Washington (AFP) Feb 23, 2002
An undetermined amount of weapons-grade nuclear material has been stolen in post-Communist Russia, heightening concerns that some of it could have ended up in the wrong hands, the US intelligence community has concluded.
The announcement comes amid warnings by top US officials that Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda terrorist network have been making a concerted effort to obtain the know-how and materials to manufacture a crude nuclear or radiological device.
"We also believe that bin Laden was seeking to acquire or develop a nuclear device," Central Intelligence Agency Director George Tenet told Congress earlier this month. "Al-Qaeda may be pursuing a radioactive dispersal device -- what some call a 'dirty bomb.'"
In his testimony, the CIA director refrained from disclosing where al-Qaeda operatives could be shopping for such technology.
But the National Intelligence Council, in its annual report to Congress, made public late Friday, gave a strong warning that despite foreign assistance and its own efforts to heighten security, Russia still represents a serious nuclear proliferation risk.
"Weapons-grade and weapons-usable nuclear materials have been stolen from some Russian institutes," said the council, the collective analytical think tank for the 13 agencies that make up the US intelligence community.
"We assess that undetected smuggling has occurred, although we do not know the extent or magnitude of such thefts," the report said. "Nevertheless, we are concerned about the total amount of material that could have been diverted over the last 10 years."
A total of 23 attempts to steal fissile materials, which can be found in Russia in more than 300 buildings at over 40 locations across the country, were uncovered and thwarted by Russian authorities between 1991 and 1999, according to the document.
The problem remains how many smugglers made off with particles of plutonium or enriched uranium -- a hot commodity on the black market -- without being detected.
"Russian facilities housing nuclear materials typically receive low funding, lack trained security personnel, and do not have sufficient equipment for securely storing nuclear materials," the council said.
The documented cases of nuclear theft in Russia include the disappearance of 1.5 kilograms (3.3 pounds) of 90-percent-enriched weapons-grade uranium from the Luch Production Association in 1992.
In 1994, according to the council, three kilograms (6.6 pounds) of weapons-grade uranium were stolen in Moscow.
Four years later, there was a hair-raising incident at an unnamed nuclear facility in the Chelyabinsk region, in the Ural Mountains, where according to Viktor Yerastov, a top official at the Russian Atomic Energy Ministry, the amount stolen was "quite sufficient ... to produce an atomic bomb."
While admitting that US intelligence could not independently confirm the theft, the National Intelligence Council said the Chelyabinsk case was "of concern."
Four grams (0.14 ounces) of weapons-usable enriched uranium that "likely originated in Russia" was seized in Bulgaria.
Even sites storing nuclear weapons, which are surrounded by layers of security, cannot be seen as problem-free because of drug and discipline problems among the servicemen, and their low pay, the report said.
In May 2000, two students at a training center that prepares guards for nuclear weapons facilities were expelled because they had failed their drug tests.
That same month, the Russian Defense Ministry started using officers instead of enlisted men for guard duty while transporting nuclear warheads because of seven incidents in just one month when sentries had left their posts.
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US To Revamp Aid To Russia To Fight Nuclear Proliferation
Crawford (AFP) Dec 27, 2001
US President George W. Bush, who has warned that chief terror suspect Osama bin Laden seeks nuclear arms, wants to enhance US aid aimed at keeping Russian weapons and know-how from unfriendly hands, the White House said Thursday.
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