1996 Congressional Hearings
Intelligence and Security

Gordon C. Oehler Testimony 3/27/96

The Continuing Threat From Weapons of Mass Destruction


The Director of Central Intelligence, John Deutch, recently described a number of troubling developments in the world. He noted that the increasingly troubled post-Cold War world has, in a curious way, made us yearn for the dark days of the 1960s and 1970s when we knew the kind of target we were dealing with and the problems we were facing. One reason for this is that not only a number of sovereign states, but now individual groups, have become willing to buy or sell the technologies necessary to produce weapons that could have devastating effects on economic or population centers.

Although the threat of a nuclear attack involving hundreds or perhaps thousands of weapons from the former Soviet Union has diminished, another threat has arisen: the potential acquisition of nuclear materials or even nuclear weapons by states hostile to the United States or by terrorists intent on staging incidents harmful to US interests. We currently have no evidence that any terrorist organization has obtained contraband nuclear materials. However, we are concerned because only a small amount of material is necessary to terrorize populated areas.

The chilling reality is that nuclear materials and technologies are more accessible now than at any other time in history--due primarily to the dissolution of the former Soviet Union and the region's worsening economic conditions. This problem is exacerbated by the increasing diffusion of modern technology through the growth of the world market, making it harder to detect illicit diversions of materials and technologies relevant to a nuclear weapons program.

As you know, many of the technologies associated with WMD programs, especially chemical and biological technologies, have legitimate civilian or military applications unrelated to WMD. For example, chemicals used to make nerve agents are also used to make plastics and to process foodstuffs; trade in those technologies cannot be banned. As dual-use technology and expertise continue to spread internationally, the prospects for chemical and biological terrorism increase. The relative ease of production increases our concern that the use of both chemical and biological weapons is attractive to terrorists. Moreover, the proliferation of WMD to more and more nations has increased the possibility that one or more of these states may choose to provide such weapons to terrorists.

At least as worrisome is the likelihood that terrorist groups or cults can acquire or develop chemical and biological weapons on their own. The incidents staged in March 1995 by the Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo demonstrate that the use of WMD is no longer restricted to the battlefield. Japanese authorities have determined that the Aum was working on developing the chemical nerve agents sarin and VX. The Aum was able to legitimately obtain all of the components that it needed to build its massive chemical and biological infrastructures. However, terrorist groups and violent sub-national groups need not acquire the massive infrastructure that the Aum had assembled. Only small quantities of precursors, available on the open market, are needed to manufacture deadly chemical or biological weapons for terrorist acts. Extremist groups worldwide are increasingly learning how to manufacture chemical and biological agents, and the potential for additional chemical and biological attacks by such groups continues to grow.

The Threat of Nuclear Diversion

The Intelligence Community is taking all possible measures to aggressively support US Government efforts to ensure the security of nuclear materials and technologies. Let me first review why we are concerned about the security of nuclear materials.

Russia and the other states of the former Soviet Union are not the only potential sources of nuclear weapons or materials. The reported theft of approximately 130 barrels of enriched uranium waste from a storage facility in South Africa, which was covered in the press in August 1994, demonstrates that this problem can begin in any state where there are nuclear materials, reactors, or fuel cycle facilities.

A few countries whose interests are inimical to the US are attempting to acquire nuclear weapons--Iraq and Iran being two or our greatest concerns. Should one of these countries, or a terrorist group, acquire one or more nuclear weapons, they could enormously complicate US political or military activity, threaten or attack deployed US or allied forces, or possibly conduct an attack against the US.

Years ago there were two impediments to would-be proliferators: the technical know-how for building a bomb and the acquisition of the fissile material. Fissile material is the highly enriched uranium or plutonium atoms that split apart in a chain reaction and create the energy of an atomic bomb. Today the major impediment to a nation committed to acquiring a nuclear capability is the acquisition of fissile material. While it is by no means easy to make a nuclear weapons, knowledge of weapons design is sufficiently widespread that trying to maintain a shroud of secrecy around this technical knowledge no longer offers adequate protection.

The protection of fissile material in the former Soviet Union has thus become even more critical at the same time that it has become more difficult. Many of the institutional mechanisms that once curtailed the spread of nuclear materials, technology, and knowledge no longer exist or are present only in a weakened capacity and effective new methods of control have yet to be fully implemented for a large portions of the world's nuclear related materials, technology, and information.

