All Americans, left, right and center want their government to protect them from foreign threats. They want their families to be safe. They don’t want to live in the fear that everything they hold precious their loved ones, their communities, their wife of life could disappear. The trust their elected officials to see this obligation is fulfilled. That trust is often given, not earned — and when our leaders fail us too many simply don’t know.

There are few dangers more devastating than a nuclear weapons attack. If the attack on 9/11 had been a nuclear detonation of equivalent force to the two airplanes and the collapse of the Twin Towers, the explosion would wiped out most of Manhattan. The cost of recovering from 9/11 was almost $400 billion. The cost of recovering from one nuclear attack on a US city might exceed the entire US economy. Even the threat of nuclear attack is enough to harm undermine US foreign policy and America’s ability to protect itself in the dangerous world in which we live.

Yet, after eight years of Obama’s stewardship of America’s nuclear deterrent and missile defenses, Americans will find they have a great deal to be concerned about. Obama has done far too little to ensure US missile defenses outpace the threat. Here is why we should worry.

  • Russian has dramatically expanded and upgraded its nuclear arsenal
  • China has invested massive efforts in hiding the extent and future plans for its nuclear weapons
  • North Korea has made dramatic progress in its missile and nuclear weapons programs.
  • Many experts, Israel and Middle East and European countries don’t believe that the Iran Deal will prevent Tehran from getting nuclear weapons
  • The danger of nuclear proliferation is ever present.

33 minutes is the maximum time it would take a nuclear-tipped missile from the farthest point of the earth to reach the US. It is also the title of our film first released in 2007 to warm Americans of the danger and what our government needed to do protect us. This new version may be America’s final warning, explaining the danger face, how rapidly threats have developed, how little Washington has done — and issuing a clarion call to get it right before it is too late.

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The Emergency Disablement System described below was adopted as a classified nuclear weapon intrusion counter-measure in the mid 1980s. It allows nuclear task force commanders to remotely disable individual weapons or groups of warheads in the event of a terrorist attack or intrusion.

It could also be used as a prototype for all sorts of arms control measures. In the 1970s, the Pentagon briefly considered a program to add the EDS to all deployed systems, but there was little political will to make the change. Commanders didn’t want another complicated electronic system around the warheads that would potentially mess up the nuclear control order … they wanted to be able to launch as soon as possible. But a growing attention to the possibility that the Soviets could use electronic warfare to fry U.S. nuclear electronics and spoof commands to and from launch control centers made the adoption of EDS an imperative.

Here’s the only unclassified document I’ve been able to find about the EDS.

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USA Soccer Players Know Korea Better Than Trump Does



May 31, 2002: USA soccer team visits DMZ from Seoul, South Korea

Donald Trump has been yammering about making South Korea pay for American services.

I doubt he knows anything about South Korea, other than he may have a property there.

In 2002, I accompanied the American soccer team’s visit to the DMZ between South and North Korea, while the team was preparing for the World Cup.

The federation was kind enough to allow journalists covering the team to come along, on a separate bus.

We all walked from a staging area toward the buildings at the border. Officials had told us to dress conservatively — no shorts — and not to wave or smile at people on the other side. They impressed on us that this was serious business.

We had been told of the time in 1976 when North Korean soldiers attacked with axes, killing two American soldiers who were pruning a tree.

Since then, security had been even higher. Soldiers from both Koreas stood a few feet apart, glaring at each other. They worked short shifts, to remain at peak alert.

Behind the South Koreans on the front line were American soldiers, in great shape, well-spoken, the best and the brightest. These were not hired hands, to be withdrawn over a labor dispute. These were warriors, guarding what President Clinton once called “the most dangerous place on earth.”

When we walked back to the buses, we were made aware of barracks where soldiers from South Korea and the United States were waiting, literally seconds from possible combat. These were not hired hands. These were partners, protecting a flourishing democracy, in effect standing guard for much of Asia and the world.

I remember DaMarcus Beasley, one of the most observant of American players, shaking his head and letting us know he had come with no idea what went on there. But now he did.

Everybody heading back to the buses seemed reflective. Some younger Korean journalists told us their parents and teachers had not impressed them about the danger a few miles north.

Anybody with normal learning ability would have come away with the sober awareness of serious forces grinding together. The American presence at the border was not some hotel deal to be re-negotiated, in Trumpian fashion.

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The Nuclear Threat

Today, the Public Institute for Integrity released an investigation on three separate seizures of nuclear material in Chisinau, Moldova. The report was brilliant and inspired me to write an article on the much overlooked threat that nuclear weapons pose to us today. In summary, the paper stated how through nuclear forensics, they have determined that the three separate seizures of nuclear material, each containing ten kilograms of highly enriched uranium, have been attributed to the same Russian military facility and they are relatively certain have the same buyer.

