A Nuclear al Qaeda

David Ignatius interviewed Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, the Energy Dept’s Director of Intelligence about the nuclear threat from al Qaeda, for the October 18th issue of The Washington Post.

Ignatius would like to believe that this is just more fear-mongering from “an overwrought former CIA officer with too many years in the trenches”.

But it’s worth listening to his warnings — not because they induce more numbing paralysis but because they might stir sensible people to take actions that could detect and stop an attack. That’s why his boss, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, is encouraging him to speak out. Mowatt-Larssen doesn’t want to anguish later that he didn’t sound the alarm in time.

Mowatt-Larssen argues that for nearly a decade before Sept. 11, al-Qaeda was seeking to acquire weapons of mass destruction. As early as 1993, Osama bin Laden offered $1.5 million to buy uranium for a nuclear device, according to testimony presented in federal court in February 2001. When the al-Qaeda leader was asked in 1998 if he had nuclear or chemical weapons, he responded: “Acquiring weapons for the defense of Muslims is a religious duty. If I have indeed acquired these weapons, then I thank God for enabling me to do so.”

Al-Qaeda proclaimed a religious rationale to justify the WMD attacks it was planning. In June 2002, a Kuwaiti-born cleric named Suleiman Abu Ghaith posted a statement on the Internet saying that “al-Qaeda has the right to kill 4 million Americans” in retaliation for U.S. attacks against Muslims. And in May 2003, at the same time Saudi operatives of al-Qaeda were trying to buy three Russian nuclear bombs, a cleric named Nasir al-Fahd issued a fatwa titled “A Treatise on the Legal Status of Using Weapons of Mass Destruction Against Infidels.” Interrogations of al-Qaeda operatives confirmed that the planning was serious. Al-Qaeda didn’t yet have the materials for a WMD attack, but it wanted them.

Most chilling of all was Zawahiri’s decision in March 2003 to cancel a cyanide attack in the New York subway system. He told the plotters to stand down because “we have something better in mind.” What did that mean? More than four years later, we still don’t know.

When asked what we can do about this ‘spectral danger’, Mowatt-Larssen said to try to visualize it:

What would it take for al-Qaeda to build a bomb? How would it assemble the pieces? How would the United States and its allies deploy their intelligence assets so that they could detect a plot before it was carried out? How would we reinvent intelligence itself to avert this ultimate catastrophe?

That reminded me of something Jackstraw had said (which I thought was quite profound), on an AOSHQ thread awhile back, so I took the time to retrieve it. I hope he doesn’t mind me re-posting it here:

I remember after 9/11 when people were trying to figure out how we had gotten hit so badly without seeing it coming, the one phrase I heard that really stuck with me is that we “suffered from a lack of imagination”. We simply couldn’t believe that a group of stateless terrorists could use our own technology against us in such a barbaric way.To me, that was the real reason we went to Iraq. Obviously, they were not directly involved with 9/11. But they were one of the most nefarious actors in a region that not only allowed but actively fostered the growth of terror organizations. The various heads of state throughout the middle east all have ties too or relationships with various terror groups yet most have kept the relationships fuzzy enough to allow for deniability on any specific act. Yet anyone who takes the time to research the roots of al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah and on and on and on will find that they often sprung from the same well, supported by the same gov’ts and all could be, if not actively directed then at least tacitly supported, in their attacks on the west. The nutroots are more interested in stomping their feet and screaming about Bushitler than either admiting or understanding what has been going on in the middle east since before the end of WWII.

Iraq was a step in changing the dynamic. We’ve been dealing with Islamic terror groups for decades. But the combination of 9/11 and the proliferation of WMD made some people wake up to the reality that we can no longer deal with threats as we used to and we needed to be more creative when thinking about threats. The first lesson is that we can no longer wait to be hit because the consequences were unacceptable. We needed to strike a very visible threat in the middle east and take the fight to them. We needed to show state sponsors of terror that if we even think you are playing dirty, we will take you out.

Which is why the fight in Iraq is about so much more than just Iraq. It is more than just trying to bring moderation to a region that isn’t known for moderation. It is a demonstration of not only our might but our resolve. The message wasn’t just for the terrorists but more importantly the regimes that support them. Libya got the message right out of the gate. Pakistan has been coming around although much more slowly. N. Korea is taking some very promising steps. Syria, a very slippery customer, did squat when the Israelis attacked them the other day and Iran didn’t say boo. Unusual, no?

We certainly aren’t out of the woods regarding terrorists getting WMD from state sponsors but if we keep up the pressure we just may get there. If we pullout before we finish the mission, we are in for a world of hurt.

The Democrats in Congress do have very active imaginations, unfortunately, resulting in them playing games with FISA wiretapping laws, as well as many other sundry things. They apparently have no trouble visualizing Republican secret agents eavesdropping on their indiscretions and infidelities. As always, to the leftist mindset, the real threats to America, are those evil Repulikkkans. Something tells me, that in a Democratic President’s administration, more energy would be spent trying to stop the influence of conservative dominated talk radio, than protect the country from a future terrorist attack. The liberal ‘imagination’, if you will, spends more time worrying about conservatives, than terrorists.

Last Spring, it was ‘just’ the lives of kidnapped soldiers that were compromised because of the Democrat’s foolishness.

Next, it could be many, many more lives.


The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force is monitoring al Qaeda activity in New Jersey.

Also Related: 

Stanley Kurtz on the possibility of North Korea sharing it’s nukes with terrorists.