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"The Special Senate Committee on Anti-terrorism"

Testimony

June 11, 2012

Authors: William H. Tobey, Senior Fellow, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Matthew Bunn, Professor of Practice; Co-Principal Investigator, Project on Managing the Atom, Simon Saradzhyan, Fellow, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

Belfer Center Programs or Projects: The US-Russia Initiative to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism

 

The Special Senate Committee on Anti-Terrorism

Ottawa, Monday, June 11, 2012

The Special Senate Committee on Anti-terrorism, to which was referred Bill S-9, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, met this day at 1:30 p.m. to give consideration to the bill.

Senator Hugh Segal (Chair) in the chair.

The Chair: Honourable senators, this is the ninth meeting of the Special Senate Committee on Anti‑Terrorism, in the first session of Canada's Forty‑first Parliament.  In our first session this afternoon, we are very pleased to welcome officials from the Belfer Centre for Science and International Affairs at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.

William Tobey is a senior fellow and is with us here in Ottawa today.  By video conference from Boston, we welcome Matthew Bunn, who is an associate professor of public policy, and Simon Saradzhyan, who is a research fellow.

Today, honourable senators, we are continuing our examination of Bill S‑9, the nuclear terrorism Act.  This 10‑clause bill seeks to introduce four new indictable offences to Part II of the Criminal Code, in completion of Canada's compliance obligations under international treaties on nuclear terrorism.

These four new offences prohibit certain activities in relation to nuclear or radioactive material or nuclear or radioactive devices.  This bill was introduced first in the Senate of Canada on March 27, 2012.

I believe that our guests have opening comments, so I will call on Dr. Tobey to offer an opening statement.

William Tobey, Senior Fellow, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University: Mr. Chair and members of the committee, it is a pleasure to be here today.  My colleagues at the Belfer Center and I appreciate the opportunity to testify on a matter of surpassing importance, preventing nuclear terrorism and proliferation.  Defeating nuclear terrorism is vital to international peace and security.  The proposed legislation, Bill S‑9, which is consistent with and would support the implementation of the amended Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials and the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, would advance nuclear security.

I would also note that it is consistent with long‑standing and effective Canadian cooperative threat reduction efforts aimed at securing nuclear materials worldwide.  These efforts have already borne considerable results, and the world is safer because of them.

I would like to briefly address the nuclear terrorism threat, while my colleague, Matthew Bunn, is prepared to describe progress on nuclear security and what remains to be done, and my colleague, Simon Saradzhyan, is prepared to offer a view of the Russian perspective.

In May of last year, the Belfer Centre for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University and the Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences published The U.S.‑Russia Joint Threat Assessment on Nuclear Terrorism.

The report was written by academics with government experience in military, intelligence and diplomatic positions and reviewed by a panel of former senior U.S. and Russian military and intelligence officers.

The joint threat assessment concludes that the threat of nuclear terrorism is urgent and real. Making a crude bomb would not be easy, but it is potentially within the capabilities of a technically sophisticated terrorist group if it were to obtain sufficient fissile material or an intact weapon.  Al Qaeda has sought nuclear weapons for almost two decades, as have other groups at other times.  I would note parenthetically that, given the death of Osama bin Laden, while al Qaeda's capabilities have been blunted, it has not yet been defeated.

The nuclear material sufficient for a bomb is small and difficult to detect, making it a major challenge to stop nuclear smuggling or to recover nuclear material after it has been stolen.

Hence, the primary focus in reducing the risk of nuclear terrorism must be to keep weapons and fissile material from being stolen by continually improving security.

This threat is not hypothetical.  The International Atomic Energy Agency has documented some 18 cases of fissile material seized outside the control of governments.  Other cases have been reported subsequently, including several over the recent decade.  While none of the cases involved sufficient material to construct a nuclear bomb, they all demonstrated significant security breaches.

One can only imagine the devastating consequences should a terrorist group succeed in detonating a nuclear weapon in a major city.  Tens ‑‑ perhaps hundreds ‑‑ of thousands of people might be killed or injured.  International commerce might grind to a halt as border control authorities struggled to ensure that no such devices entered other countries.  Of course, international security arrangements would be changed in ways far more profound than the sweeping changes caused by the September 11 attacks.

Thus, the need for improved nuclear security, like the threat of nuclear terrorism, is real and urgent.  The proposed legislation, as well as Canada's ongoing cooperative threat reduction efforts and new work, such as support for the World Institute for Nuclear Security, which facilitates the sharing of best practices, are vitally important and should be pursued urgently and energetically.  Thank you for your consideration.

The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr. Tobey.  Could I now call on Matthew Bunn for a few opening comments?

Matthew Bunn, Associate Professor of Public Policy, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University: Thank you very much.  It is an honour to be here with my colleagues to talk about a subject that I think is extraordinarily important to the security of Canada, the United States and the world.  The potential consequences, if terrorists did detonate a nuclear bomb, are so horrifying, both for the country attacked and for the world, that even a small probability is enough to demand urgent action to reduce it further.

Canada and the United States have been leaders in the effort to secure nuclear material and to prevent nuclear terrorism.  Since the September 11 attacks, both countries have improved security for their own nuclear materials, helped others to do the same, helped to strengthen the International Atomic Energy Agency's efforts in this area and worked to strengthen other elements of the global response.