Let’s think about that for a second. They have caught three separate attempts, all containing ten kilograms of highly enriched uranium, within sixteen years of each other. First off, if there have been three seizures, all within sixteen years, it is at least probable they were successful once. Secondly, if there have been three seizures, all within sixteen years, all from the same source, it is more than probable this source is still available to provide the material for further attempts.

Let’s assume for argument’s sake the government of Moldova was successful in apprehending 75% of the attempts and one ten kilogram cylinder of highly enriched uranium is still out there. That would mean whoever is in control of this cylinder has the potential to create a sophisticated implosion nuclear weapon the size of the one used in China’s first nuclear test in 1964, capable of yielding 22 kilotons of force. If a bomb like this were set off in the Verizon Center in DC, it would have the potential to decimate the White House, Supreme Court, Washington Monument, Capitol Building and the Library of Congress.

More frightening, this specific case is by no means the only one. According to the International Atomic Energy Association, there are over 20 reports of theft or loss of nuclear material every year. Almost every case has concluded that the perpetrator had the intent to sell.

It wouldn’t be that difficult for a potential terrorist to assemble a bomb either. The information on how to build a nuclear weapon is widely available to pretty much anyone and it only takes your average welder to put the pieces together. The New America Foundation’s Jeffrey G Lewis estimates it cost about $1.4 million to cover parts, pay, and facilities. To put that seemingly large number in perspective, CNN estimates that ISIS makes about 1 to 2 million dollars from oil alone per day.

It is pretty obvious terrorist organizations are interested in nukes as well. It is known that Al-Qaeda has attempted to buy nuclear material. In 1993, Al-Qaeda attempted to purchase Uranium in Sudan with the alleged assistance of former Sudanese president, Saleh Mobruk, only to find that they had been scammed. Then, in 1998, Osama Bin-Laden said in an interview with the Times, “Acquiring [Weapons of Mass Destruction] in the defense of Muslims was a religious duty,” and had met with Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood and Abdul Majid Nuclear, two scientists from the IAEA and Pakistan’s nuclear program. In court, Mahmood said that he had drawn a model of an Improvised Nuclear Device and told Bin-Laden that it would be hard to find weapons-grade material. Bin-Laden reportedly replied, quite chillingly, “What if I already have them?”

If Al-Qaeda can do it, other groups with similar ambitions such as ISIS and Boko Haram may as well. Many people look at nuclear weapons as a fact of the modern geopolitical climate with mutually assured destruction, helping to keep peace between superpowers. It doesn’t have to be this way. We’ve seen cooperation between leaders such as Gorbachev and Reagan who reduced their nuclear stockpiles by 50 percent work when their nation’s tensions were as high as ever with the imminent threat of nuclear war. If they could do it then, the international community can definitely do it now. Although it may seem the risk of a nuclear attack is low, in the words of Nobel Prize winning physicist Murray Gell-Man, “What is not forbidden is compulsory,” and if we do not eliminate the possibility of a nuclear attack, it will become just that.

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The Nuclear Codes Come With Big Challenges For Clinton Or Trump

Whatever your take on the presidential race, Tuesday’s primary results make it all but certain that, come January, President Obama will hand over the keys to the White House — and the nuclear codes — to Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.

Both presumptive nominees have expressed deep concern about the nuclear threat. With more than 15,000 nuclear weapons in the world, rising tensions among nuclear-armed countries, extravagant investment in a new generation of these weapons, and the evolving specter of nuclear terrorism — the risks of a catastrophe are reaching unprecedented heights. It’s little wonder the Doomsday Clock hovers at three minutes to midnight.

In a historic address at Hiroshima’s ground zero, the President called for a “moral revolution” on nuclear weapons and urged us to find “the courage to escape the logic of fear and pursue a world without them.” Charting that escape will be up to his successor. Given the magnitude of the potential loss and increasingly bad odds, whoever emerges victorious in November will be in a race against time.

Here are some of the challenges they will inherit on day one:

As world leaders gathered in New York City for the Nuclear Nonproliferation Review Conference, Global Zero activists projected a stark warning about the nuclear threat on the face of the United Nations Headquarters.

Stalled Arms Control

Thanks to a potent mix of inertia, international tensions and domestic politicking, the arcane and incremental process for nuclear arms control has ground to a halt. Within this system there are several key next steps, including the Fissile Materials Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT) to end the production of explosive nuclear materials, ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) banning nuclear chain reactions in weapons testing, and a follow-on treaty to the New START agreement for bilateral U.S.-Russian nuclear arms cuts. For now, these pathways are blocked.

There are calls from non-nuclear countries to sidestep this stalemate and ban the weapons outright, without the participation of the governments that cling to them as the cornerstone of security. Where that approach is going remains unclear, and its potential impact on the policies of nuclear-armed states even more so. But like it or not, the risks will continue to rise while the Nuclear Have-Nots discuss norms amongst themselves and the Haves don’t come to the table.

