Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

June 9, 2011

A Joint U.S.-Russian Assessment of the Nuclear Terrorism Threat

Filed under: Radiological & Nuclear Threats — by Arnold Bogis on June 9, 2011

Long-time readers of this blog must be asking themselves, “seriously, nuclear terrorism again?!?”  Yes again, because I find the issue of vital importance.  Today, however, I have two new twists to the topic.

First, I am writing this post in a coffee shop in Portland, Oregon.  So just a meaningless twist that adds nothing to the discussion, but since I’m on vacation this will be a shorter effort.

The second twist, and to the point of the topic, is that this assessment of the threat of nuclear terrorism was conducted together by a group of retired U.S. and Russian intelligence and military officials.  Men who had worked tirelessly in the interests of their own nations during the Cold War, often at odds with their current collaborators, came together to assess the risks that both the U.S. and Russia face from nuclear terrorism.

It is an interesting report and should be read by those concerned about the issue of nuclear terrorism. The cases studies, technical analysis, and conclusions will seem familiar to those immersed in the topic:

Al-Qaeda and North Caucasus terrorist groups have both made statements indicating that they seek nuclear weapons and have attempted to acquire them; these groups are presented together as a case study to assess nuclear terrorism as a present and future threat. (The only other terrorist group known to have systematically sought to get nuclear weapons was the Japanese cult group Aum Shinrikyo.) This study makes the case that it is plausible that a technically sophisticated group could make, deliver, and detonate a crude nuclear bomb if it could obtain sufficient fissile material.

The study recommends measures to tighten security over existing nuclear weapons and the nuclear materials terrorists would need to make a crude nuclear bomb, along with expanded police and intelligence cooperation to interdict nuclear smuggling and stop terrorist nuclear plots. The report also calls for improved protection of nuclear facilities that might be sabotaged, and of radiological materials that might be used in a dirty bomb.

What is particularly striking who the group of people who authored the report:

Matthew Bunn. Associate Professor of Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School and Co-Principal Investigator of Project on Managing the Atom at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

Colonel Yuri Morozov (retired Russian Armed Forces). Professor of the Russian Academy of Military Sciences and senior fellow at the U.S.A and Canada Studies Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, chief of department at the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, 1995–2000.

Rolf Mowatt-Larssen. Senior fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, director of Intelligence and Counterintelligence at the U.S. Department of Energy, 2005–2008.

Simon Saradzhyan. Fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Moscow-based defense and security expert and writer, 1993–2008.

William Tobey. Senior fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and
International Affairs and director of the U.S.-Russia Initiative to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism, deputy administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation at the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration, 2006–2009.

Colonel General Viktor I. Yesin (retired Russian Armed Forces). Senior fellow at the U.S.A and Canada Studies Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences and advisor to commander of the Strategic Missile Forces of Russia, chief of staff of the Strategic Missile Forces, 1994–1996.

Major General Pavel S. Zolotarev (retired Russian Armed Forces). Deputy director of the U.S.A and Canada Studies Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences and head of the Information and Analysis Center of the Russian Ministry of Defense, 1993–1997, deputy chief of staff of the Defense Council of Russia, 1997–1998.

Adding additional gravitas to the authors’ collected credentials is the larger group of retired U.S. and Russian officials who make up the “U.S.-Russian Elbe Advisory Group” that reviewed and endorsed this report:

Organizer of the Elbe Group:
Brigadier General Kevin Ryan (retired U.S. Army). Executive Director for Research, Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.


Members of the Elbe Advisory Group:
U.S. Participants
Mr. Rob Dannenberg (retired CIA). Former Chief of Operations for the Counter Terrorism Center at the CIA.

General Eugene E. Habiger (retired U.S. Air Force). Commander in Chief of the United States Strategic Command from 1996 to 1998.

Lieutenant General Franklin L. (Buster) Hagenbeck (retired U.S. Army). Commanding General of the 10th Mountain Division and Superintendent of the United States Military Academy until his retirement in 2010.

Lieutenant General Mike Maples (retired U.S. Army). Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency from 2005 until his retirement in 2009.

Mr. Rolf Mowatt-Larssen (retired CIA). Former Director of Intelligence and Counterintelligence at the U.S. Department of Energy and Chief of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Department at the Counterterrorist Center at the CIA.