If the United States and Canada are to succeed in convincing other countries to take a responsible approach to reducing the risks of nuclear theft and terrorism, at the Netherlands Nuclear Security Summit in 2014 and beyond, then the United States and Canada have to take the lead in taking responsible action themselves.  Hence, it is important for both of our countries to ratify the main conventions in this area, the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials and the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, as the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit called on countries to do.

The legislation before you would make it possible for Canada to ratify both of these conventions, and I urge you to support the legislation.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and particularly since the 9/11 attacks, tremendous progress has been made in improving security for nuclear weapons and weapons‑usable nuclear materials around the world.  No longer are there sites where the essential ingredients of a nuclear bomb are sitting in what you and I would consider the equivalent of a high school gym locker, with a padlock that could be snapped with a bolt cutter from any hardware store and with no security camera in the area and no detector at the door to set off an alarm if someone were carrying out plutonium or highly enriched uranium.

At scores of sites around the world, dramatically improved nuclear security has been put in place, and, at scores of other sites, the weapons‑usable nuclear material has been removed entirely, reducing the threat of nuclear theft at those sites to zero.

More than 20 countries have eliminated all of the weapons‑usable nuclear material on their soil.  These successes represent, in a real sense, bombs that will never go off.

The Nuclear Security Summits in 2010 and 2012 provided new high‑level political impetus which has accelerated this progress.  However, there is still a great deal to be done, as my Belfer Center colleagues and I described in a report published before the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit, which I will provide for you by email.

In Pakistan, a small but rapidly growing nuclear stockpile which is under heavy security faces more extreme threats than any other nuclear stockpile in the world, both from heavily armed extremists and potential insiders who might help them.

In Russia, which has the world's largest stockpiles of both nuclear weapons and weapons‑usable nuclear materials disbursed in the largest number of buildings and bunkers of any country in the world, the nuclear security measures have dramatically improved.  However, some weaknesses remain that a more sophisticated conspiracy than those we saw in the 1990s could still exploit.  Sustainability remains a major concern as Russia still has neither the strong rules effectively enforced nor the sufficient targeted funds assigned to sustain security for the long haul.

At the over 100 research reactors in the world that still use highly enriched uranium for their fuel, the security measures in place are often extremely modest.  Some of these materials ‑‑ but by no means all ‑‑ have enough material on site to make a nuclear bomb.

As all of the cases of theft of highly enriched uranium or plutonium where we know how it happened were perpetrated by insiders.  Therefore, protection against insiders is particularly important and in many countries still requires improvement.

Given that insider danger, corruption in the nuclear establishment is a concern, particularly in countries where corruption is very widespread, including both Pakistan and Russia, which I mentioned before.  The recent case in which a general commanding a nuclear weapons storage site was arrested in Russia for corruption is a worrisome case in point.

At the moment, unfortunately the mechanisms for global governance of nuclear security remain very weak.  No global rules specify how secure a nuclear weapon or the material needed to make one should be.  No mechanisms are in place to verify that countries are securing these stockpiles responsibly.  Fukushima made clear that action is needed to strengthen both the global safety and security regimes because terrorists could do on purpose what a tsunami did by accident.

A central goal leading up to the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit must be to find ways to work together to strengthen the global framework for nuclear security and continue high level attention on this topic after nuclear security summits stop taking place.  Ratifying the conventions that are under consideration now is important, but it is only the beginning.

There are important roles that Canada can play in this effort.  As the world heads towards that 2014 summit, there is an opportunity for groups of like‑minded countries to join together and commit to high standards of security and mechanisms to convince each other that those standards are being met.  Canada can and should join in that effort.

The United States has now committed to the goal of eliminating all the civil use of highly enriched uranium.  Canada should join in that goal.  At the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit, all the participants agreed on the goal of minimizing the civil use of highly enriched uranium with plans to be announced by December 2013.  By then, Canada should join with the European and South African producers of medical isotopes in committing to shift to producing those isotopes without highly enriched uranium within the next few years.  Canada should also work with Russia ‑‑ with whom the leading Canadian isotope firm has signed a contract for medical isotope supply ‑‑ to convince it to convert its production away from the use of highly enriched uranium for either the fuel for the reactor or the targets that produce the isotopes.

In December 2013, Canada should also announce a concrete plan for eliminating its last civil uses of highly enriched uranium and its last civil stocks of highly enriched uranium.

Before the Seoul summit, my colleagues and I produced another report on consolidating nuclear weapons and materials around the world, which I would be happy to provide.

I want to thank you for the opportunity to speak today, and I am open to your questions.  Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you, Professor Bunn.  I will now invite Simon Saradzhyan to share a perspective with us before we go to questions.

Simon Saradzhyan, Research Fellow, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University: Thank you, sir.  My presentation will focus on Russia as a case study.

The collapse of the totalitarian Soviet state has opened the floodgates of many trends suppressed previously, including the trends of ethnic separatism and religious fundamentalism.

Confluence of these trends and the government's initially botched response to it has produced a threat that remains a top national security concern in Russia.  It is the threat of terrorism and the threat that the terrorists can use weapons of mass destruction or materials in their attacks.

To illustrate the point, I would like to focus your attention on the actions and intent of the terrorist groups based in Russia's North Caucasus.

