Nuclear Terrorism and Countermeasures
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. CURT WELDON, A REPRESENTATIVE FROM PENNSYLVANIA, CHAIRMAN, MILITARY RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT SUBCOMMITTEE
Mr. WELDON. The Research and Development Subcommittee will come to order.
Let me start by apologizing to our witnesses as well as to the general public for the delay in the start of this hearing. Unfortunately, the House is tied up in procedural votes, and so Members are tied up on the House floor. If I have to, I will miss some votes to get the hearing started.
My colleague, Owen Pickett, who is the ranking member, was here, and went back over to vote. I would normally not start this hearing until he arrived, but I think he will understand.
In deference to our witnesses, who have very busy schedules also, we are going to begin the hearing and attempt to keep it going, hopefully as continuously as possible, and hopefully this parliamentary process will die down and we will be able to have an informed hearing.
This afternoon, the subcommittee meets in open session to receive testimony on nuclear terrorism and steps that the United States Government has taken to guard against this threat. We have a very distinguished group of witnesses. This will be the first in a series of hearings that will continue tomorrow morning with an individual flying over at this very hour from Russia who will testify to the statements made by General Lebed and by his own statements in the Russian media, Alexei Yablokov, who is one of the most respected environmental leaders in the former Soviet Union.
Following that, in late October, we will have another hearing where General Lebed, who accepted my invitation, will appear before this committee, and he himself will testify to hearings he made to me in May in Moscow.
As we all know, the motion picture ”Peacemaker” just opened in hundreds of movie theaters across the country this past week. This ”Peacemaker” film was the first film from Dreamworks, the joint effort of Steven Spielberg, David Geffen, and Jeffrey Katzenberg. It is somewhat ironic to me that Steven Spielberg, David Geffen, and Jeffrey Katzenberg may have done more this past weekend to alert Americans of the real dangers of nuclear terrorism than our President, Vice President, and the entire administration has done in the past 4 1/2 years.
It is also interesting that as we move through the process of today’s hearing, we will hear, I think, some very startling information about the need for this administration and this Congress, which is also not without fault in the past, to get together in a bipartisan way to work on the issue of helping to stabilize Russia, stabilize their control of nuclear material, and to work together to provide additional funds for programs like the Nunn-Lugar program as well as other joint efforts with Russia to control and guarantee the stability of their nuclear stockpile and their tactical and strategic weapons.
Now, ”Peacemaker” is entertaining fiction, but it is also a disturbing case of art imitating life. Many of the premises of the motion picture are based on grim realities. Corruption and organized crime in the Russian military is a growing problem, and we will hear about that today. It is reaching such proportions that the security of Russian nuclear weapons and materials could well be threatened.
Just yesterday, the Center for Strategic and International Studies released a substantial report concluding that the spread of organized crime in the military raises ”the prospect of strategic nuclear armed missile systems in the hands of a disintegrating military subject to criminal control.”
Indeed, Aleksandr Lebed, the former Presidential candidate and Secretary of the Soviet Security Council, recently alleged that terrorists may already be in possession of Russian nuclear weapons. The first time we learned about these stray devices was on May 30, when Lebed made these comments to me and a congressional delegation I led to Moscow, not for the purpose, by the way, of meeting with him, but to continue our new institutional exchange program with members of the Russian Duma.
Lebed told us while still operating in his capacity as Secretary of the Russian Security Council, he had conducted a study of the Russian military accounting for its nuclear weapons, specifically suitcase-sized nuclear devices, and had found that the military had lost track of approximately 84 suitcase-sized nuclear bombs, any one of which could kill up to 100,000 people with a capacity of 1 kiloton.
In the U.S. television interview subsequent to that meeting, aired on September 7, General Lebed said he now believes the number of missing nuclear weapons to be more than 100. He said the devices were the perfect terrorist weapon, as the small nuclear bombs were made to look like suitcases and could be detonated by one person with less than 30 minutes preparation.
