Graham Allison: I am More Worried about a Nuclear Attack Today than I was on 9/11

The following are excerpts from a series of interviews with some of the country’s top terrorism experts conducted by Trudy Rubin, Worldview columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer in conjunction with the July 2008 volume of The Annals, “Terrorism, What the Next President Will Face.”  This interview is with Graham Allison, who was special editor of a related Annals issue in September 2006 entitled “Confronting the Specter of Nuclear Terrorism.”  Allison is the director of Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and author of “Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe.”  

trudy-rubin.80.80.s (1)Trudy Rubin: Let me start by saying that you have been trying for years to alert the public to the danger of nuclear terrorism, which you and many others say is the single most serious threat to our national security.  Do you think that threat is less or more dangerous today than when you wrote your book in 2004?

Graham Allison:  The answer is complicated. But to start with the bottom line, I would say there is a greater risk of nuclear terrorigraham-allison.150.155.sst attack upon the U.S. today than there was on 9/11.  Now, there are obviously many positives that have been done since 9/11 and there are some negatives, and trying to make a net judgment requires summing them all up and combining them and making a bottom line judgment.  My bottom line would be, more dangerous than earlier, but let me say a word about the positives and the negatives.The answer is complicated. But to start with the bottom line, I would say there is a greater risk of nuclear terrorist attack upon the U.S. today than there was on 9/11.  Now, there are obviously many positives that have been done since 9/11 and there are some negatives, and trying to make a net judgment requires summing them all up and combining them and making a bottom line judgment.  My bottom line would be, more dangerous than earlier, but let me say a word about the positives and the negatives. 

On the positive side of the ledger, obviously in the wake of 9/11 everyone is hugely more alert.  It is impossible to imagine the day an agent for the FBI writing a report in Phoenix that says there are Arabs here wanting to learn to fly airplanes, but they are not interested in learning to land them; if that report gets back to headquarters lights start blinking whereas they did not on 9/11.  Or if a person is captured, as Mr. Atta was before 9/11, and the question is, can the FBI go look at his computer and dump his hard drive and find out what is being plotted or planned, the answer is before 9/11 that was judged too hard to get through the bureaucracy; today that would get through in hours.  Police departments, if they see suspicious activity, are much more alert today than they were before 9/11.  And even citizens, all of us are more conscious and aware.  So I would say that is a big positive, greater consciousness.   Secondly, al Qaeda has been toppled from Afghanistan where it had its headquarters and actually was on the run and maybe even desperate in 2003 and 2004.  So it has, in any case, had to move headquarters and it is now operating in effect “on the run” in a way that it was not before 9/11.  So there are a lot of things in the positive column.

On the negative column I would mention three.  First, the National Intelligence Estimate and the latest testimony from the National Intelligence officer tells us that al Qaeda has actually reconstituted its leadership and headquarters and training programs, so that the number one, Osama bin Laden, is still operating and the number two, Zawahiri, is still operating but they have moved across the border from Afghanistan to the ungoverned territories of Pakistan.  They have reconstituted their headquarters.  They provide a lot more public communication than they did before 9/11, explaining what they are doing and trying to rally their supporters.  And they actually have reconstituted the training camps, so it is said by the National Intelligence Estimate.  So the guys that hit us on 9/11 are still in business.    I would say that is very bad news.  Secondly, on 9/11 North Korea had, at most, two bombs’ worth of plutonium and had never conducted a test.  In the period after we went to Iraq, North Korea proceeded to build up an arsenal of ten bombs’ worth of plutonium and to conduct a nuclear weapons test.  So North Korea is a potential supplier of nuclear weapons to a terrorist state.  And thirdly, Pakistan, which in 2001 was a fledgling nuclear enterprise, has today tripled the amount of nuclear weapons and materials since 2001 and has a government that is at risk of melting down.  So when you take all those factors, positives and negatives, when I weigh them up I would say I am more worried about a nuclear terrorist attack today than I was on 9/11.

TR:  When we look at the nature of the threat of nuclear terrorism, what exactly are we talking about?  Is it potentially a bomb in a truck or a dirty bomb or a stolen weapon?