These groups have acquired radioactive materials.  They have threatened to attack Russian nuclear facilities.  They have plotted to hijack a nuclear submarine using expertise acquired by a former naval officer who was part of these networks.  They have also planted a container with radioactive materials and threatened to detonate it in Moscow in an effort to coerce the federal government into changing their position on the separatist movement in the North Caucasus.

That all happened during the first so‑called Chechen war in 1994 to 1996.

The second military campaign in the North Caucasus – which started in 1999 and has since slowed down in Chechnya but unfortunately spread to other parts of the North Caucasus ‑‑ has seen these groups scout nuclear facilities, including those where nuclear weapons are stored.  They have also established a contact with an officer in the rank of captain who is serving as a guard at a nuclear power plant.  All these things illustrate their intent.

I would like to point out that in their actions, such as a massive hostage taking at a Beslan school where hundreds of children have died and earlier, horrendous acts such as apartment bombings.  By displaying their preparedness to cause indiscriminate, massive casualties they have already crossed the moral threshold between conventional and catastrophic terrorism, even though none of their attempts to stage acts of catastrophic terrorism with use of nuclear weapons or materials have succeeded so far.

I would also like to point out that these groups are becoming increasingly frustrated in their failure to defeat the federal government.  That increases their motivation to up the ante and go for even greater casualties, which an act of nuclear terrorism can unfortunately provide.

As well, they have shifted from the ethnic separatism agenda towards the religious fundamentalism agenda.  The majority of the groups these days are seeking to establish an Islamic caliphate in the North Caucasus.  It allows them to seek interpretation and justification of acts of catastrophic terrorism, including nuclear terrorism in radical interpretation of Islam.

In terms of their capabilities, they displayed very serious capabilities to plan and execute complex attacks hundreds of kilometres away from their bases, deploying dozens of people from the North Caucuses to Moscow to take an entire theatre hostage with hundreds of people inside. While doing that, they used the help of turncoats.  In some cases, they bribed their way to targets.  The ranks of these terrorist groups have included people prepared to die in the course of the attack because of their religious beliefs.

I would also like to point out, when I speak about their capabilities, their ties to al Qaeda.  Osama bin Laden has personally met with representatives of the North Caucasus‑based terrorist groups.  Al Qaeda has been supporting these networks since the middle 1990s. An imam travelled to Russia and was detained in Dagestan but released because the authorities could not establish his true identity.  He was allegedly on a mission to shop around for a nuclear bomb in Russia.

How has the Russian government responded to this threat?  On the ground, the initial response, as I said, was a military one; and it did not work well.  The first campaign ended in failure and withdrawal.  The second campaign was diversified for military response to more of a counter‑insurgency and counterterrorism response, including seek and destroy operations by small groups rather than carpet bombing and so on, with reliance on local loyalists.

On the federal level, Russia has proceeded to toughen the punishment for terrorism and to improve coordination.  The 2006 law on counterterrorism finally designated one agency that would play the lead role in coordinating all other agencies in countering terrorism.  It cancelled jury trials for terrorists, which previously had resulted in a number of acquittals.  That sort of act, as unfortunate as I think it is, has also acted as a deterrent.  It also introduced amendments to the Russian Criminal Code that would send accomplices, who have not done anything themselves but have assisted a terrorist in some way, to 20 years in prison.  The current Criminal Code provides life sentences for those who attempt to stage acts of nuclear terrorism or any other kind of weapons of mass destruction terrorism to life in prison, even if the attacks have not succeeded and they have not killed anyone.

On the international level, my colleagues have described all of the major instruments that Russia has signed onto, including conventions, NNTs and UN Security Council resolutions.  I would like to point out a number of bilateral agreements that Russia signed with its lead partner, the United States, in international cooperation against nuclear terrorism.  There is the Cooperative Threat Reduction Umbrella Agreement on cooperation and criminal law matters; the so‑called “one, two, three agreement” on cooperation for the peaceful use of nuclear energy; and a number of joint statements.  With Canada, Russia has also had a very successful record of cooperation, both multilaterally and bilaterally.  In the multilateral field, I would single out the G8 global partnership against WMD, which committed $20 billion at the 2002 summit; and $10 billion more was committed by the United States as well as significant sums by other partners.  Canada has been playing a very positive role.

All these efforts in countering terrorism and terrorist groups to try to dismantle them, while using these bilateral and international mechanisms to improve the security environment not only in Russia but also internationally, has produced tangible results for Russia, first of all.  Its effort to dismantle networks has resulted in the fact that the number of terrorist group members has decreased from several thousand to several hundred in the North Caucasus.  These groups are no longer capable of mounting attacks that would storm entire towns; but these groups are still capable of fielding up to 100 well‑trained fighters that could split into groups and use insiders that they recruit to stage a multi‑pronged attack on nuclear facilities.

I concur with Professor Bunn that much remains to be done in both improving nuclear security in Russia and sustaining the upgrades that have already been carried out.  Russia has to do more to improve its security culture, whether in the nuclear sphere or other spheres in life, manifestations of both security cultures are plenty.  I will not dwell on them; but this is a serious issue. Apart from that consolidation, Professor Bunn has already described what should be done, so I will not repeat.

