Washington, March 21 (RFE/RL) - Conditions in Russia have
increased the danger that materials used to build nuclear weapons
will fall into the hands of terrorists or governments bent on
aggression, U.S. Central Intelligence Agency director John Deutch
"The diversion threat is real," Deutch told a panel of U.S.
senators. "There are serious customers for strategic nuclear
materials who are up to no good."
The Senate's Governmental Affairs Committee began hearings last
week into the issue of the danger posed to the United States by
nuclear weapons material stored in Russia.
A Harvard University study group report issued last week warned that
it was becoming increasingly difficult for the Russian Government to
protect the plutonium and enriched uranium extracted from the
warheads of former Soviet nuclear weapons.
Another report issued by the U.S. Government's General Accounting
Office said there are 1,400 metric tons of nuclear materials stored
in Russia and that this material is a tempting target for
international terrorists, organized crime and so-called "rogue"
nations wanting to build atomic weapons.
Russia has made a number of efforts to control its nuclear weapons
and nuclear material stockpile, Deutch said. He said most of the
weapons the Soviet Union had deployed in Belarus, Kazakhstan and
Ukraine have been returned to Russia for dismantling. He says some
progress has been made in improving the security facilities in the
Russian nuclear weapons complex.
"However, due to severe resource shortages, the Russian nuclear
weapons complex is deteriorating, and it continues to be a serious
threat for diversion of nuclear technology and materials to other
proliferating countries in the world," Deutch said.
He said that Russia does not have the resources allocated to
maintaining security at their weapons complex.
Deutch said that obtaining enough strategic nuclear materials to
make an explosive device "is the central hurdle" for groups or
nations which want to build a nuclear weapon.
He says the CIA believes that "several nations at one time or
another have explored the possibility of purchasing strategic nuclear
materials as the simplest and quickest and cheapest way to acquiring
nuclear weapons capability."
Prominent examples, Deutch said, include Iran and Iraq, and
North Korea and Libya. For terrorists, he said, "the only practical
way to acquire nuclear weapons is either to steal or purchase a
device, or to purchase the strategic nuclear materials," and then
make the bomb.
The intelligence agency chief said the threat should not be
minimized or denied, and he said that the time to do something is now.
"If a significant act of diversion occurs ... we will face a crisis
of enormous proportions," Deutch said. He added that it would cost
significantly more to react to a theft than it would to prevent one.
"In some sense, making these efforts today is insurance about having
to make much larger and much more dangerous resource commitments in
the future," he said.
Deutch said everything possible must be done to reduce the materials
stockpile. He said the U.S. should also continue its program of
financial assistance to Russia to help it dismantle nuclear weapons
and store the materials safely. Finally, he says, the U.S. must help
the Russians improve the protection and control of nuclear