Allison says that at least four times between 1992 and 1999 weapons-useable materials were stolen from Russian research institutes but recovered. How many thefts have not been reported? The U.S. Cold War arsenal included Special Atomic Demolition Munitions that could be carried in a backpack. The Soviet arsenal often mimicked America's. Russia denies that ``suitcase" nuclear weapons exist, so it denies reports that at least 80 are missing. Soviet military forces deployed 22,000 tactical nuclear warheads -- without individual identification numbers. Who thinks all have been accounted for? Russia probably has 2 million pounds of weapons-useable material -- enough for 80,000 weapons.
In December 1994, Czech police seized more than eight pounds of HEU in a parked car on a side street. A senior al Qaeda aide's proclaimed goal of killing 4 million Americans would require 1,400 9/11s, or one 10-kiloton nuclear explosion -- from a softball-sized lump of fissionable material -- in four large American cities.
Of the 7 million seaborne cargo containers that arrive at U.S. ports each year, fewer than 5 percent are inspected. Fewer than 10 percent of arriving noncommercial private vessels are inspected. Given that 21,000 pounds of cocaine and marijuana are smuggled into the country each day, how hard would it be to smuggle a softball-sized lump of HEU on one of the 30,000 trucks, 6,500 rail cars or 50,000 cargo containers that arrive every day?
President Bush recently said Democratic critics of rapid development of ballistic missile defenses are ``living in the past." Perhaps. Some missile defense is feasible and, leaving aside costs, desirable. But costs cannot be left aside. Kerry, were he politically daring and intellectually nimble, might respond:
``The president is living in 1983, when Ronald Reagan proposed missile defenses to counter thousands of Soviet ICBMs. A nuclear weapon is much less likely to come to America on a rogue nation's ICBM -- which would have a return address -- than in a shipping container, truck, suitcase, backpack or other ubiquitous things. So allocating vast amounts of scarce financial and scientific resources to missile defenses rather than other security measures is imprudent."
On the other hand, Allison argues that any hope for preventing, by diplomacy, nuclear terrorism depends on ``readiness to use covert and overt military force if necessary" against two potential sources of fissile material -- Iran and North Korea. But the candidate Allison is advising has opposed virtually every use of U.S. force in his adult lifetime.
Intelligent people can differ about all that Allison says. But campaign time is becoming scarce for intelligent differing about how to prevent some American Ground Zero from becoming so poisoned by radiation that no one will be able to come within four miles of it.