Corruption is an exceptionally important aspect of responding to this threat.  As I said, groups have deployed with the use of corrupt officials, who have allowed them to pass or to register in Moscow preparing for their attacks.  This issue has to be dealt with.  Otherwise, no matter how good your defences are, they will not work if there is corruption.  The same goes for insider threat, which is related, because some of the insiders can be corrupted.  Others can be ideologically converted. The number of law enforcement officials in the North Caucasus who have switched sides because of their religious beliefs is significant:  at least one dozen cases that I know of.  This is something to keep an eye on.

Of course, Russia needs to address the root causes of terrorism and contributing factors in policy, which are lack of education and upward social mobility, poverty, and the youth bulge, combined with unemployment and abuses of civilians in the hands of law enforcers.

As for international level cooperation, I would like to concur with my colleagues.  Russia, as one of the two countries that together account for 95 per cent of all nuclear materials and weapons, has to take a lead role in crafting an international strategy that would consolidate all weapons usable material, a fewer number of sites that are reliably protected against all plausible combinations of insider and outsider threats.  It has to work with the United States, Canada and other responsible countries that share the perception of the threat to stop our production of plutonium that could be used in weapons.

The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Saradzhyan.  I will open the floor to senators with questions.

Senator Day: Mr. Tobey, on a point of clarification to your presentation, you talked about cases that had been reported subsequently.  You said that threat is not hypothetical because 18 cases of material have been seized outside the control of governments.  You indicated, which triggered my question, that none of these cases involve sufficient fissile material to construct a nuclear bomb.  Could you tell us about fissile material? What are we talking about?  I presume that how highly enriched it is factors into how much of it you need.  However, when you talk about a nuclear bomb, you are not talking about dirty bombs.  Is that correct?

Mr. Tobey: That is correct, senator.  I was speaking about material that was either highly enriched uranium or plutonium that could be used to assemble a nuclear device should terrorists have wished to do so.  The amounts in question were not sufficient to actually do so.  The International Atomic Energy Agency has standards for what they call "significant quantities," which are essentially the amounts that might be necessary to make a nuclear weapon.  For plutonium, it is 8 kilograms and for highly enriched uranium of weapons grade, it would be 25 kilograms.  The amounts of material seized generally have been smaller. In many cases, it is hundreds of grams, while in a few cases it has been somewhat larger than that.

However, it remains a source of significant concern for several reasons.  First, in most of those cases, the amount of material was advertised as a sample of a larger amount for sale, the amount of which remains unknown.  Second, the mere fact that this material was outside a secured facility shows that there has been a breach that is of significant concern.

Senator Day: Thank you for that clarification.

Mr. Bunn, I would like to direct my next question to you, if you could help me with your comment.  In Canada we have two areas of concern, amongst many others.  One of the areas of concern is the storage of spent fuel at our nuclear generating plants.  We have not solved the problem of long‑term storage, so it is all temporary storage in ponds next to the facilities.  Could you talk about spent fuel as being an area of concern, or is it the enriched uranium before it is used in the reactor that is of concern to you?

In Canada we do not use enriched uranium in the production of electricity through our CANDU reactor, but we have the spent fuel nonetheless.  However, we do have enriched uranium that comes in here to Canada.  We actually get it from the United States to make medical isotopes.  Could you comment on each of those in terms of potential for problems and mischief?

Mr. Bunn: I would be happy to, senator.  Thank you for the question.  There are several different kinds of acts that terrorists might carry out with respect to nuclear or radiological materials.  One is setting off an actual nuclear bomb.  For that purpose the spent fuel is not a major concern, but another is sabotage of a nuclear power plant or another nuclear facility.  That is where the spent fuel is important.  The third is dispersing radioactive material on what is sometimes called a dirty bomb.

In terms of an actual nuclear bomb, it is highly enriched uranium or it is separated plutonium that is worrisome.  In Canada, the highly enriched uranium is, as you say, used for the production of medical isotopes and there are still one or two research reactors that use it as fuel that are in the process of being converted to use low‑enriched uranium.

Once the production of medical isotopes has converted and the reactors have converted then there will also be the issue of getting rid of the highly enriched uranium waste that accumulated over the time when highly enriched uranium was being used.

In terms of the spent fuel, of course the United States has exactly the same problem and has also not managed to find a repository.  Our blue ribbon commission in the United States actually looked to Canada as one example of a somewhat more democratic and open process for thinking about how to manage spent fuel than the one that the United States had pursued.  I would say the pools are really the thing the worry about from the point of view of sabotage and not so much the dry casks that the fuel is moved into.  The fuel in Canada is, in my view, not as much of a concern as the fuel in the United States because with the Canadian CANDU reactor design the fuel is not taken to as high a burn‑up and does not end up as hot if the water should drain from the pool as would be the case for a light water reactor such as the ones used in the United States.  The potential for a fire in the fuel, I would argue, is significantly lower in Canada than it is in the United States or that it was feared to be at Fukushima in Japan.

I would argue that both the sabotage threat and the actual nuclear bomb threats are real dangers that need to be addressed.  The radiological dispersal, the dirty bomb threat is probably more likely, but the consequences are so much smaller that overall I would argue that the risk, if you think of risk as probability times consequences, is probably not quite as substantial.  That is certainly a point that can be debated.