Now, Lebed’s allegations have been vehemently denied by the Russian Government. In fact, I met with Kokoshin, the Deputy Defense Minister the day after our meeting with General Lebed, and he denied emphatically that General Lebed knew of what he was talking about. I also met that same day with General Manilov, who is No. 2 in the command staff.
Moscow has even asserted in more recent days, and I have copies of these articles that I will enter into the record, that nuclear weapons of this type described by Lebed never existed, an erroneous claim that does not help the credibility of Moscow’s denials.
Mr. WELDON. I will also enter into the record today articles from Russian periodicals, 1993 and 1995, where specific details describing these devices were placed on the record in the Russian media, and I will place those articles in the record.
Mr. WELDON. And we will also talk about some incidents that we know of where the Russians were as fearful of the potential of one of these devices being in the hands of dissidents in Chechnya as were we, and in fact took actions with our security communities to see whether or not the allegations by the Chechnyian leaders were in fact true.
It does no one any good for Russia to deny reality and the existence of these devices. Russian special forces are known to possess atomic demolition munitions, ADM’s, small man-portable nuclear weapons that could be concealed in a backpack or a suitcase.
Nor is Moscow’s credibility helped by its poor record of veracity and transparency on other issues, such as the purpose of the vast underground complex currently being constructed under Yamantau Mountain, which I have raised repeatedly with the highest levels of the Moscow leadership, including President Yeltsin himself, and in a three page letter I sent to him in July in Russian, which I received no response to, as well as Moscow’s dissembling on its assistance to Iran and Iraq’s ballistic missile programs.
More credible Lebed critics are former Russian Defense Minister Igor Rodionov and Duma defense committee chairman, Lev Rohklin, who are no fans of the Yeltsin government and who have been as vocal as Lebed about the nuclear security risks that attended the disintegration of the Russian military.
Igor Rodionov and Lev Rohklin deny that any Russian nuclear weapons are missing. On the other hand, they are Lebed’s political rivals, and they may hope by undermining Lebed’s credibility, they will injure the popular ex-general’s chances to win the next Presidential election.
Make no mistake about it, I am not about interfering in Russia’s elections, but I am about getting the facts and the information that is important to the security of the Russian people, our people, our troops, and our allies around the world.
Lebed’s former deputy on the Russian Security Council, Vladimir Denisov, affirms Lebed’s claim about missing Russian nuclear weapons.
The leakage of nuclear materials and nuclear ammunition components is not a new theme, but it became especially topical during hostilities in Chechnya. There was no certainty that no low yield nuclear ammunition remained on the territory of Ukraine, Georgia or the Baltic countries, or that such weapons had not appeared in Chechnya.
Dr. Alexei Yablokov, former environmental advisor on the Security Council to President Yeltsin, and who will be here tomorrow morning for our hearing, and a respected member of the Russian Federation Academy of Scientists, said he personally knew people who manufactured the suitcase nuclear bombs that Moscow now claims have never existed, and in fact I entered those articles into the record as recently as 2 days ago.
Yablokov was interviewed in Russian media and on Russian TV, and he said, ”I knew the people who manufactured these devices and they told me they were being manufactured for the KGB.” Dr. Yablokov will be here tomorrow.
So the bottom line is that no one in the West and few in Russia know whether Lebed is telling the truth or even if he would be able to tell the truth and would know the whereabouts of these devices.
Dozens of small nuclear weapons, ideal for terrorist use, may have fallen into the wrong hands, or perhaps not. The important point is that crime, corruption, incompetence, and institutional disintegration are so advanced in Russia that the theft of nuclear weapons, unthinkable in the Soviet era of the cold war, seems entirely plausible in the Russia of today. The mere possibility that terrorists or rogue states may have acquired some Russian nuclear weapons should be a matter of the gravest concern to the governments and the people of the West.
Another reality captured in the movie ”Peacemaker” is we are not helpless in the face of nuclear terrorism. The movie portrays nuclear emergency search teams springing into action to save New York from a terrorist nuclear weapon. NEST teams prepared to combat nuclear terrorism actually exist, and we shall hear more about them today.
