Suitcase Nuke Threat Against
US Raising More Concern
By Brian Ross

Could the next terrifying attack on the nation fit into a suitcase?
The prospect that Osama bin Laden's terrorists may have gotten their hands on small, easily transportable "suitcase nukes" has some people in Washington now truly concerned.
There's no evidence such a device has been smuggled into the country. And even if it had, experts say it would be extremely difficult for terrorists to detonate. And a congressman who has been studying the subject for years on the subject say there's no doubt that such nuclear suitcases do exist.
"I can tell you unequivocally we built these devices similar to this and so did the Soviets during the Cold War," said Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa. "The defense minister of Russia told me to my face, 'Yes, congressman, we built these devices. Just as your country built them during the Cold War.'"
In fact, the Department of Defense made a training video in the l960s, demonstrating how "small atomic demolition munitions" can be stuffed into parachutes and attached to Navy commandos, who then show how the weapons can be affixed to bridges and ships underwater.
"These devices were designed to be used to take out major infrastructure facilities," said Weldon. "We destroyed ours. Now the question is, do we know whether or not Russia has them all accounted for and do we know that they destroyed them all?"
Russia Defends Nuclear Inventory
This week in Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin told 20/20's Barbara Walters none of the nuclear suitcases is missing.
"I don't really believe this is true," Putin said. "These are just legends. One can probably assume that somebody tried to sell some nuclear secrets. But there is no documentary confirmation of those developments."
But Weldon says he got a much different answer four years ago when he went to talk to with one of Russia's top generals.
The general, formerly Russia's leading defense adviser, said 86 of 132 suitcase bombs were unaccounted for.
Where were the missing nukes?
"I have no idea," Weldon recalled the general saying.
White House Sees Chilling Threat
That's one of several nuclear scenarios now causing great concern at the White House, where President Bush this week sounded the alarm about bin Laden's suspected efforts to go nuclear.
"They're seeking chemical, biological and nuclear weapons," Bush told leaders of formerly communist states Tuesday in Warsaw, Poland. "Given the means, our enemies would be a threat to every nation and eventually to civilization itself."
This week, the White House called in the man who tracked missing nuclear weapons for the last administration, Graham Allison, now director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Allison says the threat is very real, particularly given evidence that bin Laden and his associates have tried to obtain nuclear weapons material.
As for the nuclear suitcases, Allison's advice is to assume several dozen nuclear suitcases in Russia are missing.
"I think the difficult thing for us all to come to grips with, that, my God, would people really want to kill thousands or tens of thousands of Americans," Allison said.
The Nuclear Bazaar
But Allison and most other experts say the real concern is not the suitcase but a thriving nuclear black market, in places such as Istanbul, Turkey.
"There is a black market in weapons-grade uranium. There is a black market for weapons-grade plutonium. And there certainly is a market for radioactive material in general," said Freidrich Steinhausler of the University of Salzburg in Austria. Steinhausler is one of the world's pre-eminent experts on the illegal market in stolen nuclear materials.
"[Osama bin Laden's terrorist network] Al Qaeda is trying actively to obtain radioactive and or nuclear weapons grade material," said Steinhausler. "In terms of probability of threat, I would put the nuclear bomb rather low. I would put the radioactive dirty bomb, much, much higher."
A so-called dirty bomb, a conventional weapon laced with radioactive material, would make a scene like the attack on the World Trade Center even worse, Steinhausler says.
"Picture the bucket brigades that we saw in Ground Zero in a radioactive-contaminated area. They couldn't operate there," he said. "Picture the dust-caked office worker who survived the World Trade Center attack. He would not only be covered in dust from the detonation, he would have inhaled radioactive stuff. His body would be contaminated.
"The technology required is really high school level. You don't have even to be an engineer to fabricate that. If you can make your conventional explosive, to lace it with radioactivity is really child's play."
Over-flights by special surveillance aircraft of the bin Laden training camps in Afghanistan have not picked up the presence of any radioactive materials. But bin Laden, when asked by ABCNEWS on Christmas Eve of 1998 whether he had acquired nuclear weapons, gave a troubling answer.
"I would state that to acquire weapons in defense of Muslims is a religious duty," he said.
And given that kind of talk, American authorities say the many nuclear scenarios, including the nuclear suitcase, simply cannot be ruled out.
"Up until now we had a built-in safety barrier, where we said well if the radioactive material, it would kill or threaten the carrier, that's a method that's not going to be used," Steinhausler said. "But ever since Sept. 11 we know that's no longer valid. We now know the carrier, the agent, the terrorist himself is ready to die. And if he dies crashing an aircraft into a building or if he's ready to die carrying highly radioactive material, there's not much difference."

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