Senator Day: Thank you very much.

Senator Buth: Thank you very much to our witnesses for being here today.  Mr. Tobey, thank you for your opening comments, especially the comparison between Canada's proposed legislation and the U.S. potential legislation.  Could you provide additional information on how Canada compares to our other close allies in terms of the regulations proposed and other measures that have been put in place?

Mr. Tobey: I have to admit I will comment only somewhat generally.  I am not a lawyer, so even my knowledge of U.S. law is limited.  I am more of an analyst of proliferation and counterterrorism issues.

My general understanding of both Canadian law and the proposed legislation is that it does meet international standards and in most cases surpasses them.  The level of security in Canada tends to be better than the general level of security worldwide.  Nonetheless, it is important, I believe, for both the United States and Canada to ratify the two conventions that we spoke of, and to implement the legislation necessary to do so, not only because it might improve the level of security here but also as an example for other nations.  When we talked about nuclear smuggling and the cases involving nuclear smuggling, it has been disappointing to observe that in at least some of those cases the level of punishment allotted to those who were caught has been pretty meager.

Of course, that was a similar case with respect to those who were involved in the A.Q. Khan organisation who trafficked in equipment and technology that could be used to make nuclear weapons.  It is encouraging to see this legislation both in terms of what it might do for Canada but also as an example for other countries.

Senator Buth: To clarify, there have been 18 known attempted thefts of nuclear material or 18 thefts?

Mr. Tobey: There have been 18 cases where fissile material ‑‑ plutonium and highly enriched uranium ‑‑ has been seized outside the control of governments.  Remarkably, in only one of those cases do we know where the material came from, who took it, how they got it out of the facility, and who might have helped them. These are all important questions.  I believe until they are solved we cannot be sure that the level of nuclear security worldwide is sufficient.

Senator Buth: You are not even sure what countries it potentially could have come from?

Mr. Tobey: That is correct.

Senator Dallaire: My question is leading, if I may, and I will go through a series of the.  Your report of May 2011 has gained what acceptance within the military constructs and intelligence constructs of both Russia and the U.S.?

I put it to you, Mr. Tobey.

Mr. Tobey: We have worked to put together a group called the Alba group, named after the meeting of the two sides in World War II, of retired U.S. military and intelligence professionals, generally at the general officer level.  They reviewed this report and endorsed its conclusions.  Additionally, those who were authors of the report had generally worked in policy or military positions in the respective governments.

Senator Dallaire: That does not tell me how the official strategic position allocation of resources, priority of effort is being committed to this assessment that you have provided both Russia and the United States forces.

Mr. Tobey: That is a fair point and it is difficult to know exactly what the consequences of the report are.  I can tell you that the U.S. government hosted a meeting of ambassadors in Vienna at the IAEA to help them to understand the findings of the report.  The Russia government was less enthusiastic about participating in that event, and there are probably some differences between the United States and Russia in terms of their commitment to nuclear security.

Senator Dallaire: Is that post‑meeting report available, or is it classified?

Mr. Tobey: Are you asking about the meeting in Vienna?

Senator Dallaire: Yes.

Mr. Tobey: As far as I know, there were not notes taken about the meeting.  I would be surprised if there was not a Canadian representative present, but I do not know what provisions there are for sharing that information.

Senator Dallaire: The last recommendation in your report says:

Counterterrorism strategies too often depend on current trends shaping al‑Qaeda’s status and activities.

That is one reference versus the Caucasus.

This is a prescription for being once again surprised by the unanticipated.

When you look at the nature of the threats; bombs, hitting facilities and radiological dirty bombs, as you say on page 42:

Its main goal is to create an atmosphere of fear to coerce the entire society.

It is not the numbers; it is just the fact that you have used radioactive or nuclear devices.

If the ultimate aim is to create fear and so on without necessarily employing it, even moving it being a significant threat and a real concern, what actions are being taken to reassure people that as nuclear devices are being modernized the old systems are being destroyed?

Mr. Tobey: Both the United States and Russia have undertaken a significant program to eliminate weapons‑grade material.  They agreed to eliminate 30 tonnes each of weapons‑grade plutonium, and the United States is constructing a $4.8 billion facility in South Carolina to turn that material into nuclear reactor fuel which, when complete, will provide enough energy for 1 million households for 50 years, an enormous project.

On the Russian side a similar effort is being undertaken to get rid of those 34 metric tonnes.  In fact, the United States has added an additional 9 metric tonnes to that amount.  That is enough material for thousands and thousands of weapons.

In the area of highly enriched uranium, the United States has nearly completed the acquisition of 500 metric tonnes of highly‑enriched Russian uranium from their weapons program.  Twenty per cent of American electricity comes from nuclear power.  Half of that is fueled under this program.  On average, one in ten light bulbs in America is powered by material from weapons that were once aimed at us or our allies.

Senator Dallaire: The old systems are being destroyed as part of the projects of modernization, or is that a separate exercise that is going on?

Mr. Tobey: The United States has not fielded a new nuclear weapon since the late 1980s, so there has been very little modernization of its arsenal.

Senator Dallaire: It is more delivery systems rather than bombs?

Mr. Tobey: Even delivery systems have not been modernized.

Senator Dallaire: The Brits are putting $40 billion into new submarines.

