As a almost 40 year student of russian history and current events, I became much more frightened of the Soviet Union, or Russia, than I was for many years. The masses have had a taste of freedom and luxury, and are loosing it again, there will be more unrest. Many will feel the need for money, and not think about consequences of selling weapons, or alligning with maverick leaders. Russia is not a benign force, it is a sleeping giant that will eventually errupt. China is even more worrisome, as it is intent on world domination. The greatest fears I have are about rogue groups or individuals, who with the right weapon, can do enormous damage to the United States.
Thank Heavens this issue is finally getting the attention it deserves! In my years working and flying on B-52s, we often sat around on while on alert force duty and discussed scenarios like this. Believe me, the threat of these horrible weapons making their way onto American soil is not only possible but probable. And the threat is discussed at the highest levels of our military. As for the breakdown in the X-Soviet early warning system (EWS) equipment, and those who may disbelieve or minimize the risks, remember: much of their EWS equipment was designed, built and installed in the 50's, 60's and 70's, and has received irregular maintenance and servicing since the early 80's. Even a claw hammer would malfunction under those conditions!
Maybe we all need to wake up out of our fog of denial and face the truly disturbing implications of this situation. Perhaps our scientific progress has outstripped our morality and sensibility.
I found it ironic that the two men busted by customs for MISSILES received 2 YEARS in jail for their crime!!!!!
Then, after frontline was over, there was an ad for an upcoming show regarding marijuana that had a woman on it complaining about how her husband or boyfriend was in jail FOR LIFE!!!
Call me stupid, but I think our "justice" system is just a little screwed up. Missile vs Grass... you decide which poses a bigger threat to the people of america! (I am not defending marijuana, I am just pointing out....let the punishment fit the crime.)
So, the end of the cold war era was the beginning of the age of uncertainty.
I believe government leaders who put forth high-tech "missile defense systems" as the panacea for protecting the US population from atomic attack are guilty of self-deception at best, or hypocrisy at worst.
It is clear that small and adequately effective nuclear (fission) weapons can be made which are no larger than just one of the numerous bales of marijuana that are smuggled undetected into the US every day. A ship-borne container, thousands of which enter U.S. ports daily from all over the world, could easily contain a full-scale hydrogen bomb.
Rather than spending further billions on the illusory safety of an at-best leaky and limited antimissile system, I believe our major defensive thrust should be in the denial of existing bombs and bomb-making materials to potential enemies, worldwide. Retrieval and control of all nuclear weapons-capable materials should be our top national priority in this area of major concern.
west chester, pa
Congratulations on an excellent piece. I do agree with most of the comments submitted that the chances are higher now of some sort of nuclear detonation in the USA by a terrorist. It is frightening. To thwart it, we must tighten security at airports along with other points of entry and increase our intelligence gathering capability.
I must comment, though, on the the two "Lithuanians" identified in your piece. I don't know what makes them "Lithuanians", perhaps their passports, but their last names are clearly Russian. I wish you had pointed that out in your piece. As a Lithuanian-American, I take offense. If you were to examine the situation further, most mafia activity in Lithuania involve Russians, not Lithuanians, even thought the Russian population of Lithuania is only 10%.
The Russian people have always had a tough go of it. Currently they need cash and food.
Why don't we buy warheads from them? They (we) reduce their nuclear inventory, nil expense for dismanteling, and CASH. Cash to buy food, pay their people (hopefully reducing the temptation of black-market-arms) and get their economy going. That's my 2 cents.
san francisco, california
Dear FRONTLINE, There is likely an ever increasing threat of a "man-portable" nuclear attack, and I am very sure that these weapons have been trained with in the U.S. as recently as the late 1980's. I think that there is more likely a natural progression, of these military weapons, rather than the "official" albeit implied regression of these types of weapons. It is likely that their intended use is more sinister than you portrayed, whether in U.S. hands or those of our potential enemies. We are in a world that enjoys "smaller, faster, and better" as the epidemy of synergism. Therefore, without having to stretch our imaginations, or having to cite what appeared to be questionable facts, we can easily imagine that these weapons will manifest themselves as smaller and easier to deploy. I always enjoy your program.
eau claire, wi.
