Council Scholar Michael Levi Dissects Nuclear Plots and Proposes New Defensive Strategies in New Book

November 2, 2007 5:57 pm (EST)

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With the new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, Michael A. Levi’s new book, On Nuclear Terrorism, reminds us that we need to broadly rethink our strategy when faced with nuclear terrorism. He takes us inside nuclear terrorism and behind the decisions a terrorist leader would be faced with in pursuing a nuclear plot. Levi identifies the many obstacles, large and small, that such a terrorist scheme might encounter, allowing him to discover a host of ways that any plan might be foiled.

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Surveying the broad universe of plots and defenses, this accessible book shows how a wide-ranging defense can multiply, intensify, and compound the possibility that nuclear terrorists will fail. Levi draws from the United States’s long experience with terrorism and cautions not to focus on the most harrowing, yet most improbable, nuclear threats. Nuclear terrorism shares much in common with other terrorist threats and as a result, he argues, a smart strategy for defeating it needs to draw carefully and creatively from across the full spectrum of counterterrorism and homeland security tools.

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 Advance Praise for On Nuclear Terrorism

“Michael Levi presents a strong case for why we need to do everything we can to keep the world’s most dangerous weapons and materials out of the hands of the world’s most dangerous people.  He focuses on the broad range of today’s nuclear threats and provides unique insights into how terrorist groups work.  He also makes important specific recommendations to address these dangers—the most critical security issue facing our nation and the world.”
—  Sam Nunn, Former U.S. Senator and Co-Chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative

“Michael Levi shows that defending against nuclear terrorism requires confronting every aspect of a terrorist plot. Thoroughly researched, thoughtfully argued, and well written, On Nuclear Terrorism examines the most important security problem the world faces today.”
William J. Perry, Former Secretary of Defense and Professor, Stanford University

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“This is serious stuff. If you want to know how a terrorist organization might manage to mount a nuclear attack—or how to stop them—you need to read this book.”
— Thomas C. Schelling, 2005 Nobel Laureate in Economics

“Levi’s is the most comprehensive, up-to-date, and technically informed treatment of nuclear terrorism. This important book makes a big contribution to public understanding and to public policy on nuclear terrorism, which might yet – despite the daunting odds— prevent it from ever happening.”
— Ashton B. Carter, Former Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy and Professor, Harvard University

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“This book offers the best insights for a coordinated defense against nuclear terrorism I have seen, as well as a perceptive survey of the opportunities and difficulties nuclear terrorists would face. Well written and carefully researched, it is a must for every counterterrorism planner as well as for any interested citizen.”
— Michael M. May, Former Director, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Professor Emeritus, Stanford University

“Avoiding the tone of imminent doom that pervades most current discussions about nuclear terrorism, Michael Levi provides a comprehensive and comprehensible analysis of the subject. He punctures the mushroom cloud of mythology and challenges many of the assertions about how easy it would be for terrorists to fabricate and deliver a nuclear weapon. He then outlines an integrated defense strategy from prevention to detection to mitigation. This should become the basic reference for nuclear terrorism. Recommended for anyone interested in the topic. Mandatory for policymakers.”
— Brian M. Jenkins, Senior Advisor to the President of the RAND Corporation


Michael A. Levi is a Fellow for Science and Technology, and the Director of the Program on Energy Security and Climate Change at the Council on Foreign Relations.  His work focuses on weapons of mass destruction, homeland security, arms control and proliferation.  Prior to joing the Council, Levi was a science and technology fellow in foreign policy studies at The Brookings Institution and director of the Federation of American Scientists’s flagship Strategic Security Project. He has been a technical consultant to the critically acclaimed television program “24.”


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