Whether the happy ending portrayed in ”Peacemaker” would, in fact, be the likely outcome of an actual nuclear terrorist event is highly problematical. We can and should and will do more to combat the threat of nuclear terrorism, and we should do it in a bipartisan way, working with the Congress and the administration to deal with this very serious problem.
I pledge as the chairman of this subcommittee to make sure that in fact happens. Hopefully the suggestions that come out of today’s hearings and tomorrow’s hearings and the hearings in late October will give us some solutions that we can pursue with Russia, not to antagonize Russia, but to work with them to solve this very difficult problem.
Let me say before I introduce our witnesses who are here today, as many in this room know, I am not one who takes pleasure or satisfaction in trying to back the Russian people into a corner. I spent as much time working in a positive way on Russian cooperative programs as any member of this institution.
Six years ago the Energy Caucus was formed with Russia, and I chaired it and formed it and chair it today. Three years ago the environmental initiative with their Duma and our Congress to work on problems of nuclear waste in the Arctic, the dumping of nuclear waste and the solutions we can provide through our Navy to assist the Russians.
Twice this year I have been in Moscow proposing a new multibillion dollar housing mortgage program to allow the Russian middle class to be able to buy homes and to be able to afford those homes at interest rates below 10 percent for up to 30-year time periods.
I chair the Russian Duma-American Congress study group that works to develop solid relations between our countries. I work every day to improve our relations. In fact, in this year’s defense bill, I fought hard to include money for joint Russian-American missile defense cooperation, such as the Ramos project, which now has formally been approved.
But ignoring reality, which is my contention of what this administration has done continuously for the past 5 years, in arms control violations, in denying that there is in fact a threat from a disintegrated Soviet Union, and in some cases deliberately distorting and sanitizing intelligence information, has absolutely caused us to be where we are today, and that is outrageous. That is just as outrageous as a conservative on my side who wants to be paint Russia into a corner as the ”evil empire,” because that also is totally untrue.
Joining us today to provide their insights are three panels of expert witnesses. On our first panel are Jessica Stern, former Director of Russian, Ukrainian, and Eurasian Affairs on the National Security Council; and Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, Director of the Office of Emergency Response Defense Programs at the Department of Energy.
Ms. Stern, who dealt with issues of Russian nuclear security and proliferation while serving on the NSC, is the inspiration for the character played by Nicole Kidman in ”Peacemaker.” Today, if a terrorist event such as portrayed in ”Peacemaker” were to actually occur, Ms. Gordon-Hagerty would be doing Nicole Kidman’s job, coordinating our response to the terrorist threat.
I am going to leave it to the rest of our panelists to decide who is, in fact, the person being played by our star male witness in the film, so each of you who are going to appear can discuss who wants to play that role.
Our second group of panelists will discuss the effect of organized crime on Russian nuclear security and the problem of nuclear proliferation. The panelists are Judge William Webster, former Director of the CIA and FBI; and Arnaud de Borchgrave and Frank Cilluffo of the Center for Strategic and International Security, who have just completed a major study on organized crime in Russia.
Our third and final panelist will be Arnold Warshawsky of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, who briefed Members in a closed session last week, who will discuss a promising new technology for detecting and thwarting a terrorist attempt to smuggle a nuclear weapon into a U.S. city.
Ms. Stern and Ms. Gordon-Hagerty, we welcome you and thank you and your colleagues for being here. I will recognize Mr. Pickett when he arrives. I want to tell you, Ms. Stern, I read the book, and the first day, actually before it was released, and I especially enjoyed the chapter entitled ”Jessica Stern.” But I want to applaud you for your leadership, oftentimes not being given the visibility in this Congress and on this end of the Hill that it should have been given. I want to tell you we are here today to listen and respond to the concerns you raised.
To Ms. Gordon-Hagerty, as you said so eloquently last week, you are doing the job. We want to support you, we want to identify the areas where more resources are needed, and then pledge to give you the financial support from this institution to make things happen, so we can deal with these threats as they emerge around the world and as they affect the American people.
With that, I would basically advise both of you that your statements will be entered into the record, and you are free to make whatever personal comments you would like for whatever amount of time you would like to make them. Ms. Stern.