The Fire Next Time

Morgan Norval shares with this reviewer one characteristic both of us may soon have cause to regret: We live near Washington, D.C., one of the prime candidates for a major terrorist attack with unconventional weapons in the near future, an attack in which the victims will be numbered in the hundreds of thousands. Among those in the Washington apparat in the best position to know, a growing number talks sotto voce about getting out of town before it is too late.

The wake-up call should have been the World Trade Center bombing in 1993. The meager death toll obscures a key fact that has received insufficient attention: The United States already would have suffered its first acknowledged foreign terrorist strike resulting in mass deaths if the sodium cyanide planted with the conventional bomb had not burned but, as intended, vaporized as cyanide gas.

In April 1995, the Baltimore Sun reported that federal authorities at Los Angeles International Airport had apprehended two Japanese men believed to be members of the Aum Shinri Kyo cult, which shortly before had killed several people (again, far fewer than would have died if the attack had gone off as planned) in a sarin poison gas attack on the Tokyo subway. According to the Sun, the men apprehended at LAX were carrying instructions on how to make sarin and planned to hit Disneyland during one of the fireworks displays on Easter weekend, when the crowd...

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