At the same time, there is concern that terrorist groups could obtain and use, or threaten to use, nuclear materials. Nuclear materials are divided into two categories: 1) fissile materials, such as plutonium-239 or uranium-235, and 2) other radioactive materials, such as uranium-238, cesium-137, or cobalt-60. We, of course, track possible diversions of plutonium and uranium. But we also are concerned that non-fissile, radioactive materials could be used in a terrorist device designed to create psychological or economic trauma or to contaminate buildings, water supplies or localized areas.

The list of potential proliferators is not limited to states with nuclear weapons ambitions. There are many non-state actors, such as separatists and terrorist groups, criminal organizations, and individual thieves who could choose to further their cause by using fissile or non-fissile (but radioactive) nuclear materials. Despite press articles claiming numerous instances of nuclear trafficking worldwide, we have no evidence that any fissile materials have been acquired by terrorist organizations. We also have no indications of state sponsored attempts to arm terrorist organizations with nuclear material--fissile or non-fissile. Unfortunately, this does not preclude the possibility that a terrorist group could acquire enough nuclear material, potentially through illicit trades, to conduct an operation, especially one specifically designed to incite panic.

A non-state actor does not necessarily need fissile material--which is more difficult to acquire--for its purposes. Depending upon the group's objectives, any radioactive material could suffice, but the use of non-fissile materials would likely result in very little physical damage with low levels of contamination. But non-fissile radioactive materials dispersed by a conventional explosive or even released accidentally could cause damage to property and the environment, and cause social, political, and economic disruption.

Examples of non-fissionable, radioactive materials seen in press reports are cesium-137, strontium-90, and cobalt-60. These cannot be used in nuclear weapons but could be used to contaminate water supplies, business centers, government facilities, or transportation networks. Although it is unlikely they would cause significant numbers of casualties, they could cause physical disruption, interruption of economic activity, post-incident clean-up, and psychological trauma to a workforce and populace. Non-state actors already have attempted to use radioactive materials in recent operations. For example:

Traditional terrorist groups with established sponsors probably will remain hesitant to use a nuclear weapon, for fear of provoking a worldwide crackdown and alienating their supporters. In contrast, a new breed of multinational terrorists, exemplified by the Islamic extremists involved in the bombing of the World Trade Center, might be more likely to consider such a weapon if it were available. These groups are part of a loose association of politically committed, mixed nationality Islamic militants, apparently motivated by revenge, religious fervor, and a general hatred for the West.

The Growing Chemical and Biological Weapons Threat

The danger that a terrorist organization like the Aum Shinrikyo could again acquire the capability to launch an attack using chemical or biological weapons continues to grow. Since the November 1995 hearing on the worldwide chemical and biological weapons threat before the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Senate Committee on Government Affairs, the Intelligence Community has been engaged in continuing dialogue with Senator Nunn regarding the Aum Shinrikyo and information the Senator's staff collected. We continue to assess and analyze the threat of a terrorist chemical or biological weapons attack, a threat that remains ever present.

The Aum Shinrikyo attacks in June 1994, in Matsumoto, Japan, which killed seven and injured 500, and on the subway in Tokyo in March 1995, which killed 12 and injured 5,500, were the first instances of large-scale terrorist use of chemical agents, but a variety of incidents and reports over the last two years indicate a growing terrorist interest in these weapons. These incidents include, but are not limited to:

Such examples reflect an increased interest in and a capability to produce chemical and biological agents. Open source literature--including access to the Internet--provides instructions on how to make some chemical agents.

Terrorist interest in chemical and biological weapons is not surprising, given the relative ease with which some of these weapons can be produced in simple laboratories, the large number of casualties they can cause, and the residual disruption of infrastructure. Although popular fiction and national attention have focused on terrorist use of nuclear weapons, chemical and biological weapons are more likely choices for such groups.

Even very small amounts of biological and chemical weapons can cause massive casualties. The fact that only 12 Japanese died in the Tokyo subway attack de-emphasizes the significance of the 5,500 people who required treatment in hospital emergency rooms. Such a massive influx of injured--many critically--has the potential to overwhelm emergency medical facilities, even in a large metropolitan area.

