Conference on Nuclear, Biological,
Weapons Proliferation and Terrorism
Dr. John M. Deutch, Director, Central Intelligence Agency
May 23, 1996
Senator Domenici, I want to thank you for organizing this conference.
This is the third year in a row that we have participated in this important
and informative conference sponsored by Los Alamos on proliferation
issues. Los Alamos and the other national laboratories -- Livermore
and Sandia -- deserve tremendous credit for their technical and intellectual
leadership in this area.
My task this morning is to set the stage about the threat of proliferation. I share the views expressed by the previous speakers, that proliferation of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons and their potential use by states or terrorists is the most urgent challenge facing the national security, and therefore the intelligence community in the post Cold War world.
Materials and expertise to build chemical and biological weapons are ever more readily available. Nuclear materials and technologies are more accessible today than they have ever been before in history. The likelihood that state or non-state actors will attempt to use weapons of mass destruction against U.S. interests is growing. That seems to be, defined in broad terms, a really dangerous and immediate threat.
I find it interesting that Senator Stevens and Senator Lugar and now myself chose as an example of the challenges we face the Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo and what it did in the subway system in Tokyo. All three of us pick it out as a useful reminder about what almost happened; 12 people died and 5500 were injured, but it could well have been the other way around.
The Sarin nerve agent was used by the cult. As Senator Lugar mentioned, a very small quantity of the nerve agent could create tremendous death and shut down the operation of a city or a government.
Aum Shinrikyo was able to obtain legally all the components it needed to build the chemical infrastructure to produce the nerve agent. The fact that the materials and the technologies for chemical and biological weapons or agent had legitimate use, makes it much more difficult matter to control. They didn't need a massive infrastructure. And again, because of the small quantities involved, a very limited facility can create quite a large amount of damage.
Most interestingly, the point I want to draw to your attention, the cult leader, Shoko Asahara, ordered this capability to be developed in 1993 -- only a year before the attack. So the lead time between intention and getting a useful capability is very short. Terrorists can get biological or chemical agents with expenditure of a small investment in both time and resources.
I begin with this example because it illustrates the tremendous difficulties we face in the areas of chemical and biological weapon threats, either in the hands of states or in the hands of terrorist groups.
Now let me turn to nuclear weapons -- nuclear materials and nuclear technology, nuclear weapons. Actually, I believe this is the less likely choice for terrorists. The risks involved, the resources required to fabricate or steal a nuclear device are much greater, but it's still a possibility we can't ignore. As I mentioned, there is a much greater availability of nuclear materials and technology than ever before. This is largely as a result of one event, and I know you'll be hearing a great deal more about this. We've already heard some of it from Senator Lugar. That is the consequences of the breakup of the former Soviet Union and the deterioration of the control over their nuclear weapons establishment.
The arsenal for that whole nuclear establishment, the complex, is guarded by individuals. It has involved in it technical people with declining discipline, low morale; pay is poor and sometimes doesn't come at all. The security of these research institutions is not adequate, and desperately needs to be upgraded.
Because of the economic strains in the Russian economy and rampant crime and corruption, the possibility for nuclear materials being stolen or sold is on the increase.
Up until now, we have no evidence that any terrorist organization has obtained contraband nuclear strategic, nuclear materials or devices, but I want to stress that it remains a matter of great concern. Because again, a small amount of these materials finding their way into the hands of rogue states or into the hands of terrorist groups could create massive chaos.
The Nunn/Lugar program is a very important program on cooperative threat reduction. It's absolutely essential for our own national security interests and for the interests of the free world in helping improve materials accountability and control in Russia. In that regard, the role of the Department of Energy laboratory system, which understands material control and accountability, is absolutely crucial. We've got to find a way to allow the tremendous technical knowledge from our weapons laboratories to be transferred and used to improve material accountability and control in Russia.
Let me say a word about specific states. There are at least 20 countries that have or may be developing weapons of mass destruction, or ballistic missile delivery systems. The states we are most concerned about are North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Libya, and Syria. Some of these states also sponsor terrorism. So when I mention those states -- they have not only their own activities, but also the activities they may be doing with terrorist groups -- I want to just say a word about each one to give you some texture of the threats that are out there.
Let me begin with North Korea. It has agreed to freeze its plutonium production and to dismantle eventually its plutonium recovery plant and other nuclear facilities. We shall see. But P'yongyang maintains an active chemical weapons program. And despite signing the Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention, it has an active biological weapons program which today is in the early stages of research and development. But it continues apace.
North Koreans are investing heavily in the development of ballistic missiles, and they are certainly interested in exporting those missiles as we have seen in the case of their SCUD model.
We are very concerned about what happens to these missiles as they spread them around the world -- not only because they can deliver a chemical explosive, but because they can also deliver the products of these weapons of mass destruction programs, chemicals and, nuclear and biological weapons.
