January 1, 2010
The American Conservative

Nuclear Bunkum

Don't panic: bin Laden's WMD are mythical, too

by John Mueller

According to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, every senior government leader is kept awake at night by "the thought of a terrorist ending up with a weapon of mass destruction, especially nuclear." . . .

In contrast to such bold proclamations, the evidence about the degree to which al-Qaeda - the only Islamic terrorist organization that targets the U.S. homeland - has pursued, or even had much interest in, a nuclear-weapons program is limited and often ambiguous. Still, the shards that exist have been routinely parlayed and exaggerated by a parade of official and unofficial alarmists.

For example, in 2004, the 9/11 Commission insisted that "al-Qaeda has tried to acquire or make nuclear weapons for at least ten years." The only substantial evidence it provided for this assertion comes from an episode that supposedly took place around 1993 in Sudan, when Osama bin Laden's aides were scammed as they tried to buy some uranium. Information about this caper apparently came entirely from Jamal al-Fadl, who defected from al-Qaeda in 1996 after he had been caught stealing $110,000 from the organization. He tried selling his story around the Middle East, but only the Americans were buying. . . .


John Mueller is professor of political science at Ohio State University. He is the author of Atomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism from Hiroshima to Al Qaeda.

[Robert S. McNamara, U.S. Secretary of Defense from 1961 until 1968, has written: "I have never seen a piece of paper that outlined a plan for the United States or NATO to initiate the use of nuclear weapons with any benefit for the United States or NATO."--Robert S. McNamara, "Apocalypse Soon," Foreign Policy, May/June 2005]

Gordon Prather, "The U.S. Is Violating the NPT -- Not Iran,", September 26, 2009

"Was Obama Nuke Summit Necessary or Just 'Nuclear Alarmism' and What About Israel's Arsenal?,", April 14, 2010

[The Obama administration is warning that the danger of a terrorist attack with nuclear weapons is increasing, but U.S. officials say the claim is not based on new intelligence--Bill Gertz and Eli Lake, "Obama admin hyping terrorist nuclear risk," Washington Times, April 14, 2010]

[Despite the oft-mentioned threat of nuclear terrorism, a threat that has grown in the imagination since the end of the Cold War, there has been not one instance of fissile material being used in a terrorist attack. Planes, bombs, yes - but enriched uranium? No. As the US and its Western allies bask in the warm, righteous glow of moral responsibility, it is necessary to remind ourselves that there is still only one nation that took it upon itself to incinerate tens of thousands of people with an atomic weapon. --Tim Black, "Welcome to the era of anti-nuclear imperialism,", April 14, 2010]

Walter Pincus, "Nuclear weapons just don’t make sense,", May 23, 2012

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