Although the Aum Shinrikyo case demonstrates that terrorists can produce CW, they also may be able to directly acquire these weapons via other means:

The continued willingness of such states as Iran, Libya and Syria to support terrorism highlights the danger of state sponsorship of a terrorist's chemical or biological weapons program. Although we have no evidence of state sponsors providing chemical or biological weapons or the technologies to produce them to terrorist groups, recent revelations about Iraq's well hidden chemical and biological programs highlight the difficulty in detecting national programs to develop such weapons and disperse them to terrorist entities.

The Aum Shinrikyo

The investigation of Aum leader Shoko Asahara has resulted in a number of revelations about the cult's activities. Press reports allege that:

Iraq: A Country Study

This country study examines the magnitude of Iraq's chemical and biological warfare programs and underscores the complexity faced by international efforts to curb the spread of these weapons. Details about the breadth of Iraq's chemical and biological warfare programs are presented to demonstrate the broad range of weapons that a state sponsor of terrorism has available and could provide to terrorists if it so chooses.

The unprecedented inspections conducted in Iraq by the UN have revealed much about Iraqi WMD programs. In the wake of the August 1995 defection of two high-level Iraqis, the Baghdad government turned over to the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) a large cache of WMD-related documents and have revealed even more information in extensive discussions with both UN organizations. The sudden revelation of new information underscored the long-standing judgment that the Iraqis had made efforts to deceive UNSCOM and the IAEA. Such behavior resulted in UNSCOM Chairman Ekeus's delivery of a strongly worded report to the UN Security Council that was critical of Iraq's progress in fulfilling its obligations under the UN Resolutions imposed following the Gulf War. Despite the UN resolutions, Iraq successfully concealed developments in both its chemical and biological warfare programs.

Iraq's Chemical Warfare Program

These revelations demonstrated the ability of countries to hide capabilities in the face of intrusive international inspection regimes and included:

Iraq received significant assistance from outside suppliers.

Iraq's Biological Warfare Program

Following the August 1995 defections, Iraq revealed substantial information about its extensive biological warfare program. The Iraqi Government adopted a policy to acquire biological weapons in 1974. Research and development began in 1975, but went into hiatus in 1978. In 1985, Iraq restarted biological weapons research and development. Initial work focused on literature studies, until bacterial strains were received from overseas in April 1986. Additionally, Iraq's revelations to the UN included the following information on the production and weaponization of its biological agents:

Efforts to Control Weapons Proliferation

International regimes continue to be expanded to slow the proliferation of WMD. Since the 1960s, when the US sponsored the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), this country has recognized that proliferation is a global problem and that combating it requires high levels of international cooperation. The United States has, at times, exerted unilateral influence, successfully in several cases, to discourage proliferation, but remains committed to supporting multilateral efforts to stem proliferation. To that end, the US successfully pursued the permanent extension of the NPT to prevent the spread of nuclear technologies to countries and entities attempting to acquire such weapons.

With regard to the former Soviet Union, the Russians have accepted US assistance in upgrading equipment, training, and procedures, in order to address deficiencies in their security programs. Joint US-Russian cooperation on improving material protection, control, and accountability (MPC&A) has been ongoing since the signing of an agreement between MINATOM--the Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy--and the US Department of Defense in September 1992. The Intelligence Community has monitored the safety and security practices at Russian non-Ministry of Defense fissile materials facilities for some time. A comprehensive examination revealed that none of these facilities in Russia or other newly independent states had adequate safeguards or security measures by international standards for weapons-useable materials. The Intelligence Community has assisted the policy community in identifying the most critical Russian civilian sites handling weapons-useable material that could benefit from US efforts. This provided a starting point for US and Russian agreement on which facilities to concentrate initial MPC&A improvement efforts. This cooperation has been steadily expanding and currently involves over a dozen MINATOM facilities and a comparable number of facilities outside of Russia.

The US also has played a significant role in Kazakstan. After several months of sensitive negotiations, the United States purchased from Kazakstan and brought to the US Department of Energy's facility at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, for storage, 600 kilograms of highly enriched uranium. As a result, that material is unavailable to nuclear traffickers and proliferation states.

