This oddly disjointed inquiry into the world of nuclear terrorism contains sporadic nuggets of wisdom.
Jenkins (Unconquerable Nation, 2006, etc.) combines his knowledge of terrorism with private briefings from intelligence officials to provide an earnest, meandering historical take on the difficulty terrorists face in going nuclear. An insightful chapter describes obstacles to procuring authentic enriched plutonium or uranium in the “world of shadows” that is the nuclear black market. Preceding it, a chapter about the restraints terrorists impose on themselves ends with the chilling comment, “Over time...the constraints erode.” The author’s main point is that groups like al-Qaeda succeed in terrorizing us not by actually detonating nuclear devices, but by threatening do so. Jenkins convincingly shows that Russia’s nuclear arsenal is well protected and there is no evidence that al-Qaeda has been successful in obtaining Russian-made suitcase bombs or the imaginary superdetonator, red mercury. But al-Qaeda does not need to possess a nuclear bomb, the author argues. The fear of a nuclear attack, fueled by the savvy al-Qaeda publicity machine and a sensationalist, story-driven media industry, is more effectively debilitating. The U.S. government has been inadvertently complicit with the terrorists, Jenkins avers, by promoting a message of fear since 9/11. However, the author contributes to the sensationalism with a poorly sketched chapter positing a nuclear detonation in Manhattan that casts the reader as president and asks how “you” will react. The author aims to convey the limited range of options available when the perpetrators are unknown, but instead provides an amateurish story outline barely suitable for tabloid television, with an unprepared president surrounded by unsure, non-technical advisors. Ultimately his cop-out conclusion is that “we cannot do more than guess” at the answer to the question posed by the book’s title.
Educational but uneven.