I can't tell you how strongly I agree with Senator Stevens about the concern with the Taepo Dong missile family which is coming after the SCUD and after the No Dong, Taepo Dong family, which he correctly points out is a threat to our country, to Hawaii and Alaska, and even the continental United States in its growth models.
It is tremendously important that we watch the development of that North Korean threat; watch how they go about exporting these ballistic missiles to other countries; and take the necessary action to meet those threats, in every way we can, as they develop.
Let me next turn to Iran. It is argued that Iran could produce a nuclear weapon by the end of the decade with foreign assistance. It is also spending a large sum on its chemical weapons program. Senator Stevens mentioned that they were involved with Iraq in a very costly chemical war which cost them tens of thousands of lives. They're also making an effort on biological programs, begun in the early '80s, and now in the later stages of research and development.
What about Iraq? Iraq has expertise, hidden components, and a leadership, in case anyone is in doubt, willing to resume chemical, biological, and nuclear production. Iraq has a demonstrated ability, moreover, to deceive UN inspectors.
Libya, my final example, has a nascent nuclear program and a nascent biological program, but we are most concerned about its chemical program which began at the plant Rabta. Now, as my friend Bill Perry mentioned in Cairo two weeks ago, Libya is engaged in the construction of a massive underground chemical production facility in the mountains near Tarhunah. We have a great interest in seeing that this plant never produces toxic chemicals. It is a tremendous example of the kind of challenge we're going to be facing; we are going to have see that that kind of production facility does not happen -- whether it is in Libya or anywhere else.
Finally, let me note that Syria has a chemical warfare program which has been active for at least a decade.
What I've tried to do is to give you a summary, quick sketches of countries. Many of you in the audience know these facts as well as I. But what is my summary judgment about this threat?
First, it is growing.
Secondly, I share Senator Domenici's, as always, wise conclusion that chemical and biological weapons are of more immediate concern than nuclear. But, the proviso I have here is, if things go wrong in Russia, they would have a tremendous change in that. I think we'll hear later, if I can predict, from Graham Allison, about how high on our agenda, how very high on our agenda it should be, to do something about the particular Russian problem of helping them improve materials accountability and control so that we can continue to have a relatively happy state of affairs, and say that chemical and biological are worse than nuclear. The only other conclusion we can move to is saying that nuclear, chemical, and biological are all terrible. So we're looking here at the difference between worse and worser. But I do think chemical and biological are of immediate concern, and that has operational significance for those of you in the audience who care about research and development or production or fielding of equipment that will defend or detect or inform or control, as best we can, these threats.
The next point I would like to make is that it will be both national and terrorist actors who may seek to use these agents of mass destruction. So we have to concern ourselves both with national threats and with terrorist threats.
Finally, international agreements, in my judgment, will slow but will not stop the transfer of relevant materials and technology. While the agreements may be desirable and important in and of themselves, they will not be sufficient to stop some of these trends.
As I mentioned, the nations we are currently most concerned about are Iraq, Iran, Syria, North Korea and Libya.
Let me just conclude, if I could, with a few remarks about what the intelligence community is doing to counter this threat. A great deal. The intelligence community has been concerned with this threat for a number of years.
First, and very importantly, it gathers foreign intelligence to provide timely assessments to policymakers.
Secondly, it supports diplomatic efforts, it supports covert action, it supports military action, when necessary, to meet these threats.
When the threats involve U.S. citizens or action in the U.S., the intelligence community is pledged to work with its law enforcement counterparts. One of the things I'm most pleased about in my year as the Director of Central Intelligence is fostering a structured relationship with the FBI and with other elements of the law enforcement community, new mechanisms which will assure effective cooperation where there are terrorist threats against United States citizens or against the United States itself. Unfortunately, it is by our projections, the community's, that the nature of these threats are growing. So an important element of our intelligence community effort is to build a seamless defense for our citizens against these threats or against U.S. citizens or on U.S. territory. We have begun, in cooperation with other law enforcement agencies, Customs, to work on the arrest and indictment of individuals who are involved in the illegal transfer of precursor chemicals.
Of course there's extremely close cooperation, has been for years, between the intelligence community and the Department of Energy, Department of Defense, in developing technology that bears on the proliferation problem. Here again, I would say that I respect greatly the intelligence community's contributions which were ongoing long before I became Director of Central Intelligence, to helping foster technology in the area of detection. A very important matter.
Let me conclude then by saying the Aum Shinrikyo example illustrates the difficulties that we face. The intelligence community has put this problem at the top of its agenda. What we are here discussing, all of us in I think very similar terms, points to perhaps one of the most encouraging things in this country, that is, when we see a challenge of this type we find a way to work together to make real progress on it. It is a tremendously important matter for our future.
Thank you very much.