Nuclear Terrorism and Countermeasures


House of Representatives,

Committee on National Security,

Military Research and Development Subcommittee,

Washington, DC, Wednesday, October 1, 1997.

The subcommittee met, pursuant to call, at 2:35 p.m. in room 2118, Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. Curt Weldon (chairman of the subcommittee) presiding.

Ms. STERN. Thank you very much. It is an honor to be here. Thank you for inviting me.

I have three points today. First, constraints are eroding against terrorism involving nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. Second, we are not doing enough about the threat. Third, Americans are increasingly afraid of nuclear terrorism. According to a recent poll, some 76 percent of those polled said that they were afraid of nuclear terrorism.

It is worth considering our particular vulnerabilities right now. First of all, our population is highly concentrated, making us quite vulnerable to nuclear, chemical, and biological agents. Second is the approach of the millennium and the possibility that heretofore peace-loving millenarian groups might become violent. The millenarian idea is that present age is corrupt and there will be a cleansing apocalypse, and then the lucky few will survive that apocalypse.

Terrorists who believe in this millenarian idea might be attracted to these kind of weapons. For example, the fifth plague, murrain, was actually anthrax, so there is a kind of mystical aura to, in my view, chemical and biological weapons.

There are three constraints that I believe are eroding. The first is loose nukes, and I know that you, Congressman Weldon, know more than almost anyone about this issue, but I will just very briefly point out that there are vulnerable sites in Russia.

Of particular concern is a site in Kazakhstan, Aktau, and also a couple sites in Georgia. As a friend of mine described what he saw when he got to Russia, he saw a nuclear site that was guarded by Aunt Masha with a cucumber.

The second constraint that is eroding is a proliferation of know-how. As you know, weapons scientists who were formerly treated as the elite are now poverty stricken. But I would like to alert you to another area where know-how is proliferating, and that is in books and on the Internet.

There are many, many books that provide instructions about how to use weapons of mass destruction. When I was a graduate student, I learned about some of these books, and I called one of the publishers, and I did a little experiment. I said, I understand you have books that tell you how to poison people, and I would like to poison someone. I wrote down very carefully what the operator said. She asked me a few questions, and then she basically just wanted to know my credit card number.

These books are, in fact, used in acts of murder and terrorism. In one case that comes to mind—someone whose neighbors were playing very loud rock music. He got very fed up with them and followed the instructions in a poisoning manual to poison their Coca-Cola. What I fear is that these kind of instructions could be used to commit more serious acts of terrorism.

The third constraint that is eroding is that a new breed of terrorist seems to be emerging. We know that terrorists have always been capable of significantly more lethal acts than they have actually carried out. That is because many terrorists up until now have had very clear political constraints. They have had real constituencies.

For example, I grew up in Boston. The IRA was out there on the Boston Common fundraising. I think the IRA is going to be much less successful if they decide to use bubonic plague as a mass destruction weapon. But there are new terrorists with apocalyptic ideas, religious and right wing extremists. They don’t have clear constituencies. For some of them their main constituent is God, and usually the ones who have direct phone lines with God, the God that they talk to is a very violent one, unfortunately.

I had the opportunity to interview William Pierce, who wrote ”The Turner Diaries,” the book that inspired the Oklahoma bombing. I would like to tell you one of the things he said to me. I am quoting. ”This society is in the process of self-destruction. Society will descend into chaos or civil war, and speeding up that process is in the interest of the country.”

Clearly someone who believes that chaos is beneficial will not face the kind of political and moral constraints that some terrorists have faced in the past.

I have also been spending quite a bit of time lately searching the web, and some of the things you find on the web are quite horrifying. One of the most prolific writers in the ultra right wing, Louie Beam, is exhorting extremists to form ”leaderless cells” precisely to avoid government detection.

It is a new doctrine. He calls it a doctrine of leaderless resistance. He encourages followers to form cells numbering between 1 and 12 men to circumvent the FBI’s intelligence gathering capabilities.

The bottom line is that we need to do much more than we are doing.

The Nunn-Lugar-Domenici acts have made very significant strides in combating this threat, but I think the funding level is not appropriate to the level of the threat.

In my statement for the record, I spell out some concrete proposals, and I would actually propose that you sponsor legislation, and I would be thrilled and honored to work with you and your staff, to work out more ideas. I will just give you a couple of examples.

One is to create a nuclear emergency fund. General Lebed, as you pointed out, we do not know whether he was telling the truth, but one interesting thing he said is that he would like an international commission to come in and help locate those allegedly missing suitcase bombs. I think it is imperative when a person like General Lebed makes a statement like that that we follow up immediately. We should be in there. He wants help, let’s give him help.

Similarly, during Project Sapphire, when the Government of Kazakhstan asked the United States Government for assistance in securing vulnerable materials, we were delayed by difficulties with funding. So this nuclear emergency fund could be used to carry out operations of this kind, that are clear emergencies and essential to all Americans’ security.

I guess I will just leave the rest in the statement for the record, but I would also like, with your permission, to submit for the record another statement written by John Deutch former DCI; Ashton Carter, former Assistant Secretary of Defense; Graham Allison; Joe Nye; and a few others. They have requested I submit this statement for the record.

OODA Analyst

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