Al Qaeda’s primary threat is nuclear, book says

Times Staff Writer

The main threat posed by Al Qaeda lies in its quest to obtain a nuclear bomb, former CIA Director George J. Tenet writes in his new book.

In “At the Center of the Storm,” Tenet writes at some length about Al Qaeda’s attempts to obtain or develop a nuclear weapon.

“I am convinced that this is where [Osama bin Laden] and his operatives desperately want to go,” Tenet writes. “They understand that bombings by cars, trucks, trains and planes will get them some headlines, to be sure. But if they manage to set off a mushroom cloud, they will make history.”


Tenet details several attempts by the CIA to prevent Al Qaeda from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Just weeks before the Sept. 11 attacks, a Pakistani organization, Ummah Tameer-e-Nau, or UTN, had met in Afghanistan with Bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman Zawahiri, to discuss how Al Qaeda “should go about building a nuclear device,” the CIA was told.

Tenet also sketches out details of an attempt by Al Qaeda leaders in Saudi Arabia to buy what he described as three black-market Russian nuclear devices in 2002 and 2003.

And in early 2003, Al Qaeda canceled a planned cyanide attack on the New York City subway, Tenet writes. Zawahiri recalled the operatives in New York because “we have something better in mind.”

Tenet writes that the CIA still does not know exactly what Zawahiri meant but adds that the cyanide attack “was not sufficiently inspiring” for Al Qaeda, suggesting the network wants to strike the U.S. with a nuclear bomb.