- Hardcover: 457 pages
- Publisher: Prometheus Books (September 23, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1591026563
- ISBN-13: 978-1591026563
- Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.3 x 9.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 9 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #406,995 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Will Terrorists Go Nuclear?
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From Publishers Weekly
A leading expert on terrorism and a senior adviser at the RAND Corporation, Jenkins (Unconquerable Nation) addresses the contentious issue of nuclear terror in this exhaustive study that seeks to separate what we fear from what we might reasonably expect. The author traces the debate over nuclear terror from the Cold War to its contemporary nexus with al-Qaeda, noting that 9/11 renewed all the old debates and significantly altered our perceptions of what was plausible. Furthermore, the Bush administration's saber-rattling and the relentless media coverage exaggerated the threat and left the nation intentionally terrified. While acknowledging al-Qaeda's efforts to obtain nuclear weapons, Jenkins points out that the evidence confirms... ambition, not capability or the knowledge to fabricate a nuclear device. Finally, the author invites the reader to assume the role of president in a frightening scenario that begins with a nuclear blast in Manhattan. Jenkins's ambitious goal seems to be not to downplay the nuclear threat posed by terrorists but to get Americans to address it logically and dispassionately; his thoroughly documented and carefully reasoned study is an important step in that direction. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
"Jenkins shows us how we must confront our fears with thoughtful and diligent action. We can afford to do no less. A must read. " —George Tenet, former director of the CIA
"In Will Terrorists Go Nuclear? Brian Michael Jenkins brings a lifetime of experience and expertise to today's most pressing national security question. With skill and clarity he separates fact from fiction, laying the groundwork for a thoughtful approach to confronting the nexus of nuclear weapons and terrorism. This is an important book on an urgent threat confronting the American people."
--Lee H. Hamilton, Vice Chairman of the 9/11 Commission, President and
Director, The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
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Jenkins has written a sobering and critical analysis of this question that spans over his decades of research on the topic. In fact, the book shares the title of a research paper Jenkins wrote over 30 years ago and it is that essay he uses as the entrance point for his observations. The issue of nuclear terrorism is one that has haunted policy makers, enriched movie producers, and fevered American apprehension for 30 years and the strength of Jenkins book is his categorical and tempered analysis of how each of these complex areas play into the nuclear terrorism debate.
Playing the role of mythbuster, Jenkins dives deep to determine the seeding point for a large number of nuclear terrorism memes that have propagated over the past decade. Upon examination, Jenkins finds that some of the memes are just that, organic ideas that developed a life of their own or had strategic sponsorship by individuals who were in a position to benefit from the propagation of the meme. Readers should draw some comfort from the thoughtful analysis and debunking of some of our most terrifying concerns.
In his analysis of terrorist motives, operational concepts and evolution Jenkins dissects the core issues in a way that few terrorism analysts can. This book will speak not only to his peers, but is very accessible to the general audience and it is this audience that Jenkins seems obligated to inform with this book.
That assumption brings us to the final and most essential element of the book, which is Jenkins' differentiation between "nuclear terrorism" and "nuclear terror". Nuclear terrorism is the threat that must be addressed by Western democracies through sound counterterrorism and non-proliferation policies. Nuclear terror is the state of perpetual societal fear that is exploited to erode civil liberties and generate apprehension within democracies. Of course, the fundamental question is how much apprehension can we cope with before the fundamental components of our society become unrecognizable.
Jenkins book is a highly recommended read for anyone interested in this essential subject and should be required reading for consumers of popular culture (the TV show 24, for example) that propagate the nuclear terrorism meme, or anyone who finds the concept of nuclear terrorism "terrifying".
The book has very little new information in it. Jenkins just rehashes the obvious throughout. I suppose someone that lived under a rock for the past 20 years might find Will_Terrorists_Go_Nuclear? interesting.
Jenkins doubts there is a immediate threat of a hidden nuclear device in the US. They are too hard to make, too hard to maintain, too hard to make small and maintain. The nuclear threat from terrorists is just rhetoric, causing a pervasive, underlining panic in every American's life. That's about it for the book. It's a tedious read.