Mr. Tobey: The Brits are building new submarines, and there are plans to build new American submarines, but none have been built.  We have not fielded a new nuclear weapon or delivery system since the late 1980s.

Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. nuclear arsenal is down by about 80 per cent.

Senator Dallaire: I told this committee before about my wife going across the border to have tests done in a hospital.  They went absolutely berserk at the border and it took time to convince them that we were not trying to move stuff.

If the threat is the threat of using nuclear radiation material, are we covering the bases enough with this legislation without mentioning actual weapons but saying that even threatening is sufficient to cause a person to be arrested, prosecuted and held potentially for life?

Mr. Bunn: I leave it to you to interpret the words in your legislation, but my understanding is that the legislation covers actual acts, attempted acts and also threatened acts, so I would argue that it probably is sufficient.

Canada has existing laws on these topics.  The purpose of this legislation is to ensure that the specific words associated with the conventions are in Canadian law so that Canada can ratify these conventions.  Certainly the legislation would serve that purpose.

On your previous question, not only have the United States and Russia reduced the number of weapons deployed, but thousands of nuclear weapons have been physically dismantled.  What is often perceived as modernization of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile is mainly what are referred to as life extension programs, which is fixing some components of existing nuclear weapons so that there is not a new object that is along the lines of an old object.  It is the same object, but it has been fixed up so that it will be reliable for a long period of time.

Thousands of U.S. nuclear weapons have been physically dismantled.  Only half of those that existed in the last days of the Soviet Union still exist.  Although Russia has not declared so in great specificity, we believe that they have dismantled thousands of nuclear weapons as well.

Senator Dallaire: That is extending the shelf life of systems.

Mr. Bunn: Exactly.

(French follows ‑ Le sénateur Dagenais : Le Canada produit beaucoup…)

(après anglais)

Le sénateur Dagenais : Le Canada produit beaucoup d'uraniums. Ne craignez‑vous pas que certains pays seraient tentés d'infiltrer nos frontières afin de s'en procurer? Je vous ai aussi entendu parler de corruption. Croyez-vous que nous devrions prendre des mesures spéciales afin d'éviter ce que je pourrais appeler des pressions indues qui pourraient venir de l'extérieur?

(Mr. Saradzhyan : It depends upon to what uranium you are referring...)

(anglais suit)

(Following French by Senator Dagenais: … venir de l'extérieur?)

Mr. Saradzhyan: It depends upon to what uranium you are referring.  I would be mostly concerned about weapons‑grade uranium in general.  My reference to corruption was to corruption inside Russia.  I do not see any interest of the agents of terror inside Russia in obtaining materials for use inside Russia in western countries.  Yes, Russian‑based terrorist groups have cooperated and established ties with international terrorist networks such as al Qaeda and other groups based in Central Asia. Yes, they have exchanged fighters and emissaries, and yes, they have established hideouts in Western Europe where they would rest and regroup before going back to the north Caucuses.  So far, however, I have not heard of a single report that would say that Russia‑based groups are seeking to acquire nuclear material in Western countries for use anywhere.

Mr. Bunn: I should add that the uranium that Canada produces in such large quantities is, of course, natural uranium, not enriched uranium. It is not especially useful either for a dirty bomb or for a nuclear bomb.  The issue of corruption with respect to that particular production of uranium is, in my view, not an especially high security priority.

Where you really worry about corruption is, as Mr. Saradzhyan says, where it relates to people who have access to nuclear weapons, highly enriched uranium or separated plutonium.

Senator D. Smith: I was quite intrigued by your comments about the problems in the north Caucuses in Russia. You referred to the failed Communist regime, and I was there about four times before it failed, going back to the late 1960s.  We were there in late 2009, and I will never forget ‑‑ this is sort of an aside ‑‑ our meeting with the foreign affairs committee from the Duma. The question was asked as to whether they had any advice for Canadians on lessons that Russia learned from their experiences in Afghanistan.  They all looked at each other, and no one said anything. They sort of looked at the chair, and, after 30 seconds of silence, he said, "The only thing I would say about that is good luck."

I remember chatting with one of them afterwards, and he said, "For a lot of Afghans, it does not matter where you are from. If you are a foreigner, they do not like you."

Okay, that is Russia.  I want to talk about the one so‑called Communist state that has not yet collapsed, North Korea.  It is a rogue state if there ever was one. I would refer to it as a hereditary, Communist monarchy for the family of Kim Il‑sung.

I have been to South Korea a dozen times or so, on private business, and I been to Panmunjom a few times and looked over the Bridge of No Return but never walked over it.  When you talk to South Koreans, they all hate the regime, and a lot of them have family up there. They are all scared that, if that regime is ever going down, Kim Il‑sung and that crowd will literally push buttons that set off all kinds of nuclear missiles that are aimed at Seoul to flatten the place. It is almost like a Communist jihad of some sort. We saw the missile flop there a few months ago, but, with regard to a rogue state like North Korea and atomic matters, what thoughts do you have? Any observations?

The Chair: Which of our distinguished panel would like to try?

Senator D. Smith: Whoever would like to respond on whether it is a problematic situation.  My hunch is that they may not do anything to provoke something, but if, for whatever reason, they are going down, I know that, in South Korea, they are just scared of them pushing buttons.

