Will The next 9/11 Be Nuclear Terrorism?

Twenty years ago, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, that killed some 3,000 Americans, was a psychological shock comparable to Imperial Japan’s surprise attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, that bludgeoned the United States into World War II.

Both 9/11 and Pearl Harbor resulted, to put it kindly, from profound failures in military intelligence and strategic imagination. To put it less kindly, 9/11 and Pearl Harbor happened because of arrogance, complacency, and willful blindness in Washington.

Pearl Harbor surprised Washington elites and experts. Imperial Japan was supposed to be deterred by a U.S. oil embargo, by forward deploying the Pacific Fleet from San Diego to Hawaii, and Japanese aircraft carriers were not supposed to sink U.S. battleships—it had never been done before.

9/11 surprised Washington elites and experts. Terrorists were supposed to be deterred from attacking the U.S. homeland, and airliners were not supposed to be hijacked and flown into buildings—it had never been done before.

After Pearl Harbor and 9/11, Washington elites and experts were shocked into “out of the box thinking” about unprecedented threats. Pearl Harbor spurred invention of the A-bomb. 9/11 raised legitimate fears about “WMD terrorism”—the use of chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons of mass destruction in the U.S. homeland.

Twenty years after 9/11, arrogance, complacency, and willful blindness have returned to Washington, setting-up the U.S. and its allies for a wide range of possible unpleasant surprises—including WMD terrorism.

Twenty years after 9/11, the Afghanistan debacle displays a scale of incompetence in the White House and Pentagon that—in the context of similarly bungled U.S. superpower responsibilities in Europe, Asia, or the Middle East—could kill millions.

Twenty years after 9/11, the Taliban control Afghanistan where they, al Qaeda, ISIS-K, and other terrorists will again have a national base for worldwide operations, as they did twenty years ago, except now armed with two more decades of resentment against the U.S., and stockpiles of sophisticated U.S. arms.

Twenty years after 9/11, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, established after 9/11 to prevent WMD terrorism, now oversees an unprotected U.S. border and transports thousands of unvetted illegal aliens to resettle in the U.S. homeland.

Twenty years after 9/11, the possibility of nuclear terrorism is greater. Now North Korea has nuclear weapons, and will sell virtually anything to anybody. Now that the Taliban are triumphant, radical Islamists will be inspired everywhere, including in nuclear-armed Pakistan.

But the biggest worry is Iran, the world’s leading sponsor of international terrorism, that is now a threshold, or actual, nuclear power.

Twenty years after 9/11, the Biden Administration’s unrequited love affair with the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA) is helping Iran nuclearize, which is the same thing as advancing nuclear terrorism.

“Iran’s Nuclear Weapons Weeks Away” headlines an article by scholar Majid Rafizadeh, President of the International American Council on the Middle East: “Once again it seems that the mullahs of Iran are masterfully playing the Biden administration and the EU by stalling nuclear talks, buying time to get more concessions, and accelerating their enrichment of uranium and nuclear program to reach a weapons-grade nuclear breakout.” (Gatestone Institute 9 September 2021).

According to Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, briefing at Israel’s Foreign Ministry on August 4: “Iran has violated all of the guidelines set in the JCPOA and is only around 10 weeks away from acquiring weapons-grade materials necessary for a nuclear weapon…Now is the time for deeds—words are not enough. It is time for diplomatic, economic, and even military deeds…”

However, several senior U.S. national security officials have been warning for years that, as our most recent article is entitled: “Iran Probably Already Has The Bomb” (National Review 19 March 2021). Co-authored by former CIA Director, James Woolsey; former White House Science Advisor and NASA Director, William Graham; former Director of the Strategic Defense Initiative, Henry Cooper; former Chairman of the National Intelligence Council, Fritz Ermarth; we assess:

--Prior to 2003, Iran was enriching uranium, did implosion testing, was manufacturing neutron initiators and bridge-wire detonators, designing a nuclear warhead for the Shahab-III missile, reaching a technological stage comparable to the U.S. World War II Manhattan Project, when the U.S. was only months away from inventing the first A-bombs.

--Iran can build sophisticated nuclear weapons by relying on component testing, without nuclear testing.

--IAEA inspections are limited to civilian sites, restricted from military bases, including several highly suspicious underground facilities.

--Most estimates assume Iran needs 5-10 kilograms of highly enriched (over 90%) uranium or plutonium for an A-bomb, but a good design requires only 1-2 kilograms. Crude A-bombs can be designed with uranium-235 or plutonium-239 enriched to only 50%.

Iran is building toward a large, deployable, survivable, warfighting missile force—to which nuclear weapons can be swiftly added.

Moreover, Iran wants to preserve the fiction of its non-nuclear status. Iran has derived far more economic and strategic benefits from threats to “go nuclear” than has North Korea from “going nuclear” overtly.

Ominously, Iran may be forgoing the deterrence benefits of an overt nuclear posture because it is building toward surprise future employment to advance the global theological agenda of the ayatollahs and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, the world’s largest and most sophisticated terrorist organization.

Twenty years after 9/11, Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran all have motives to support an act of nuclear terrorism that might drive a demoralized U.S. into isolationism and create a New World Order dominated by themselves.

Dr. Peter V. Pry is Executive Director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security and Director of the U.S. Nuclear Strategy Forum, served in the Congressional EMP Commission, the Congressional Strategic Posture Commission, the House Armed Services Committee, and the CIA.

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