"At a conference on the future of al Qaeda sponsored by Los Alamos National Laboratory last month, I posed a dark question to 60 or so nuclear weapons scientists and specialists on terrorism and radical Islam: How many of them believed that the probability of a nuclear fission bomb attack on U.S. soil during the next several decades was negligible -- say, less than 5 percent?
At issue was the Big One -- a Hiroshima-or-larger explosion that could claim hundreds of thousands of American lives, as opposed to an easier-to-mount but less lethal radiological attack. Amid somber silence, three or four meek, iconoclastic hands went up. (More later on the minority optimists. They, too, deserve a hearing.)
This grim view, echoed in other quarters of the national security bureaucracy in recent months, can't be dismissed as Bush administration scaremongering. "There has been increasing interest by terrorists in acquiring nuclear weapons," Mohamed ElBaradei, the Egyptian director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the world's chief nuclear watchdog, said in a recent interview, excerpts of which were published in Outlook last Sunday. "I cannot say 100 percent that it hasn't happened" already, he added, almost as an afterthought. Worried yet?"
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