From Newsweek’s Declassified blog. There’s no question that Al Qaeda and its partners have shown interest in atomic weapons. There’s also little doubt that they’ve tried to get one, and even consulted with experts on how to design and build them. And based on the public statements and private expressions of interest of Osama bin Laden and his cohorts, there’s no question at all that if they had a nuclear device, they’d use it.
But even as this week’s nuclear summit in Washington underscores the need for tighter safeguards, current and former U.S. intelligence and nuclear-security officials believe terrorists remain years away from acquiring or building an atomic bomb. While there have been documented cases as recently as last month of criminal elements acquiring and attempting to smuggle the kind of fissile material that could be used to make a nuclear weapon, current and former officials say there’s no evidence that any terrorist entity has come close to getting their hands on enough plutonium or highly enriched uranium to actually build one. And yet those experts also say intelligence on the nuclear underground is so fragmentary that a nuclear-terrorism threat could materialize almost without warning.