GA:   Again, a good question.  When I think of nuclear terrorism, I think of a nuclear mushroom cloud enveloping an American city or some other great city of the world, devastating its heart.  So think of a nuclear bomb exploding in New York City or Philadelphia or Boston or Washington.  Now, how would terrorists get a nuclear bomb?  Two ways; the most likely way would be to get a bomb that had been stolen from a state that had made the bomb.  In the Nuclear Terrorism book I tell the story of Dragonfire, which is an actual story that occurred in which a month after the attack on New York on 9/11 the President thought on the basis of an intelligence report, that al Qaeda might have a nuclear bomb in New York City and be about to explode it.  It turned out to be a false alarm but in that case it was thought that al Qaeda had gotten a nuclear bomb made by the former Soviet Union and brought it to New York.  And I would still say that is the most likely way to imagine nuclear terrorism.  Secondly, if terrorists did not acquire a nuclear bomb but instead just a football-sized lump of highly enriched uranium made by a state, from that hundred pounds they could make an elementary nuclear bomb, what in the business is now called an IND, an improvised nuclear device analogous to these IEDs, the improvised explosive devices that are being used to kill Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan.  So they could, with a hundred pounds of highly enriched uranium and other materials available off the shelf, and the recipe or design that was basically the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima, make a genuine nuclear explosion that would produce a mushroom cloud that could have a devastating effect upon a city.  So that is what I mean by nuclear terrorism, a real bomb with a real mushroom cloud, devastating the heart of one of the great cities.

TR:  Can a terrorist really get his hands on an actual weapon?  We know that al Qaeda and the leadership have said they want to do that, but are they in any position to do it, or is anyone else actually in position to steal an actual weapon?

GA:   We hope not and I do not think al Qaeda or another terrorist group would successfully conduct a raid upon Russian nuclear weapons or Pakistani nuclear weapons and succeed in stealing them, though obviously we need to worry about possible contingencies.  And we have to remember that in the Russian case, a group of Chechen terrorists, including fifty armed fighters, took over a theater in Moscow just a couple of years ago.  So I would not say it is a zero chance of them stealing a weapon successfully from a state, but I would say that it is the low chance.  The much more likely chance is that a thief or crook inside the system of a nuclear weapons state, think A.Q. Khan, who was the father of the Pakistani nuclear bomb program, decides to go into business for himself, just for money or maybe even for ideological reasons, but I think most likely just corruption; decides to steal a bomb or several bombs and sell them to terrorists.  Now, what we do know is that there have been reports of thieves stealing nuclear bombs.  We have never found a nuclear bomb outside of Russia that was successfully stolen, and I give thanks for that and I think the programs that the U.S. and Russia have worked on cooperatively over the period since the Soviet Union disappeared have contributed significantly to that.  So, one would be thieves steal an actual nuclear bomb.  In the case of Pakistan that is a much more frightening thought today than it was seven years ago.  Secondly, thieves could steal the fissile material, highly enriched uranium or plutonium, that would provide this hundred pounds, this football-sized lump of material, from which terrorists could make an improvised nuclear bomb, and there we know of many cases in which materials have been stolen by crooks inside the system and sold to people outside of the country.  We know actually of more than 1600 such cases that are reported in the IAEA database, including dozens of cases in which either highly enriched uranium or plutonium was stolen, and the person who stole it was eventually apprehended or the material was eventually recovered.  Interestingly, none of the cases in which it was highly enriched uranium or plutonium had the material been reported missing before it was actually found.  So this would lead one to believe that it is possible that a person working inside, for example the Russian system or the Pakistani system, could, if they chose to do so, successfully steal material from which a bomb could be made and sell it to terrorists.  And if this seems an incredible idea, I know you personally are familiar with the story of A.Q. Khan, but maybe your listeners are not.  A.Q. Khan is a hero in Pakistan.  He is the father of the Pakistani nuclear bomb.  He has been under house arrest, though it has been loosened recently. And why under house arrest?  Because he had set up what Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the IAEA, calls the Wal-Mart of nuclear proliferation.  He had set up a black market operation in which he sold to Libya, to take one specific example, centrifuges for making enriched uranium, he sold starter material, that is uranium hexafluoride, enough to produce enough highly enriched uranium for a bomb, and even advanced bomb designs for warheads.  So he was providing a full-service operation to North Korea, where he was trading to Libya, where he was selling to Iran, where he was selling, providing nuclear materials and nuclear services.  Now this is for a person who is the most famous person in Pakistan and who was the father of the Pakistani nuclear bomb program.  So this is for an extremely visible person; it is a story that if it was in a movie you could not believe it.  But I worry about people much less known, much less notorious than A.Q. Khan who might engage in similar activity.

