After months of dramatic hearings, the 9/11 Commission issued a surprisingly timid report. The failure to detect or deter the September 11 attack is blamed on no one and everyone, including the American public for failing to demand more from their government. Still, the new study includes several key recommendations to reduce the possibility of nuclear terrorism. The commission concluded that any strategy to combat terrorism must be combined with a comprehensive effort to prevent the proliferation of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. According to the commissioners, "The greatest danger of another catastrophic attack in the United States will materialize if the world’s most dangerous terrorists acquire the world’s most dangerous weapons." Below we provide in full the report’s proliferation-related recommendation which the commissioners say "warrants a maximum effort" and is part of a "global strategy." All are also recommendations made in the new Carnegie report, Universal Compliance: A Strategy for Nuclear Security:
Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction
The greatest danger of another catastrophic attack in the United States will materialize if the world’s most dangerous terrorists acquire the world’s most dangerous weapons. As we note in chapter 2, al Qaeda has tried to acquire or make nuclear weapons for at least ten years. In chapter 4, we mentioned officials worriedly discussing, in 1998, reports that Bin Ladin’s associates thought their leader was intent on carrying out a "Hiroshima."
These ambitions continue. In the public portion of his February 2004 worldwide threat assessment to Congress, DCI Tenet noted that Bin Ladin considered the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction to be a "religious obligation." He warned that al Qaeda "continues to pursue its strategic goal of obtaining a nuclear capability." Tenet added that "more than two dozen other terrorist groups are pursuing CBRN [chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear] materials."
A nuclear bomb can be built with a relatively small amount of nuclear material. A trained nuclear engineer with an amount of highly enriched uranium or plutonium about the size of a grapefruit or an orange, together with commercially available material, could fashion a nuclear device that would fit in a van like the one Ramzi Yousef parked in the garage of the World Trade Center in 1993. Such a bomb would level Lower Manhattan.
The coalition strategies we have discussed to combat Islamist terrorism should therefore be combined with a parallel, vital effort to prevent and counter the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). We recommend several initiatives in this area.
Strengthen Counterproliferation Efforts
While efforts to shut down Libya’s illegal nuclear program have been generally successful, Pakistan’s illicit trade and the nuclear smuggling networks of Pakistani scientist A.Q.Khan have revealed that the spread of nuclear weapons is a problem of global dimensions.
Attempts to deal with Iran’s nuclear program are still underway. Therefore, the United States should work with the international community to develop laws and an international legal regime with universal jurisdiction to enable the capture, interdiction, and prosecution of such smugglers by any state in the world where they do not disclose their activities.
Expand the Proliferation Security Initiative
In May 2003, the Bush administration announced the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI): nations in a willing partnership combining their national capabilities to use military, economic, and diplomatic tools to interdict threatening shipments of WMD and missile-related technology.
The PSI can be more effective if it uses intelligence and planning resources of the NATO alliance. Moreover, PSI membership should be open to non-NATO countries. Russia and China should be encouraged to participate.
Support the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program
Outside experts are deeply worried about the U.S. government’s commitment and approach to securing the weapons and highly dangerous materials still scattered in Russia and other countries of the Soviet Union. The government’s main instrument in this area, the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program (usually referred to as "Nunn-Lugar," after the senators who sponsored the legislation in 1991), is now in need of expansion, improvement, and resources. The U.S. government has recently redoubled its international commitments to support this program, and we recommend that the United States do all it can, if Russia and other countries will do their part. The government should weigh the value of this investment against the catastrophic cost America would face should such weapons find their way to the terrorists who are so anxious to acquire them.
Recommendation: Our report shows that al Qaeda has tried to acquire or make weapons of mass destruction for at least ten years. There is no doubt the United States would be a prime target. Preventing the proliferation of these weapons warrants a maximum effort—by strengthening counterproliferation efforts, expanding the Proliferation Security Initiative, and supporting the Cooperative Threat Reduction program.