Russian Participants
General Major Vladimir Dvorkin (retired Russian Armed Forces). Director of the Fourth Central Scientific Research Institute of the Russian Ministry of Defense in 1993-2001.

Colonel Vladimir Goltsov (retired Russian Interior Troops). Former Deputy Head, Department on Physical Protection of Nuclear Sites and Counteracting Nuclear Terrorism of the Russian Interior Troops.

General of the Army Valentin Korabelnikov (retired Russian Armed Forces). Chief of
the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces  from 1997 until his retirement in 2009.

General of the Army Anatoliy Kulikov (retired Russian Interior Troops). Commander
of the Joint Group of Federal Forces in Chechnya in 1995, Interior Minister of the Russian Federation from 1995 to 1998, Deputy Prime Minister from 1997 to 1998 and State Duma member in 1999-2007.

General Colonel Anatoliy Safonov. First Deputy Director of the Federal Security Service (FSB) in 1994-1997, and temporarily served as FSB Director in the summer of 1995. Currently Ambassador Safonov is Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation on International Co-operation in Combating Terrorism and Transnational Organized Crime.

I believe it is fair to say that this group knows the topic of terrorism, understands the technical dimensions involved, and have had access to the best intelligence that both the U.S. and Russia have gathered on the topic.

The report, “The U.S.-Russia Joint Threat Assessment of Nuclear Terrorism,” is a joint project of Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and The Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies.  The entire report can be downloaded here in English:


Here in Russian:


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Comment by William R. Cumming

June 9, 2011 @ 3:05 am

Looks like a report worthy of study! Too bad they did not rank order the world’s nuclear capable nations on safety and surety issue and clearly distinguish between NUDETS and RDDs and separately analyze the problems of each with respect to prospects for utilization by non-state actors. Perhaps time for the Belfer Center to focus more heavily on the details of safety, surety, and proliferation in the current international order. For example how about the effectiveness of efforts by the IAEA and how all members desperately try to make sure the IAEA focuses on some other nation-state or organization than that specific member. But hey a contribution.

Comment by Christopher Tingus

June 10, 2011 @ 3:11 am

“Safety, surety, and proliferation” as the esteemed william Cumming references..you bet, in this uncertain environment.

Rumor of missile launchers being erected in Venezuela, in March, the Foreign Minister of Zimbabwe telling the Iranian ISNA new agency that his country is engaged in talks with Iran to sell uranium to these “Brutes of Tehran” as I refer to these thugs who should not be afforded my leeway for the Iranian state leadership has been increasing its covert gloobal ops to secure uranium from whomever and Simbarashe Mumbengegwi summed it up by stating, “If we can work together on uranium mining, it will improve the econmic situation of both countries.”

I would prefer the UN and global community to be financing Zimbabwe’s industry such as possibly coal where my int’l coal and iron ore efforts can present ongoing orders and thus stimulate the economy or if not coal, then some other industries where the global community can assist the Foreign Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi develop a stream of revenue to help the good people of Zimbabwe rather than helping to give the Iranian leadership such weapon in hand and withut doubt, launch mass destruction towards humanity without concern.

While the Foreign Affairs Minister and his government may require funding for its infrastructure and industry development to generate much needed revenues, to help Iran who seeks to kill in cold blood not only its own, but so many others in such cold-blooded murder. Any such actionwuld also be on the habds of Zimbabwe.

With 109 WMD’s in Pakistan, the internatinal community has very real worries as global ecnomics points to a further erosion in global plitical and economic security and whether missule launchers are being financed by Tehran in Venezuela and the Monroe Doctrine should be enacted or Zimbabwe is willing to finance WMD development in Tehran, the “KGB putinites” as I refer to the regime and the “beltway bandits” as I refer to the ienptness of a gridlocked, partisan Congress leave a very uncertain feeling w/many globally….hold on tight, for the already arduous road will get far more intense, far more challenging and with a lack of integrity among world leadership, just like every government since Babylon, no matter the form of goverment, goverment has failed as a result of greed and self-indulgent pompous ways.

God Bless us all!

Christopher Tingus

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 14, 2011 @ 7:10 am

I should have added that both the Russians and Americans by renouncing “first use” could go a long way to preventing nuclear war and nuclear terrorism. Perhaps a UN convention on NO FIRST USE thereby doing the same and also, although this may already be in place, UN conventions, declarations, or whatever that any use of nuclear weapons is a Crime Against Humanity.

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