TR:  Now, as you know after the A.Q. Khan scandal broke, the then-leader of Pakistan, General Musharraf, set up a system to safeguard nuclear materials and recently Admiral Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs in the U.S., who has gone out to Pakistan several times, said that he had confidence in this system of protecting Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and material.  I have interviewed General Kidwai, the head of it, and they give a good slide show and many details about all the fail-safes and the lock systems and so forth.  Is there reason to believe that this system could be penetrated?  And do you think the biggest threat is from an inside colonel who is a secret Islamist?

GA:   Well, that is a very good question and I do remember your interview, or I read the story about it, with Kidwai, the guy that runs the Pakistani program.  I think that with American assistance, as well as themselves being shocked and ashamed by what was ultimately exposed about A.Q. Khan, that under Musharraf the Pakistani security arrangements, for their nuclear weapons in particular, improved significantly and I take Mullen’s comment to be a serious comment and a considered judgment.  So that is mostly, though, about how secure is this system from people outside, and as you say the more worrying problem is the insider who is a colonel or maybe he is just a sergeant, who is in charge of a nuclear weapon or a set of nuclear weapons and who I would say, conceivably because he has Islamist ideological inclinations but maybe even more likely because he is just a crook and he thinks that things are going to hell in Pakistan and he worries about how he and his family are going to survive, and he thinks, “Well, gee, if I could get this bomb or this material from which to make a bomb and sell it to somebody for several million dollars, I can make sure that I am going to survive, whatever else happens.”  And I think particularly as a political system goes through a stage of instability, and I do not think anybody would call the Pakistani government today anything other than highly unstable and even at risk of becoming dysfunctional, under those circumstances people begin to think, “How am I going to survive?  How is my family going to survive?”  And to the extent that there are hundreds of people in Pakistan who, by themselves or maybe with one other buddy, decided to steal either a bomb or more likely the material for which to make a bomb, they have an example in A.Q. Khan.  What was the worst thing that happened to him?  I think they took away a couple of his eighteen houses and kept him under house arrest for some period of time.  So I think that is an extremely dangerous possibility.

Similarly, I think in Russia, even though the situation is improved significantly under Putin because the system has become somewhat more authoritarian, but in any case considerably more controlling, it is still the case that in Georgia in 2006 a Russian from one of the laboratories that contains hundreds of weapons, of material, brought a sample of highly enriched uranium to sell to what he thought was a buyer to demonstrate that he could produce the rest of the material if the money were to be paid.  It turned out in this case that this sale had been penetrated by intelligence, and so the person was captured.  But what about the cases in which we may not know that the sale actually occurred?

TR:  I wanted to ask you more about Russia.  The case that you just mentioned, by the way, that was smuggled via South Ossetia, wasn’t it?

GA:   I guess that is right.

TR:  And it was Georgian intelligence that penetrated. But speaking of Russia, we have been working with Russia for years on securing weapons and nuclear material under the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program, but our relations with Russia have sharply deteriorated over Georgia and other issues.  Can we afford not to work with Russia on this?

GA:   A very, very good question and hard to keep things in perspective.  I mean, obviously the events in August in Georgia and South Ossetia and Abkhazia were tragic.  There is no doubt the Russians were cruel, brutal, heavy-handed, overreacting.  I think there is little doubt that the Georgians actually provoked the fight by attacking, thinking they were going to seize the South Ossetian capital, again in an action that I regard as wildly irresponsible and even delusional.  I mean, if you are a small, weak state, picking a fight with a large, resentful bully is a pretty predictable way to get quashed.  And I think when we wished and hoped that the Russians would not have so overreacted, but if anybody had asked me to predict the consequences of a Georgian attempt to seize the capital of South Ossetia, I would have said, look for a huge Russian reaction, indeed overreaction.  So that is life.  But that event I think now will fester and is infecting the relationship overall between the U.S. and Russia, and you can see Americans huffing and puffing and every time we do, the Russians huff and puff even more.  Now, where does Georgia rank relative to the securing of Russian nuclear weapons and materials, the prevention of Iran becoming a nuclear weapons state, the elimination of nuclear weapons in North Korea, so if we were standing back and thinking about American national interests first, I think we would recognize that we need, we are dependent upon, deep cooperation with Russia to succeed in preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, that is proliferation, to places like Iran or North Korea or beyond, and similarly to prevent nuclear terrorism, that is the loss or theft of material, either in Russia or other places.  Now, fortunately Russians should understand themselves that they have got a huge stake in preventing the loss of a nuclear weapon or material from which a bomb could be made.  Back in 2005 after my Nuclear Terrorism book was published I went to Moscow and actually gave a briefing in the Kremlin on nuclear terrorism, in which I produced for them this target map that I did for the website that was put up in conjunction with the Nuclear Terrorism book, where you can put in your own zip code and see what the Dragonfire bomb would do in your own neighborhood.  So I showed them a bomb in Red Square and told them, and I believe this is exactly right, that if the Chechen terrorists who took over the theater in Moscow or who killed the schoolchildren earlier, got a nuclear bomb in Russia they are not going to bring that bomb first to New York or Boston or Washington.  Russians should think about Russian national interests first, and Russian national interests should drive them to do everything feasible to do to prevent terrorists getting a bomb or material.  But the program that you refer to, the Nunn-Lugar program, has been one in which we have helped them over now sixteen years in an extremely successful program and one that has actually been very well executed by Secretary Sam Bodman, the current Secretary of Energy in the Bush Administration, to the point that if all goes well, by the end of this year, the end of 2008, the work plan that was agreed to by President Bush and President Putin will actually have been completed.  And we are looking to a transition in this activity to the point where by 2012 Russia will be responsible for this entirely on its own.  But I think this working cooperatively with Russia on the things that matter more, both to us and to them, should come first and we should try to look at the Georgian issue, not apologizing for Russia and not failing to criticize them for actions that we think are inappropriate, but we should nonetheless distinguish between things that matter more to us and things that matter less.

