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Modification of U.S. Nuke Retaliation Policy-Perhaps the Worst National Security Decision in American History

April 9, 2010


April 8, 2010 - San Francisco, CA - - Attendant to the release this week of the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review [ Declassified fact sheet available here] the president's breathless announcement that he is seeking "a world without nuclear weapons," is just the latest indication that his administration is the least competent manager of U.S. national security in this country's long history.

Of supreme concern however is the intentionally leaked disclosure that the president has severely limited the circumstances under which the United States will mount a nuclear response to an attack.

Regarding that aspect of the policy the New York Times states, "Mr. Obama's new strategy makes just about every nonnuclear state immune from any threat of nuclear retaliation by the United States..." [source,]

We see no evidence that would allow us to conclude otherwise.

What do outside experts with an intimate knowledge of national security matters think about this? Few commentators are more well versed to speak to this issue than John Bolton, who writes:

"The Nuclear Posture Review is deeply troubling in many respects, starting at the conceptual level with its unfounded assertion that the need for American nuclear deterrence has declined. By further unilaterally limiting the circumstances in which the U.S. would use nuclear weapons to protect itself and its allies, the Obama administration is in fact increasing international instability and the risks of future conflicts. By abandoning the reliable replacement warhead project, and drastically limiting programs to ensure the safety and reliability of our existing nuclear stockpile, the president is risking our security and obtaining nothing in return. Nuclear proliferators, as well as countries with chemical and biological weapons programs, can only welcome these further unforced American errors on the road to nuclear impotence." [source,]

Apparently the possibility of a sophisticated biological attack against the United States was a missing component in team Obama's deliberations. We must come to this decision because a bio attack might very well be the most cataclysmic type of weapon that could be used against us, and the possibility of deterring the use of such weapons through the understood inevitability of a massive American nuclear response would seem to be the only reasonable posture for defense planners to take - yet such a policy is not supported by the new Nuclear Posture Review.

This is a massive hole in Obama's national security logic and it places every American citizen at risk.

As a little background on just how serious a biological attack might be, we turn to a bit of recent history - part of the largely untold story behind the Bush administration's feverish hunt for WMDs in Iraq.

As popularly understood, the Iraqi dictator was working feverishly towards producing a nuclear WMD or multiple WMDs and then either delivering them via one of his state agents or, more likely, handing them off to one of the myriad of Islamist terror organizations with which he had working relationships or contacts, thus making determining the origins or any attack hard to trace back to him.

The difficulty with this model is the extraordinary level of engineering required to design and construct a fission weapon. Though "dirty" nuke weapons are far easier to assemble, their threat is far more psychological than physical compared to even an inefficient but working nuclear weapon that goes bang.

Sequestered within the Bush administration's well-intentioned but mangled attempts at explaining why we went to war to topple Saddam lurked the kernel of truth. The most devastating method of attack on the United States wasn't the weapon then that generated the most popular concern playing as it did into the archetype of the upward rising mushroom cloud.

The real threat was biological weapons, of a very specific type, delivered in multiple locations in America.

Indicative of this reality, there are numerous references regarding the search for the infrastructure inside Iraq that might have served to research or produce biological weapons in the Duelfer Report [technically the, Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the DCI on Iraq's WMD, September 30, 2005] that investigation which was so roundly and unfairly assailed by the left and its allies in the media as it became obvious that no stockpile of atomic bombs, ready for deploy existed in Iraq.

That the messenger and the message were both destroyed in this manner left the public groping and susceptible to manipulation and outright fabrication. This despite the fact that there were no claims made by the administration that Iraq had nuclear weapon or was close to producing them and at no time did the Bush team posit their existence as a pretext for regime change in Iraq.

From the Duelfer report:

"Dr. Hazim 'Ali, recruited in July 1990 to lead the development of viral agents, took over the FMDV Plant at Al Dawrah in September of that year, renaming it 'Al Manal'. He commenced work on viruses including hemorrhagic conjunctivis, human rotavirus, and camel pox with a view to weaponization." [source, Duelfer Report, Vol 3, p. 138,]

"Iraq's interest in camel pox and its inclusion in the viral BW program have led ISG to assess that camel pox R&D was a surrogate for smallpox research, analogous to the use of nonpathogenic Bacillus species and Bacillus anthracis. According to Hazim 'Ali, researchers in Iraq's BW program followed the practice of working with particularly pathogenic micro-organisms surrogates to facilitate transition to the actual pathogens. This approach permitted the researcher to familiarize and learn techniques, procedures and processes to increase the safety margin for the researcher and technicians. In Dr. Rihab's own words, Hazim's decision to work with camel pox was because "it was near to smallpox." [source, ibid, p. 155]

Camelpox was chosen as the ideal agent to work with because it was in the same family as smallpox [orthopox], and the techniques needed to handle and propagate it were similar but the risk associated with such work was several orders of magnitude less.

