency commented, "The chilling reality is that nuclear materials and technologies are more accessible now than at any time in history" (Kushner, 234).

One of the most thorough reviews of the existence or potential for a viable nuclear black market was carried out by the Nuclear Black Market Task Force, one of the many groups that made up the Global Organized Crime Project. The task force concluded that the probability of a theft of a nuclear weapon or bomb-quality weapons-grade materials from the former Soviet Republics was growing, but that by the end of the 1990s, even using sting operations, there was no credible threat. The group, in fact, admitted that it "could not point to the involvement in nuclear materials trafficking of large organized crime groups with established structures and international connections" and that "there is no consensus among authorities about whether international crime groups will ever engage in nuclear smuggling," since the potential loss for their own interests is so daunting (GOCP, 1996, 17). Further, although this "market" would not be as overt or common as that in conventional illegal arms dealing, there would be few sellers, few buyers, and a great deal of risk. This, of course, makes it difficult for international intelligence agencies to track, infiltrate, and confirm; but it also means that there is a lessened likelihood that something of this nature will be executed (See: Bunn, 2006).

Still others insist that the new threats come not from former Soviet SSRs, but from rouge groups in countries like Pakistan, North Korea, and even the Middle East. The scholarship of some of these materials is lacking, as there is no discernable "proof," but the anecdotal and qualitative information does indicate that many of the storage areas for weapons and fissionable material in places like Pakistan are guarded by corrupt Pakistani military personnel, potential al-Qaeda sympathizers, or just those who wish to destabilize the West. That these individuals exist is almost a given, that actual negotiations or scenarios for the delivery of said materials are likely is more conjecture (Russell, 2008).

In the days following the World Trade Center attack, CIA Director George Tenet informed President George W. Bush that an agent, code named Dragonfire had reported that Al Qaeda agents had managed to secure a 10-kiliton nuclear bomb, stolen from the Chechen area of Russia. Dragonfire indicated that the weapon was now somewhere in New York City. The CIA had no independent confirmation of this report, but decided it not prudent to dismiss such a notification. Question after Question resulted in the CIA backtracking each step of the supposed operation. Did the Russian arsenal near Chechnya include a large number of ten-kiloton weapons? Yes, it did. Could the Russian government, with 100% assurity, confirm and account for all the nuclear weapons on the books during the past two decades? No. Could Al Qaeda have acquired one or more of these weapons? Yes. Could it have smuggled a nuclear weapon through American border controls into New York without alerting any law enforcement agency? Yes. And, unlike the Cold War years, when the U.S. And USSR knew that an attack on each other would almost surely result in a strong retaliatory attack, Al Qaeda had no location to retaliate towards -- even if President Bush wanted to negotiate, there was no contact person, no "number to call." Fortunately, neither the CIA, nor any agency in New York could find any indication of nuclear material. (Allison,2005, 2).

However, this incident illustrates two very powerful arguments regarding the purchase, proliferation, and threat of nuclear materials by a terrorist organization. First, after the 9/11 attacks countries are more likely to believe that something horrendous that took months of planning, dedication, and the ability to elude international law enforcement agencies could, in fact happen. Second, psychologically, a nuclear attack would devastate the world. Considering where Al Qaeda might detonate such a bomb, New York has numerous likely targets. Third, the fear was so great that the President sent Vice President Cheney to an "undisclosed" location, assuring the continuity of government should the unthinkable happen. The very fact that our top officials viewed this as a credible threat shows that it was not just the actual location of a bomb, but the threat of finding one that was so powerful. Finally, if we think of the miniaturization of technology over the past few years, a small "suitcase" or smaller bomb could wreck devastation in any number of international venues: the Vatican, museums, governmental offices, sporting arenas, or major tourist congregations -- all so that people would no longer feel safe going anywhere, thus establishing a culture of fear and impotence (See: Bunn, 2006; Ferguson, 2005).

To summarize terrorist threats in 2009, one would find a world in which motives and tactics have changed since the 1970s and 1980s, and armed terrorist conflicts are increasingly motivated by ethnic hatred and religious fanaticism. Most incidents of terrorism remain acts of symbolic violence; killing masses of people is less important than killing a few people many times and in a very public manner. Much of the literature indicates that most terrorist see wanton killing as counterproductive to their overall goals. Ethnic hatreds lend themselves to genocidal behavior -- strategies that include massacres and other atrocities, but not necessarily the time and expense of a one-time nuclear shot. This is why the car or truck bomb, or the suicide bomber on a bus or at a public event are so effective -- they cause terror in a widespread manner but were relatively inexpensive to produce. Counter this with even a small nuclear device and the organizational needs, logistical support, and monetary reserves even to secure small nuclear device without anyone, along the way, becoming concerned. After the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001, there is certainly more likelihood of a brazen, some say unexpected, and attack using nuclear weapons. Still, while the trends are changing, and of course someone could conceivably acquire weapons-grade material, it is still rather unlikely when compared to… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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