TR:  Just a point of information, if the program is successfully concluded by the end of 2008, where does that mean Russia stands in terms of securing its fissile material and weapons?  What percentage of them would be secure?

GA: The answer is slightly complicated, but at Bratislava at a summit of Putin and Bush in February of 2005, they agreed on a work plan that covered about 75 percent of the weapons and materials.  That left out their nuclear weapons fabrication facilities where there is a huge amount of material and weapons, but where presumably, and I think on the basis of independent assessments we have reason to believe, the Russians have done a good job themselves of securing the material.  So if the work plan is completed by 2008 for 75 percent of the sites the security will have been provided to a level of what is called comprehensive upgrades, which is not as good as the gold standard that I would urge, but which is quite good and certainly hugely better than it was way back in 1991 when I started working on this problem.  So for the remaining 25 percent of the material, this is at sites which, as I say, we have reason to believe they are working on securing themselves, so I would say we cannot quite put a bow around the box and declare victory as this requires eternal vigilance.  But I would say this would be a huge success and it is a huge success for initially the first Bush administration and then the Clinton administration and then, finally, this administration.  Now where we need the Russians even more is in recovering material from which bombs could be made that was left in places outside of Russia but was provided by Russia back during the Cold War.

TR:  You mean in former Soviet republics that became states?

GA: In former Soviet republics, so like Belarus.  In Belarus there are thousands of bombs’ worth of material, which should not be in Belarus.  Until the summer before last there were three bombs’ worth of material in Uzbekistan.  There should be no material in Uzbekistan, so there is a program that the U.S. and Russia have been cooperating and working in which we together go to states and persuade them that material that was left at a research reactor or some other facility should be returned to Russia and, similarly, material that the U.S. provided to other states is being recovered and brought back to the U.S.  That program, in both cases, has gone slowly and should be dramatically accelerated.  But in any case, it is an area where it requires the cooperation of the two parties.  And then finally, for states that are nuclear wannabes, like Iran, Russia’s cooperation is essential to a successful strategy for preventing Iran reaching its nuclear goal line.

TR: You have talked a little bit about prevention here in discussing Russia and the need to continue cooperation and even accelerate it.  Let us talk a little bit more about prevention.  Is there more that could be done in the case of Pakistan to safeguard materials?

GA: Yes, indeed, and actually let me take that as an opportunity to kind of put the big picture and then I will do the specifics of Russia and Pakistan.  In this book Nuclear Terrorism, the most important part of the book is the second part and it refers to the subtitle, because the book is called  Nuclear Terrorism:  The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe.  And the second proposition in the book is that this is a preventable catastrophe in the sense that there exists a feasible, affordable agenda of actions that, if taken, would reduce the likelihood of a nuclear bomb exploding in one of our cities to nearly zero.  So if, God forbid, nuclear terrorism occurs, which I believe on the current trajectory it will, and there is a 9/11 Commission-like report that examines what we did and failed to do before this explosion, it will conclude that the nuclear terrorist attack occurred for wont of things that we could have done but that we simply did not do or did not do fast enough.

TR: So make a list.

