I’m going to play the devil’s advocate here and describe the worst possible terrorist attack scenario that could happen: A multiple city nuclear attack on US soil. I’m not saying this is what will happen. But it is what could happen. If I make those tasked with the responsibility of ensuring your safety think about it, this is a start. And if it gets the emergency services planning how to deal with terror attacks plan for the worst, perhaps this will help save a lot of lives. Most of all, I hope to make you start thinking about the unthinkable.
Leave aside the Iraq and Iran issues for the moment. I don’t believe they are where the real threat lies. The rhetoric coming out of Washington trying to paint Iran as the devil sounds too much like the lying justifications they trotted out for starting the Iraq war. No, I think the real threat comes from Afghanistan. With the resurgence of Al Queda in Afghanistan, rumors are surfacing that predict a nuclear attack in America.
How credible is this threat?
Al Queda is training more terrorists right now. Soon, there will be dozens, if not hundreds, of fanatics ready to die for their lost cause. They will be ready to bring the war to America. And that attack will most likely be nuclear. What better way to inflict the most harm? After 9/11, only a nuclear attack could be more devastating.
Ever since 9/11 it has been glaringly obvious to everyone that the emergency services in the US are woefully ill prepared for almost any emergency involving more than a few dozen people. Worse, they don’t have contingency plans ready for a terrorist nuclear attack.
Before I go into that, let’s examine what form a nuclear attack will take.
We tend to think of nuclear bombs like those in military arsenals. Getting or building one of those is no easy task. Even the Iranians, given a head start back in the 1950’s by the US, have not been able to produce enough fissionable material needed to produce a bomb. The terrorists don’t have access to the sophisticated machinery or facilities needed to make a real nuclear wepon. Their only chace is to steal one, or buy one on the black market; not an easy task.
But the terrorists don’t need a real military-style nuclear bomb. They just need to make a nuclear explosion. And for that, all they need is a few ounces of nuclear material.
It’s easy enough to build a small, ‘dirty’ bomb. No need for a sophisticated device. The terrorists will have to smuggle in the nuclear material to America; they don’t need much. They will also have to build the bomb in America, so they will need to use easily available materials. If they can create a simple bomb loaded with nuclear material, even degraded materials will do, that would be enough.
The bomb need only be big enough to distribute the nuclear material in the explosives so that it is blown out and onto the wind where it can spread far and wide. The easiest way to do this is to pack a small plane with the bomb material and explode it a few thousand feet or so above a city. It is unlikely that they would explode just one plane over a city, either. They will probably explode at least 4 or more to ensure wide coverage. Their aim will be to inflict as much damage and suffering as possible, and to sow fear and terror in the populace. There will be no warning. They will just explode their bombs. Once the nuclear material drifts down onto the populace, the real terror will start.
We have already seen that they are capable of coordinating several teams for the attack on the Twin Towers. They have had more than enough time since then to plan their next attack. The 9/11 attack was bad enough. It has already sapped too much confidence and strength from the American people. Imagine what a coordinated nuclear attack on several US cities would do.
Given this scenario the next question is, where will they explode the bombs?
Letting off a single bomb would be terrifying. But letting off bombs in 5 or 6 cities would be devastating. What US cities would make the best targets then? My guess is New York city, Washington DC, Chicago, Miami, Dallas, Las Vegas and Los Angeles: New York because it is the financial center, and the very ‘heart’ of the US. It is also compacted into a small enough area that any bombs would effectively destroy Manhattan Island and seriously affect the surrounding areas. Millions of people would die. They wouldn’t die all at once. In fact, the initial number of dead will be small in any explosion. But as the nuclear affected dust spreads, the numbers of dead and seriously ill will grow rapidly.
Washington is an obvious choice. Kill the seat of power, and you kill the country.
Chicago and surrounding areas are thickly populated. Millions would die there. Kill Chicago and you kill the US car industry. No cars, no demand for oil, and the terrorists would get their wish to return to their medieval lifestyle while America sinks into chaos and oblivion.
Miami could be a target because so many people flock there. It also has a reputation as a vice-ridden city, and the terrorists are all moral people who want to stop us enjoying our lives, aren’t they?