Although your question implies the continental US, let us not forget that our foreign embassy's are considered American soil. We have seen what can happen in Africa. If terrorists wanted to attack America, it would be easier overseas than to bring the device onto continental US soil. Just my $0.02.
new york, ny
Thank your for your Feb. 23, 1999 program describing the conditions in Russia today. We have been congratulating ourselves on wining the "cold war." Instead of taking up Kruechev's offer for peaceful economic competition we undertook a military spending "distruction derby" the greatly impoverished the US and destoyed the Soviet Union. Our irrational fear of anything Russian or Communistic has placed this country in greater real danger than has existed since the end of WWII . We should treat Russia with the same compassion that we treated our former enemies, Germany and Japan. A Marshal Plan style effort for Russia would be of greater long term assistance to the rest of the world than Russia alone.
The threat is plausible but there is a greater possiblility of chemical and biological warfare terrorism -- it is just so much cheaper.
What can we do? -- well Frontline is doing its part. Public awarenss is the key.
The current and former Russian soldiers now attempting to increase public awarness, at great personal risk, are truly heros not to be forgotten. They need all the help and encouragement they can get.
Your show was excellent as usual. Isn't it ironic that if you rob a sandwich shop in Washington State on three different occasions and are caught, you will be sentenced to life in prison, but if you import surface to air missiles which could shoot down Air Force One you only get four years? I would be willing to wager that the first device of this type will be detonated not in the United States, but in the state of Israel. It is much closer to the source of the munitions and just as hated. The only thing preventing this perhaps is the proximity of the West Bank and other Arab states to a possible target. Then again religous extremism seldom follows standard logic.
I rarely agree with the current administration, but dedicating billions to help keep nuclear devices and materials safe and secure in the fragmented and economically devastated former Soviet Union is money well spent ... helping keep these dangerous materials secure is something America must be willing to do.
The possibility of a domestic nuclear event seems likely given the vehemence of present day religious extremism. The possibility of a formation of a terrorist confederation is quite likely. Such a union of the various criminal networks could prove quite formidable...
To help counter the threat I would like to see technologically and monetarily enhanced customs and domestic security agencies with broad powers enabling them to halt and search any items entering our country legally or illegally.
I also think that if a person is convicted of illegally importing or attempting to import nuclear materials into the US, the punishment should be capital, being carried out swiftly and publicly.
What an eventful public tv night. First, NOVA hails the rigorous training of military personnel, showing us that, yes, even a woman, can make it into the military elite. After she does, the voiceover reminds us that this woman, and other military personnel, were called in 1998 to duty against the "relentless" Sadaam Hussein -- a nice 19c. narrative that forgets that relentlessness and aggression are American as well as "Eastern."
Then, Frontline exploits a non-event -- the "almost" launch of a missile." Not only is Sadaam out there, it is impled, but so is that old Evil Empire. This time, however, the Empire is evil because it is not technilogically adavanced -- (Where is Microsoft and entrpreneurialism?). The non-event is akin to a exploitative newsshow ridig with a thousand drunk drivers who ALL avert accidents 8 minutes before they take place. To bolster the validity of this "story," Frontline pulls in a bunch of "Former" dignitaries -- only two of which are given political affiliations, i.e., Repub or Demo. The rest are "former" MEN who now work at "institutes" or are retired. These MEN argue over the the implications of this non-story.
A perfect non-story that ollows on the all of the heated nonsensical fears of the (still) evil Russians selling off their armaments to "Eastern" lunatics.
Commercial TV has the X-files and Millenium to instill fear in the public; it's nice to know that PBS can't come up with anything new other than Sadaam and Russia. Who's programming? Ronald Reagan?
I have a bad feeling turning in my stomach. If I was a terrorist--which I'm not-what better time to catch the US off guard than the turn of the century.
Everybody is focused on our Y2K bug, computers going nuts, and the biggest party in history. I'm sure any serious terrorist would love to catch us with our pants down, and humiliate us. I don't find it hard to believe that there are missing bombs but, I'm more worried about irresponsible hands making their own deadly weapons inside the US. The United States is the most powerful country in the world but just like the Romans before us, our overconfidence will lead to our downfall.
Head for the Hills! Parker
We spend billions and billions to stop the Warsaw Pact threat in the early years. Now we must spend billions and billions more to keep threat out of the wrong hands. Seems to me the price of safety will always go up.