The loss of more than 3,000 people to al-Qaeda terrorism on September 11, 2001, brought to many Americans the sudden recognition that their country was no longer leading a charmed life. But a number of the nation’s security experts had seen it coming. In 1999, for example, a commission led by Senators Gary Hart and Warren B. Rudman examined U.S. security policies and, in a report published two years before the al-Qaeda attack, concluded, “There will…be a greater probability of [catastrophic terrorism] in the next millennium….Future terrorists will probably be even less hierarchically organized, and yet better networked, than they are today. Their diffuse nature will make them more anonymous, yet their ability to coordinate mass effects on a global basis will increase….The United States should assume that it will be a target of terrorist attacks against its homeland using weapons of mass destruction. The United States will be vulnerable to such strikes.”The concept of megaterrorism was well known. The warning was there. Only the date, place and nature of the deed were in question to those who had looked at the prospects. And though last September’s slaughter was not caused by the “weapons of mass destruction” of which the Hart-Rudman Commission warned, it is still my belief that the biggest threats we face are two types of such weapons: biological and nuclear devices.
I am, unfortunately, no stranger to either. My work on nuclear weaponry began at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1950 and continues to this day. Through many years of service on the White House President’s Science Advisory Committee and its many panels, and with similar bodies of the U.S. Defense Department and the U.S. Department of State, I have become familiar with the status of nuclear weapons around the world. And in 1998 I served with Donald Rumsfeld, now the secretary of defense, and seven others on the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States, which by law had access to all intelligence regarding not only foreign missiles and nuclear weaponry but bioweapons as well.