Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the world landscape of trust and stability has dramatically changed. Instead of a Cold War or threat of confrontation between two superpowers, countries around the world have had to brace for the possibility of deadly attacks from terrorists that could result in a scenario, such as the World Trade Center tragedy. Renowned author Tom Clancy visits such an attack in his New York Times bestseller The Sum of All Fears. He is executive producer on the May 31 release of the film from Paramount Pictures, starring Academy Award-winner Ben Affleck and three-time Academy Award nominee Morgan Freeman. Interestingly, the book was published in 1991 before any such attack, as that on the World Trade Center, was thought possible. Eerily prescient in the current political climate, the movie depicts a terrorist attack on U.S. soil with the use of a weapon of mass destruction. How likely is this? Could elements needed for such an attack get smuggled into the U.S. undetected, or could these components already be here and available to enemy cells?
Popular Science takes a look at the above mentioned possibilities in interviews with Chase Brandon (CIA), Chief Charles E. Davis (Dept. of Defense), Mace Neufeld (Producer of The Sum of All Fears), Phil Alden Robinson (director), Stratton Leopold (executive producer) and Al Di Sarro (special effects coordinator).
Because accuracy and realism were vital to the telling of The Sum of All Fears, the producers sought out military and government officials to advise them on the film. Among those most helpful to the production was Air Force liaison Chief Charles E. Davis, the Department of Defense project officer assigned to the film.
"We were delighted when asked by the production company to provide assistance," says Davis. "We worked closely with the producers and director to identify their needs and then offer our recommendations on how those needs could best be met."
Though national security has heightened over the last year, the U.S. is an open and economically efficient society where many goods, services and people come in to the United States every hour. Says Chase Brandon, 30-year veteran at the CIA and technical advisor to the movie, "While security procedures at U.S. points of entry have steadily increased, the simple underlying fact is we are a nation that demands convenience, and for every new procedure we put into place it is still easy to move things in, whether in big boxes, little boxes, people, or containers."
According to the CIA, at least 20 countries already have or may be developing weapons of mass destruction. Since the Cold War ended, it has been determined that at least 164 transportable devices are missing from the ex-Soviet Union's stockpile of explosives. It would only take one of those to have devastating results. This lack of accountability might allow for the next, and most severe, attack imaginable. "Getting portable and other explosive devices into the U.S. undetected is certainly not impossible. Extraordinary acts of terrorism are always a threat. The rules have changed from when we didn't think this could happen to now we expect it to happen. If these devices exist they can be obtained and used. We need to take advanced steps to diffuse the situation before it happens," says Brandon.