Regional Crises

In the international arena, what little political will there is to spare for nuclear concerns is consumed by intractable conflicts and transient crises among nuclear-armed states and their allies. Pakistan and India; India and China; Israel and Palestine; North Korea and, well, most everybody. Any of these disputes can metastasize into military confrontations that escalate to nuclear brinksmanship and beyond. Over the last two years, 327 military incidents were recorded between nuclear-armed states — a third of them deemed “high risk” or “provocative.”

Of particular concern are rising tensions between Russia and the West. Close encounters have spiked dramatically: Just last year, NATO intercepted Russian aircraft more than 100 times. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has openly discussed the possibility of nuclearizing the Crimean peninsula, rhetoric matched in the U.S. by Senators Mike Rogers and Mike Turner, both of whom called on President Obama to forward-deploy nuclear weapons in Eastern Europe.

Here, the nuclear gamble is dramatically compounded by the fact that the United States and Russia still operate with Cold War-era “hair-trigger” postures that expose the world to unacceptable risk. As you read this, nearly 2,000 nuclear weapons are fueled, armed, targeted and ready to launch upon receipt of a short burst of computer signals. They can hit their target cities in 30 minutes or less. We’re one wrong move away from our last half-hour — and the opportunities for mistakes are on the rise.

Nuclear Spending Sprees

Against this volatile backdrop, all of the nuclear-armed countries are investing lavishly, or planning to do so, in developing a new generation of nuclear weapons, expanding their arsenals and/or making them more responsive.

In 2011, Global Zero estimated that worldwide nuclear weapons spending would exceed $1 trillion over the next ten years. That forecast came at a rosier time for disarmament, fresh off New START and well into the ill-starred “Russian reset.” We did not imagine then that just three years later President Putin would invade Ukraine and upend the security paradigm in Europe. Nor could we have predicted that President Obama — the man who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his commitment to pursue the elimination of these weapons — would embark on a $1 trillion spending spree of his own, one that threatens to lock in a new nuclear arms race.

The prioritization of arsenals over arms control is pronounced. Russia is increasing the role of road-mobile missiles and is doubling the share of intercontinental ballistic missiles equipped with multiple warheads (from 35% to 70%). The Chinese are deploying strategic submarines, land-mobile rockets and early-warning systems that can support dangerous high-alert postures. India and Israel are making similar moves to operationalize their arsenals and command systems for rapid response. North Korea, under an impulsive dictator, continues to hammer away at its own nuclear weapons capability while ratcheting up threats of pre-emptive nuclear attack. And Pakistan is on track to double its arsenal over the next five years, including development of so-called “tactical” nuclear weapons for use on the battlefield (this is, perhaps, a too-fine distinction: when a nuclear weapon goes off, nobody will stop to ask what kind it was).

Terrorism and Cyber Threats

Meanwhile, there are other dangerous new players on the board. Violent extremists — better funded and more organized than ever — are working every day to buy, build or steal a nuclear weapon. It is too tempting a prize for a collective of killers bent on brutality and mayhem. Whether as a crudely built design or as a stolen warhead, one “small” 10-kiloton nuclear bomb smuggled into a major city and detonated could instantly kill hundreds of thousands. Recent attacks in Paris, Istanbul, Beirut and Brussels will look like child’s play in comparison.

New concerns have also emerged over the cyber vulnerabilities of nuclear command and control and missiles on hair-trigger alert. Could state-sponsored hackers — or their non-state counterparts — manipulate early warning networks into reporting fake warnings that provoke all-too-real reactions? Can such hackers breach defenses and transmit orders to launch crews or even to the weapons themselves? What if an insider colluded with them to provide access and passwords to the launch circuitry? According to General James E. Cartwright, who until recently commanded all U.S. nuclear forces, we cannot confidently rule out any of these scenarios.

The Road Ahead

This is all certainly cause for alarm — but not despair. The news isn’t all bad.

Young and politically powerful constituencies are emerging as new champions for global zero — and they’re getting the presidential candidates’ attention. At home and abroad, financial reality and austerity budgeting could apply downward pressure on nuclear arsenals. The view that nuclear weapons pose unacceptable risks is gaining among governments worldwide. And we on the heels of a breakthrough with Iran.

The Iran deal is particularly significant. A few short years ago, it was conventional wisdom that Iran would never agree to forgo weapons of mass destruction. We know now that the skeptics were wrong. Then, as now, the challenges weren’t insurmountable — they were political. They ultimately unraveled when met by a focused American president who marshaled the power of international leadership, diplomacy, and pressure.

That’s a formidable model fit for scaling up.

Whatever the outcome of Election Day, it’s hard to envy the winner. The world is strained and fractured, and the weapons once relied on for stability now offer only liability and risk. The next president is more likely than any predecessor since the dawn of the atomic age to witness — or precipitate — the use of nuclear weapons.

Navigating these challenges and averting this nightmare scenario will take an all-in approach — and the Clock is ticking.

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