Remember the good old days when we had thousands of Soviet nuclear-tipped missiles pointed at us? Looking back, it wasn’t too hard living with the Machiavellian strategy of mutually assured destruction that kept both superpowers from pushing their doomsday buttons: Vacationing in sunny Florida sure beat surviving a nuclear winter.

The Sovs might be history, but their nuclear missiles are still around – without their well-trained Soviet security forces. Today, thousands of warheads are stored in run-down depots devoid of electric power because the Russian military’s too broke to pay the bills.

A recent report notes that the front gates of some of these “nuclear storage facilities” are secured by flimsy bicycle locks and patrolled by guards more into vodka than vigilance, and who are so poorly paid they’d sell anything on site to the highest bidder.

Russian and U.S. intelligence have both reported that since the end of the Cold War, at least 164 highly transportable former Soviet nuclear warheads have gone south. A retired Soviet general and a former defense minister confirmed this report.

A federal report stated that nearly two years ago, “Bin Laden allegedly has already purchased a number of nuclear suitcase bombs from the Chechen Mafia.” In addition, there’ve been numerous busts of smugglers moving nuke devices or weapons-grade material in Europe, the former Soviet Union republics and Southwest Asia.

The same federal report said, “Following the August 1998 (U.S.) Cruise missile attack, (an Islamic religious leader) stated ‘the time is not far off’ when the White House will be destroyed by a nuclear bomb. A horrendous scenario consonant with al-Qaida’s mind-set would be its use of a nuclear suitcase bomb against any number of targets in the nation’s capital.”

Even our CIA, with a track record that’s recently been worse than a three-legged plug’s at the Kentucky Derby, fears the missing nukes are probably in the hands of Osama bin Laden or other international terrorist types who’ve sworn on stacks of Korans to destroy the Great Satan – aka you-know-who. No big stretch, since everyone gets that weapons of mass destruction have been at the top of al-Qaida’s shopping list for at least several years.

I’ve been on my soapbox preaching about such a strike for more than a decade. Now in the movie, “The Sum of All Fears,” Hollywood portrays the worst-case scenario I’ve been worrying about if a nuclear weapon were to fall into the wrong hands. This frighteningly prescient flick was in the works long before Sept. 11. Swap “crazed South Africans who hate the USA” for “crazed Muslim terrorists who share their passion,” stick a nuke device in a pickup truck, and we’re talking “Sum’s” scary story line.

The possibility of a nuclear, bio or chemical attack on the USA increases with the passing of each day. For example, more than 6 million cargo containers arrive annually in our ports, and less than 2 percent are physically inspected. Terrorists could easily bring in not just the entire 164 missing A-bombs, but a mini-nuclear factory to set up across from the White House – or in an apartment building near you!

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., must have also previewed the movie, since he recently started the ball rolling to install state-of-the-art radiation detectors on a high-priority basis at all U.S. border crossings and on all cranes that move cargo containers at U.S. ports. These sophisticated new detectors can both spot nukes through truck and container walls and recognize the difference between radiation from weapons and other types of radiation sources.

Homeland Security analyst Paul Purcell, who wants to go one step further, calls for the setting up of “offshore inspection sites to check ships out before they enter our ports.” He’s dead right when he says, “You don’t screen airline passengers for weapons after they have already boarded the aircraft, and it’s too late if you inspect ships sitting in our ports waiting to go boom.”

Washington has to get off its slow-moving bureaucratic butt before art anticipates reality and we find ourselves knocked flat and radiated by the fanatics who aim to destroy this great land and all it stands for.

Bet on it – in this long war against international terrorism, the possibility of ending up fried and glowing for 250,000 years is not just a Paramount Pictures fantasy.

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