Chemical and biological weapons regimes represent additional elements in the strategy to limit WMD. These efforts include:

While these international nonproliferation efforts were not designed to prevent terrorism, they do include nonproliferation provisions that will enhance our efforts to fight attempts by rogue states and by terrorists to acquire, to transfer, and to use chemical weapons and their precursors. For example, the CWC will require States Parties to cease transfers of certain CW agents and CW precursor chemicals to non-States Parties and to restrict such transfers to other parties. Additionally, at a BWC Special Conference held in Geneva in September 1994, the US, in order to help deter violations of and enhance compliance with the BWC, promoted the development of a legally binding instrument that increased transparency of activities and facilities that could have biological weapons applications.

Though they include provisions that should aid in preventing the acquisition of WMD by terrorist entities, treaties such as the NPT, CWC and BWC will likely be of limited effectiveness in halting the acquisition of WMD technologies by groups determined to possess them. Even if the CWC had been in effect at the time Aum Shinrikyo began its CW program, Aum was purchasing only Schedule 3 chemicals--including phosphorous trichloride--which it claimed were for the production of chemical pesticides for use on its agricultural holdings. In addition, the Aum was in the process of establishing its own university and would have been able to purchase laboratory stocks of the same chemicals in Japan without attracting attention.

An effective program to combat terrorist use of WMD will require vigorous efforts by police and intelligence agencies, from local police through international law enforcement and intelligence organizations, to detect and intercept possible terrorist attacks.

Intelligence Community Response

The mission of the US Intelligence Community in the counterproliferation arena is to support those who make and execute all four aspects of US counterproliferation policy: preventing acquisition; capping or rolling back existing programs; deterring use of WMD; and ensuring US forces' ability to operate against proliferated weapons.

To achieve these ends, the Intelligence Community focuses its efforts on providing accurate, comprehensive, timely, and actionable foreign intelligence. The Community has also searched for new ways and opportunities to add substantial value to counterproliferation policy decisions and activities. This has included:

Strategic Planning Process

US Intelligence has instituted a corporate strategic planning and evaluation process for support to counter proliferation. This process contributes to the Intelligence Community's National Needs Process and the National Foreign Intelligence Program (NFIP), the Joint Military Intelligence Program (JMIP), and the Tactical Intelligence and Related Activities (TIARA) program and Planning Guidance. A major benefit of this effort has been the establishment of a significant Department of Defense (DoD) representation within the DCI's Nonproliferation Center. This has helped integrate Intelligence support to DoD counterproliferation needs and actions. The Intelligence Community also has expanded its relations with the law enforcement community and is sharing information and resources in support of the law enforcement community's counterproliferation efforts.

The Presidential Decision Directive (PDD) on Nonproliferation and Export Controls, related PDDs, Congressional Language, reports from government committees engaged in counterproliferation, and policy statements of several government agencies have shaped the Intelligence Community's counterproliferation strategic planning process and have helped determine a list of priority customer information requirements. These requirements are addressed in various Intelligence Community action programs such as the Annual Strategic Intelligence Review, the WMD Integrated Collection Strategy, the Countering WMD Strategic Plan, and the NSC-directed country studies.

As the threat of proliferation has increased, US Intelligence capabilities to support counterproliferation efforts have been redirected or expanded and now include:

US Intelligence has taken or participated in actions to address the overall challenges facing US counterproliferation efforts, including:

Additionally, the creation of JMIP to coordinate joint, DoD-wide initiatives, activities and programs, will provide intelligence information and support to multiple DoD customers and should significantly enhance US Intelligence support to DoD's counterproliferation program.

Intelligence Success to Date

US efforts to counter the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction have enjoyed some successes over the past several years. Director Deutch observed last week, I think a tremendous amount of progress has been done...to build a serious, post-Cold War, nonproliferation intelligence capability. For obvious reasons, we cannot describe in this forum many of our successes. Some that we can include:

But even if we could list all of our accomplishments, we would be the first to say there is more to do. Over the next year, the Community will seek to:

In closing, I would note that intelligence is essential to countering the proliferation and potential use of weapons of mass destruction. The recent anniversary of the poison gas attack in the Tokyo subway reminded all of the devastating consequences of such an attack. The US is not invulnerable. While we will continue to provide intelligence support to those who would have to respond to such an event, we must do all that we can to eliminate or at least minimize such a possibility. Of course we will continue efforts to impede and prevent the spread and acquisition of such weapons and technology. That, however, is not enough. Efforts to terminate developmental program and to deter weapons use must be enhanced.