The Chair: I will ask Mr. Tobey to start and invite his colleagues to add as they deem appropriate.

Mr. Tobey: Certainly, Mr. Chair. Senator, I think that is an excellent question.  I participated in several rounds of the six‑party talks with North Korea and have spent a fair amount of time in South Korea.  It is an enormously difficult problem.  One thing that I think is a bit encouraging is that, fundamentally, North Korea is a weak state surrounded by strong states.  They face some of the strongest economic and military powers in the world, and I think this constrains them.

Equally, as a matter of personal opinion ‑‑ and my colleagues may have different views ‑‑ I think that the last 20 years or so of negotiations have demonstrated that there is very little indication that North Korea is willing to give up its nuclear weapons. Therefore, resolving the problem really must lie in areas outside of North Korea, in speaking to China and to other powers in the region and making it clear that peaceful reunification of the Korean peninsula is really the only logical solution to what is an economic, humanitarian and political tragedy.  The people of North Korea are unbelievably oppressed.  Frankly, it is an economic drain on the entire region.  Northeast China is a rust belt and depressed.  Were North Korea to become democratically reunited with the south, it would be a region of great economic growth.

Mr. Bunn: Let me add a couple of points, if I may.  It seems to me that there are several grave dangers with respect to North Korea.  One is the potential, which exists with any state that has nuclear weapons but particularly one that is so dark and ruled in such a dictatorial manner by such a small clique, that, if there were some future military crisis, the situation might get out of control and that nuclear weapons might be used.

The second risk is, as you say, what happens if North Korea collapses.  Among other things, if the North Korean regime were to collapse and end up in a failed‑state scenario, then you would have a loose nukes problem, as you had, to some degree, when the Soviet Union collapsed. It would probably be a much worse scenario because, in the Soviet Union, you still had functioning governments in each of the pieces of what had been the Soviet Union. On the other hand, the nuclear stockpile is much smaller.

Another key issue with the north is the issue of the transfer of their capabilities to others.  We saw, for example, the export of a plutonium production reactor to Syria.  I, myself ‑‑ and my colleagues may disagree ‑‑ do not worry a great deal about sales to terrorists simply because the North Korean regime is so bent on maintaining power that they would probably consider it a bad idea to give something to terrorists that they might use in a way that would provoke retaliation and possibly remove the North Korean regime from power forever. The amount of money that they might get from that, given that terrorists do not have the resources of states, is probably not enough to be considered important to the survival of the North Korean regime.

Nonetheless, I would argue that, even though I agree with Mr. Tobey that it is unlikely that we will be able to get them to give up their nuclear weapons entirely, the record suggests that they behave better, on the nuclear front, in periods of engagement and negotiation than in periods of isolation and sanction. It behooves us to see how much we can negotiate and, in particular, what kinds of steps we can put in place to reduce their incentives and opportunities to transfer and to at least cap their nuclear program so that they do not keep building it up further.

Senator D. Smith: Does our other witness want to comment?

The Chair: Mr. Saradzhyan, did you want to add to that in any way?

Mr. Saradzhyan: I can only restate the earlier arguments.  I think that, in the case of the implosion of the state, the gravest threat would not be suicidal behaviour of the leaders but a loose nuke scenario, in which opportunists, generals, or anyone with access to nuclear weapons‑grade material or bombs, if they had more of them than they have now, would sell them to make money and try to find a hideout in some other country.  That would be the greatest threat, not the suicidal behaviour of launching everything on South Korean or U.S. forces in the region.

In terms of the current situation, the gravest threat ‑‑ I again concur with Mr. Bunn ‑‑ is the transfer of technology from state to state. They have proved they can do it in a clandestine manner that was not detected until the work was well under way in Syria, and they can try to do it again.  What were the consequences for North Korea after that was discovered?  What has happened that could have changed their behaviour?  I do not see anything particularly punishing out of that incident.

In terms of transferring to non‑state actors, I think as much as they resemble a sect bent on implementing an ideology that is long defunct, they are also bent on survival.  Transferring it to a non‑state actor that would use the weapon or use nuclear weapons grade material to assemble a weapon would be suicidal because the United States has explicitly said that it would use weapons of mass destruction against anyone who would cause such an attack.  Retribution is no longer a problem.  I do not think they would engage in such suicidal behaviour.

Senator D. Smith: I agree it would be suicidal.  Thank you.

Senator Dallaire: You indicated that we produce uranium, not enriched uranium, and it is moved around in different areas.  I go back to what I would consider to be the real threat: Someone being able to convince the intelligence communities and the nations that they have the ability to threaten us with a dirty bomb, radiation or whatever other device.

Do we have enough in the world -- in the movement the raw materials -- to have established enough of the controls to ensure that it is not in any way, shape or form being made vulnerable, even before they are moved to a different level of capability?  If we panic with two towers going down, even the word of somebody stealing some of this material out of Saskatchewan is enough to create panic.  Do we handle that well enough with the legislation and the instruments we have now, or are there still gaps in North America in that regard?

