Rolf Mowatt-Larssen is paid to think about the unthinkable. As the Energy Department’s director of intelligence, he’s responsible for gathering information about the threat that a terrorist group will attack America with a nuclear weapon.
With his shock of white hair and piercing eyes, Mowatt-Larssen looks like a man who has seen a ghost. And when you listen to a version of the briefing he has been giving recently to President Bush and other top officials, you begin to understand why. He is convinced that al-Qaeda is trying to acquire a nuclear bomb that will leave the ultimate terrorist signature — a mushroom cloud.
We’ve all had enough fear-mongering to last a lifetime. Indeed, we have become so frightened of terrorism since Sept. 11, 2001, that we have begun doing the terrorists’ job for them by undermining the legal framework of our democracy. And truly, I wish I could dismiss Mowatt-Larssen’s analysis as the work of an overwrought former CIA officer with too many years in the trenches.
But it’s worth listening to his warnings — not because they induce more numbing paralysis but because they might stir sensible people to take actions that could detect and stop an attack. That’s why his boss, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, is encouraging him to speak out. Mowatt-Larssen doesn’t want to anguish later that he didn’t sound the alarm in time. [complete article]