GA: Now, I try to organize the strategy for prevention under what I call a doctrine of three no’s.  No loose nukes, no new nascent nukes, and no new nuclear weapon states.  Let me just say a word about each.

No loose nukes says all nuclear weapons and all nuclear material everywhere, in Russia, in Pakistan, everywhere, is locked up as good as gold in Fort Knox.  How much gold does the U.S. lose from Fort Knox?  Zero.  I mentioned the briefing I gave at the Kremlin back in 2005, where I said to them with all the chaos, all the confusion, all of the corruption in Russia with the collapse of the Soviet Union, how many of the icons, the treasures that you keep in the Kremlin armory have gone missing?  The answer is zero.  So human beings know how to lock up things we do not want people to steal.  All weapons and all materials should be locked up as good as gold.  That is point one.

Point two:  No new nascent nukes means no new national enrichment of uranium or reprocessing of plutonium.  So only two things from which you can make the explosion that creates the mushroom cloud, highly enriched uranium or plutonium, only states can make these because they require multi-billion dollar large investments over many years.  We should say no new national enrichment of uranium or plutonium.  And that means Iran, which is trying now to reach the goal line of being able to enrich uranium, should be stopped.  And I have a little bit of a suggestion about how to do that.

Then, thirdly, no new nuclear weapon states says draw a line under the current eight, do not count North Korea even though maybe it is eight and a half because North Korea is halfway across the list.  North Korea is the only self-declared but unrecognized nuclear weapon state.  I would not recognize them, I would say our objective has to be to roll them back, to get those ten bombs out of there, and to stop any further proliferation, not in order to grandfather the current nuclear weapon states forever but to stop the bleeding before we deal with the arsenals that we currently have.

So if we could imagine a world in which we had achieved no loose nukes, that everything was locked up as good as gold, in which there was no new national enrichment of uranium and plutonium and there were no new nuclear weapon states, I would say the chance of a nuclear bomb exploding in one of our cities would have been shrunk to nearly zero.  Now, these are all easy things to say, very hard to do, and there is a long agenda of specific things under each one of these headings, but I think the main message to take away from this is this is a preventable catastrophe.  Terrorists like al Qaeda cannot make a nuclear bomb if they do not start with highly enriched uranium or plutonium that was made by a state.  So if we can prevent states making any new enriched uranium or plutonium, and lock up or eliminate the enriched uranium and plutonium and the weapons that are powered by these from falling into the hands of terrorists, we can prevent nuclear terrorism.  So this is something we can do, and I would say actually we have been doing quite a lot and there is a lot more to do.

TR:  Let me ask a specific question.  We know that a lot more nuclear power plants are being built and are going online.  Of course, Iran claims that that is what we are doing and the experts believe they are trying to create fuel for weapons.  But if you are going to limit any new national enrichment or reprocessing of plutonium, then how do you deal with that issue of fuel?  Fuel for nuclear reactors, fuel for Iran, which claims all it wants is a nuclear reactor but we do not want them to make their own fuel?

GA:   Very well put.  We have now an emerging nuclear renaissance, so it is called, of civilian nuclear energy generation by nuclear power plants.  There are a hundred an

So the IAEA has addressed this problem and proposed a system in which one would have multinational fuel assurance for any state that has a peaceful, civilian nuclear power plant as long as it was in compliance with its nonproliferation commitments under the nonproliferation treaty, it would be assured to be able to buy fuel from one of the national producers, of which there are a half-dozen currently available, including the Russians, the Chinese, the Americans, the Europeans.

TR: But there would be an international fuel bank, right?

GA: And then behind that you would have cross-guarantees so that if one of the parties did not deliver on the contract one or the others would, and then as a guarantee of last resort you would have a fuel bank controlled by the IAEA so that if worst came to worst, as long as you were complying with your nonproliferation treaty commitments you would be able to get fuel from IAEA. And that fuel bank idea, which was just a piece of paper a year ago, is now almost coming to fruition because it got jump-started by a fifty million dollar contribution from Warren Buffett and the Nuclear Threat Initiative, Sam Nunn and Ted Turner’s initiative. The American government has matched that fifty with fifty of American money, and now it just needs to be matched by fifty from other international parties, of which the last time I looked I think there was ten from the Canadians and twenty from the Japanese, I cannot remember exactly the elements of it, but this is about to happen. And I think at the IAEA meeting in Vienna, which is in the last week of September, there will be more news about this actually coming into being so that what this does is it exposes or it takes away the fig leaf from a country like Iran that says, “Oh, we really want to build an enrichment facility just to be sure we can get fuel.” This says, “Nope, you can be 100 percent sure you can get your fuel, so if you are building an enrichment facility it is for other purposes,” and in Iran’s case I think there is no doubt about it, that it is for the purposes of giving it the infrastructure for its nuclear weapons program.