Mr. Bunn: That is a good question.  I would argue that if you are concerned about the fear and panic that could be caused by a threat from a radiological dirty bomb, you have to broaden your aperture and look way beyond just uranium.  As it is mined out of the ground, uranium is not very radioactive; it is not useful for creating this kind of fear and panic.  However, there is radioactive material in hospitals, industrial sites and in many different kinds of places in Canada, the United States and in most countries around the world that would be quite dangerous if dispersed by terrorists.

I think there is more to be done to improve the security and tracking of those kinds of materials.  There are some countries that went into the radiological material business later than the United States did that have birth to death registries.  Every movement of a radiological source is tracked and accounted for and so on.  The United States does not have that today.  I think that is the kind of direction we need to go in.

One of the things we have been doing in the United States, and I am not familiar to the extent to which it has been done in Canada, is putting in simple alarms and various forms of hardening.  It makes it more difficult, for example, at a hospital for anybody to take the radiological source out of a piece of medical equipment.  It is just changes to the medical equipment itself so that it is harder to take apart and get the source out, number one.  Number two is putting in alarms that go directly to the local police and so on, so they would know if that happened.

Senator Dallaire: We tend to treat our population, certainly through the media, as grade 9 students, so even stealing low‑grade uranium as an actual resource would create a reaction in itself.  To me, the legislation covers nearly all elements that might be in one way or another built or brought together, enriched to create a radiation problem, and should fall under the same premise of security as the actual bombs and systems that could deliver them.  Do you not agree with that?

Mr. Bunn: I think it makes sense to have a structured and layered approach where you have the most severe punishments and most intense controls over those materials that would cause the greatest problem if they were to get out of control, and progressively weaker controls for the things that pose a lower risk.  It is what is called graded safeguards in the international community.

I think the approach that the Canadian regulatory authorities have generally taken is to put the most stringent controls on the things that need to be the highest priority.  I am not saying there should not be any controls on the less dangerous materials, but just make sure the priority stays on the most dangerous materials.

Senator Dallaire: Thank you.  I wish to make the point that it is not the actual use as much as the threat of use after 9/11 that has made everybody so hypersensitive and panicky.  I would argue that any element that has any sort of loophole or taken in less of a security can be blown apart by the media and by the panic of the population, including the politicians, to create fear and achieve the aim that they are looking for.  If underwear can do it, certainly some of this material can.

The Chair: I am sorry I neglected to come to you in round one, Senator Frum.

Senator Fraser: Not a problem, chair.  I will be brief because I know we are at the end of our time.  Gentlemen, in your report you mentioned that one of the vulnerabilities for nuclear terrorism is the amount of sensitive information that is available -- nuclear weapon related information -- on the Internet.

Maybe you can explain what exactly you mean by that, but also what, if anything, can responsible governments do to control that information that is apparently dangerous, which is on the Internet?

Mr. Tobey: Sadly, I think it is basically a fact of life.  When nuclear weapons were created first in 1945, the number of people that had access to that technology was in the perhaps dozens, and eventually, quickly, hundreds.  However, I believe there are now tens of thousands of Americans who have access to nuclear weapons design‑related information, and many thousands of others around the world in the various nuclear programs.

At one point it would have been necessary for someone who wanted to pursue a terrorist nuclear plot to come to the United States and study in a scientific library.  That in itself is something of a barrier, even if it is not insurmountable.  Certainly visa controls would need to be passed through.

Now of course, as you note, much material is available on the Internet.  The world is much more interconnected than it once was.  I do not see a way to turn back the clock on this.  There may be one, but I looked at this problem when I was in government and there were no obvious solutions.

Mr. Bunn: I agree with Mr. Tobey.  On the availability of this information, once the horses are out of the barn, you cannot get them back into the barn.  What that emphasizes is the importance of controlling the ingredients for those recipes so that if they cannot get the nuclear material to make a bomb they cannot make a bomb, no matter how much information they may have available.  Again, it highlights the importance of security for nuclear weapons and the materials needed to make them.

Mr. Saradzhyan: I think in the case of Russia ‑‑ and I suspect it is the case of many other governments ‑‑ offices in charge of security, whether it is police or special services, are significantly outgunned.  They just do not have the capacity to track and bring down even those sites that are in the domain of their national governments.  I can see that problem manifest itself in such terrorist acts in Russia as the bombing of the Tchaikovsky open-air market. Ultra nationalists used a bomb that they constructed using a design downloaded from the Internet.

The sites exist, and if I go on a Russian segment of the Internet, I can find dozens of sites that offer all sorts of information about all sorts of weapon designs.  I think you should decide where to best allocate resources to stop this from happening.  I agree with Professor Bunn that it is simply not possible, even if you allocate 10 times more people to deal with the problem of the availability of this information on the Internet.  It is best to try to secure the material components and the weapons themselves than to try to bring down all the sites that might have information on designs.

The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Saradzhyan.  On behalf of all the members of this Senate committee, I thank William Tobey and Matthew Bunn and Simon Saradzhyan for being so helpful and generous with their time, insight, experience and academic work on this issue.  We are very appreciative of the Belfer Center at the Harvard Kennedy School for also being supportive and helpful.

 

For more information about this publication please contact the Belfer Center Communications Office at 617-495-9858.

For Academic Citation:

Bunn, Matthew and William H. Tobey, Simon Saradzhyan. "The Special Senate Committee on Anti-terrorism." Testimony to Canadian Senate. June 11, 2012.

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