Suitcase Nukes: Disinformation or Doomsday?

How concerned should Americans be about the possible presence of suitcase nuclear weapons in the United States?

If you ask Richard Miniter, author of “Disinformation: 22 Media Myths That Undermine the War on Terror,” the answer is not very concerned at all. But pose the question to Scranton University professor Paul Williams, who wrote “Dunces of Doomsday: 16 Blunders That Gave Rise to Radical Islam, Terrorist Regimes, And the Threat of an American Hiroshima,” and you’ll get a very different response.

Miniter and Williams debated the issue today at the National Press Club in Washington at a forum moderated by Weekly Standard Executive Editor Fred Barnes. The crucial question they attempted to answer: Does Osama bin Laden have suitcase nuclear weapons?

Both men’s beliefs seemed to reflect in their faces and presentations. Miniter doesn’t think there is anything to worry about. Williams said these bombs could go off tomorrow.

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A relaxed and smiling Miniter assured the crowd that no such thing exists and “you’re not going to die.” In his book “Disinformation,” published by Regnery, a HUMAN EVENTS sister company, he says: “Suitcase-sized nuclear bombs remain in the realm of James Bond movies.”

While he said there were weapons like this at one time, made by Russia and the United States, they have by now all been dismantled. In 1991, U.S. personnel were sent to the Soviet Union to witness the destruction of all these weapons. He said these weapons need to serviced every three months, and need constant maintenance or they will not function. He said the notion that these bombs are “suitcase size” is false, saying they are in fact much larger, “not exactly carry-on material.”

An animated and loud Williams countered by saying the real “disinformation” is in Miniter’s book. In fact, it’s not only disinformation, it’s dishonest, Williams charged. He said Miniter is doing a “grave disservice” by saying they don’t exist. Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s environmental adviser said 700 of these weapons existed and a total of 2,200 small atomic devices were built by the Soviets. Soviets had the smallest one ever built — 18 inches long, 6 inches in diameter — which is now on display in a museum for anyone to see. Small nuclear weapons have been handled since the 1950s and these are not new devices, Williams said.

Miniter said Williams uses himself as a source in his book “Dunces of Doomsday.” On the other hand, Miniter said he sites only reliable sources and experts. He said Williams tries to “pull the wool over your eyes.” He asked Williams, “Why aren’t we dead?”

Williams said this entire debate is ludicrous and he could care less if people buy his book. He’s more concerned about spreading the message that al Qaeda has the weapons and is simply waiting to use them. He said they are being smuggled across the Mexican border as we speak. “We can stick our head in the sand and say that all this is mythological, that these suitcase nukes don’t exist, that bin Laden is a blowhard, that we are really not engaged in a war, that the American people are perfectly safe, and let me tell you something, all these things are, unfortunately, false.”

Both men disagreed on whether Cuba, being only 90 miles away, is as much a threat as having nuclear bombs come into America. Miniter said their is no connection between al Qaeda and Fidel Castro while Williams said Castro is a supporter of the Islamic jihad, making many visits to the Middle East.