Magazine article Insight on the News

A State of High Alert: Intelligence Sources Say Osama Bin Laden's Terrorists Possess Nuclear-Related Materials That Could Be Dispersed with a Conventional Explosion, Potentially Killing Hundreds and Subjecting Thousands to Radioactivity. (Cover Story)

Magazine article Insight on the News

A State of High Alert: Intelligence Sources Say Osama Bin Laden's Terrorists Possess Nuclear-Related Materials That Could Be Dispersed with a Conventional Explosion, Potentially Killing Hundreds and Subjecting Thousands to Radioactivity. (Cover Story)

Article excerpt

State sponsors of terrorism and terrorist links worldwide are under close scrutiny for transshipment of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) ranging from biological and chemical agents to nuclear-related materials and devices. The result, according to more than a dozen top security, military and intelligence officials, is heightened alerts around the world to track down and eliminate these threats. Highly specialized teams from the FBI and other federal law-enforcement agencies, working in close cooperation with military and intelligence agencies, have been on the lookout with extremely sophisticated devices to detect WMDs of every kind.

This includes deployment of specialists from the Nuclear Emergency Search Team (NEST). INSIGHT was the first national journal given access to this secretive agency (see "Your Life May Depend on the Woman from NEST" Oct. 23, 1995). The primary task of NEST is constantly to be on the lookout for potential nuclear or radiological weapons that might be smuggled onto the U.S. mainland. Indeed, after the collapse of the former Soviet Union, NEST personnel were deployed to Russia to help that country and its former satellite states learn how to identify, locate and eliminate potential WMD threats, including the tracking of lost and stolen nuclear materials.

After the Sept. 11 attacks on New York City and the Pentagon, INSIGHT has learned, NEST was put on a state of high alert and operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week in the nation's capital and New York City monitoring for nuclear-related weapons. Federal officials have told the magazine that this includes extensive use of deployed sensors and specially equipped vehicles patrolling the streets of both cities.

So NEST personnel were accompanied by special forces and on their highest state of alert for possible radiological threats during the first national terrorist alert announced by Attorney General John Ashcroft. Vice President Richard Cheney quickly was moved out of the capital to a secure location as a means of ensuring an orderly transition in the event of the death of the president. Officials would not comment on possible links between the nuclear concerns and the hustling away of Cheney, but after the vice president returned to a normal work schedule at his White House office they confirmed that NEST had moved to a lower state of alert.

Soon, however, both White House and Department of Defense (DOD) officials began to brief the press on concerns about potential radiological releases on U.S. grounds while dismissing the potential for a "conventional" nuclear-bomb attack as highly improbable. However, the ongoing operations of NEST and its frantic activities were not addressed. The press failed to pick up on the fact that NEST and its specialists had been on highest alert and systematically searching Washington, facts INSIGHT has not been asked to withhold.

When Ashcroft again announced an increased state of alert during Halloween week, a similar pattern emerged. As NEST worked aggressively, U.S. government spokesmen and officials downplayed the potential for radiological attacks using nuclear materials packed into explosive packages that upon detonation disperse highly toxic materials. But, according to WMD specialists interviewed at length by INSIGHT, there is no doubt that Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda organization have acquired fissile materials. And, as one military source says, "We believe they have, at least, drawn up plans with the full intention" of using them inside the United States.

In this lengthy series of interviews by INSIGHT, insiders emphasized repeatedly that the issue was never if WMDs would be used by terrorists but when. "This threat is very, very real" a U.S. intelligence official tells the magazine.

The current consensus is that, rather than a conventional nuclear bomb, the terrorists have acquired nuclear-related materials to be dispersed with a conventional explosion. …

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