He does discuss red mercury, which is why I didn't give it one star.
Brian Jenkins, a senior advisor at the RAND Corporation, has been studying the issue of nuclear terrorism since the early 1970s. In fact, he may be the world's leading expert on this terrifying topic. "Will Terrorists Go Nuclear?" has been endorsed by top intelligence experts on both sides of the political spectrum, as well as a Nobel Prize laureate and retired military leaders.
Warning: This is not a work of sensationalism. Unlike so many "shock authors," Jenkins is even-handed and very careful with his words. He even criticizes his own earlier work, which is a rare thing in this age of reckless self-promotion.
Here's the gist of Jenkins's argument: Nuclear "terror" and nuclear "terrorism" are two VERY different problems. One is emotional. The other is factual. If we base our policies on emotion, our nation will suffer through unnecessary fear and make poor decisions about security. As Jenkins states: "Al Qaeda is the first terrorist group to incite nuclear terror without actually possessing a nuclear weapon."
Make no mistake: The distinction between "terror" and "terrorism" is absolutely critical to our national response, says Jenkins. Nuclear terror is fear based on what MIGHT happen. In contrast, nuclear terrorism is the actual historical record of specific terrorist ACTS involving nuclear materials -- plus an objective estimate of current terrorist capabilities.
Jenkins leaves no stone unturned. He walks us through the history of nuclear terror going back to H.G. Wells' 1913 novel on the subject and continuing to the current day. It's a fascinating -- almost unbelievable -- trip. For example, I didn't know that Robert Oppenheimer (father of the U.S. atomic bomb) actually worked on this issue in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The result was his famous but still classified "Screwdriver Report."
On a parallel track, Jenkins examines the history of actual terrorist acts involving nuclear materials -- everything from a love-triangle murder in Idaho Falls in 1961 to the Chechen radiological bomb planted in a Moscow park just a few years ago. He also reviews the rich history of black marketeering in nuclear materials, particularly in the former Soviet Union.
Along the way, we learn a great deal about the difference between nuclear terror and nuclear terrorism. Topics include:
-- Suitcase nukes
-- The mysterious substance called "red mercury"
-- Security procedures at Russian nuclear facilities
-- Al Qaeda's attempts to secure nuclear and radiological weapons
-- Pakistan's involvement in nuclear smuggling
-- The great technical challenge of building a viable nuclear weapon from scratch
At times, Jenkins' narrative repeats itself, but for the most part he's right on the money. Each major topic is placed within the cultural and historical framework of our times. For example, Jenkins examines the religious "end times" fever of our age in the context of nuclear terror. He shows how specific threats are turned into "facts," through the psychological process of reification. He even explains the use of threatening language in Arab culture, based on linguistic and psychiatric studies.
So what is his conclusion? Are we destined for an act of nuclear terrorism on U.S. soil?
Jenkins seems to think it's possible, but rather unlikely, particularly in terms of an actual nuclear fission explosion (nuclear bomb). Launching such an attack would involve three very difficult steps:
1. Acquiring enriched uranium or plutonium in sufficient quantity.
2. Assembling and maintaining such a weapon.
3. Delivering it to a U.S. target without being detected.
The first two steps seem to be the most difficult. Who knew, for example, that small nuclear weapons become inoperable in about 6 months because of cracks in the core material? They're harder to maintain than an old piano.
It's far more likely, says Jenkins, that terrorists will use a radiological "dirty bomb" on U.S. soil. Such a device uses traditional explosives to disperse radioactive materials across a large area. The ensuing loss of life is much smaller, but the terror it could cause is potentially enormous.
So what can we do to prevent nuclear terrorism? Plenty, says Jenkins. He outlines a long list of specific actions that civilized nations can take to reduce the likelihood of an actual nuclear attack. Most importantly, Jenkins ads, we must base our plans and decisions on actual facts -- not sensationalistic rhetoric.
If you have any interest at all in this topic, I urge you to read this important book and then pass it along to others -- especially your Congressional representatives and elected officials.