Thus it was much more feasible to develop camelpox in a form that was weaponizable and then substitute smallpox in its place after the methodology had been worked out adequately:

"ISG also visited the building where animal pox vaccines are produced in tissue culture. Their assessment was that as with the Newcastle vaccine unit, the equipment in this building could also be used to produce large amounts of smallpox virus in tissue culture although all equipment present is consistent with the expressed purpose of making animal vaccines".[source, ibid, Vol 3, p. 159]

One of those few setting forth the high risk associated with allowing Saddam's regime to continue towards this kind of capability was Douglas Feith, George W. Bush's Under Secretary of Defense for Policy from July 2001 until August 2005.

Feith's most recent book, "War and Decision," is perhaps the best single source fair assessment of the Iraq war and the thinking of the administration regarding this matter. Below Mr. Feith relates the administration's concerns in a PBS broadcast:

Feith: "Well, I think that the Bush doctrine actually was a somewhat different proposition. The Bush doctrine was a recognition that certain kinds of threats are of the type that we would not be able to know in advance when a country was actually going to attack imminently. And so the standard of waiting for an imminent attack, the upraised knife, that standard was not realistic in a world where countries, for example, could build biological weapons, smallpox weapons, for example, and then launch them on us". [source, interview with Douglas Feith,]

The risk of a biological attack involving smallpox against the United States was so great that almost immediately following 9/11, a full-scale war game was undertaken - complete with a stand-in president Senator Sam Nunn, simulated news broadcasts and other elements to make it realistic- to study the manner in which a smallpox attack might play out domestically, both from an epidemiological and cultural perspective.

This work was detailed in the 2001 work, "Dark Winter - Bioterrorism Simulation Exercise." [Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, DC; Johns Hopkins Center for Civilian Biodefense Studies,]

Thinking about the unthinkable, the simulation bared many unpleasant realities.

"An attack on the United States with biological weapons could threaten vital national security interests. Massive civilian casualties, breakdown in essential institutions, violation of democratic processes, civil disorder, loss of confidence in government and reduced U.S. strategic flexibility abroad are among the ways a biological attack might compromise U.S. security."

All below reference and characterization to the Dark Winter study were sourced at []. This was the actual script that defense planners used to drive the exercise.

Scenario, major assumptions:

"Six months ago, the US lifted sanctions against Iraq and ceased enforcement of the"no-fly zones." Saddam has since pursued an aggressive effort to upgrade military forces and has imported equipment and materials that might be used to build chemical or biological weapons. The Al Daura vaccine plant, near Baghdad, closed by UN inspectors after the Gulf War, renewed full-scale production in 2001. The ostensible justification for this was the preparation of vaccines against Foot & Mouth disease. There are also reports that several top of scientists from the former Soviet bioweapons program began working in Iraq and Iran 1 yr ago."


Saddam has massed his troops on the border between Iraq and Kuwait and with no provocation he once again invades the country.

Many nations, including those in the Middle East request that the U.S. deploy forces in Desert Storm fashion, to repulse the Iraqi attack. As an initial move, the U.S. sends a carrier group into the Gulf and prepares to send the approximately 400,000 troops that would be required to deal with Saddam's aggression.

Not coincidentally, tensions are at the same time also growing between Taiwan and Red China, with many fearing an invasion from the mainland.

At the height of this tension a massive wine flu epidemic breaks out in Taiwan, killing its pig population, decimating its economy. Because of the timing of the outbreak, Red China is widely suspected to be the source.

Within a matter of weeks of the Taiwanese infection, the first cases of smallpox seen since 1949 appear in the United States, operating upon similar logic, Iraq is suspected as the source.

These first cases are reported on December 9, 50 of them in three states, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Oklahoma, where the majority are occurring. Given the 9 day incubation period, the infection is assumed to have started on or about December 1.

Smallpox is highly contagious, there is no natural immunity. There are only 12 million doses of vaccine available in the United States and in order for it to be effective it must be used before symptoms of the disease manifest themselves. Each infection can generate from 13-20 additional cases. Lethality is 30% , i.e., for every three cases, one will prove fatal.

The contagion proceeds rapidly:

December 15 - 2,000 cases in 14 states.

December 22 - 16,000 cases in 25 states.

In less than thirty days the disease careens out of control:

January 20 - 300,000 cases, 100,000 deaths

February 6 3,000,000 cases, 1,000,000 deaths.

In a period of less than two months, the United States as a super power if not destroyed is so weakened that it verges on total destabilization, with martial law brought about by massive civil unrest and destruction of important elements of our infrastructure.

At this point the war game scenario ends and hopefully the real job of formulation of sufficient measures by the DOD, CDC and other governmental agencies to defend against this type of attack start to be formulated and put into place.

Bringing this full circle to the matter at hand we assert that the most effective way to prevent and defend against such an almost unimaginable threat is through deterrence. Since the closing days of World War II the United States' nuclear arsenal has served as the supreme guarantor that this country [and the West by extension] can counter almost any imaginable external threat.

Despite this reality, the amateurs in this administration have apparently now just precluded that possibility.

Team Obama, by taking the option of a nuclear response against non-nuclear states entirely off the table, has placed this country at a level of risk that is historically unprecedented.

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