TR: So this kind of international fuel bank guarantee would be an important preventive measure to show up clearly countries like Iran, which would not accept that fuel bank as a source of fuel, to show them up as potential weapons manufacturers.

GA: Absolutely, and in particular because the way the economics works, thank goodness, making your own fuel for one power plant, or two or three or four or five, is economically stupid. So there is no economic rationale. Unless you have got a nuclear industry with dozens of nuclear power plants operating, you cannot make it financially as a business proposition with an independent enrichment facility.

TR: Would this be one of the most important preventive measures that the next president should try to work towards?

GA: I would say this is one, that in a strategy for prevention in which locking them up is probably the single-most important, and cleaning them out of places where you cannot lock them up. This second one of no new nascent nukes that is creating a global system in which states can meet their legitimate requirements for fuel for nuclear power plants through a system of companies selling at a market price, which turns out to be hugely cheaper than what states can make it for themselves, but in which then the IAEA plays a role in giving them a backup guarantee from another supplier in the case that the Americans decide they do not like your human rights record or have some other objection, but then in the case in which the Americans go and persuade even the French and the Russians not to supply, that is a pretty far-fetched example but still everything is possible, the IAEA itself would be the guarantor of last resort.

TR: Graham, you understand the seriousness of this problem and you have written about it as urgent and described the possibility of a bomb exploding in an American city as real. So why do some critics say you are exaggerating the threat, and if it is so real, why has it not happened already?

GA: Two good questions. I think on the first one, in the policy world there are always contrarians who come forth to argue that whatever is view A, they argue non-A or X and they argue Y or Z. So I think that the fact that both President Bush and his challenger in the 2004 campaign, Senator Kerry, gave the identical answer to the question in the first of the televised presidential debates when they were asked the question, “What is the single-most serious threat to American national security?” They both said nuclear terrorism; has led to then contrarians want to say, “Well, no, I do not really think so,” or “I disagree,” or “It is not as big as you thought.” So I have looked at all of the contrarian arguments presented, and I think they are just that. There is always, you can argue, on the other hand maybe the world is not round, but I would say that we have moved on mostly beyond the flat-earth society and I think most of the critics’ arguments are not much better than that. Now there is then the second argument, which says, “Well, if it has not happened already, it will not.” And I hear this argument from many people, that anything that has not happened will not happen, to which Warren Buffett has a good response in which he says, “Anything that can technically and feasibly happen will, given time enough, happen.” So he, who is certainly one of the world’s legendary odds-makers and the world’s most successful investor, disagrees with my view, and my view says this is 51 percent likely over a decade, and he says no, inevitable, inevitable. He says he cannot see any way that it is not going to happen. And I think for people for whom the notion is, or try to get comfort from the idea, that something that has not happened cannot happen should remember what they thought about an attack upon the U.S. homeland by terrorists, killing twice as many people as were killed in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. So who could have imagined terrorists seizing four American airplanes, converting them into guided missiles, in effect, crashing them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and killing 3000 people. It had never happened before, so maybe it would not happen. To which the answer is, “No, it was quite possible that it could happen and it did happen,” so I think if we go back to the 9/11 Commission report where this distinguished group of Republicans and Democrats on a bipartisan basis reviewed the evidence and asked, “What did we fail to do before 9/11?” They say the greatest failure of the country was what they call a “failure of imagination.” Now if there was a failure of imagination to imagine that terrorists like Osama bin Laden, who had declared war upon the U.S. and had already attacked us five times, could conduct an attack on the American homeland, killing 3000 people, how hard is it to imagine that this same guy who says he wants to kill four million Americans, who has been working at this problem now for over a decade, might be planning and plotting a nuclear explosion in one of our cities. I would say that does not require a great deal of imagination, that requires just a little short step from what we have actually seen on 9/11 and what we have seen in terms of his intent and determination and efforts in the period since then. So I take it to be a clear, real, present danger, not one that should terrify us, but one we should focus on coolly and clear-eyed in order to mobilize and motivate the actions that we actually can take that would reduce the likelihood of this to nearly zero.

TR: Graham Allison, thank you very much for talking with me today.

GA: Thank you very much for having me.