The Nuclear Network

By: Douglas Farah

There were several reports, led by the Washington Post, on the rogue international smuggling network that managed to acquire blueprints for an advanced nuclear weapon.

No one knows where those blueprints were sold, or to whom. My sources in the intelligence community have suspected for several years that the network of senior Russian officials operating the criminal enterprise that Viktor Bout was a part of, had gotten hold of at least two copies of the plans.

Given Bout’s extensive contact lists with radical and criminal groups, and those of the Russian organized crime that are creeping in to many new places, including the Caribbean and Mexico, it is hard to overstate how dangerous this is.

“These advanced nuclear weapons designs may have long ago been sold off to some of the most treacherous regimes in the world,” David Albright wrote in a draft report about the blueprint’s discovery.

The important lesson here is that we know that the network of A.Q. Khan provided Libya and North Korea with design information for a nuclear bomb.

But the same network, likely even without Khan in place, also offered a second set of blueprints that would allow a criminal or terrorist organization to build a more compact device that could be delivered by ballistic missile-the type of missile that North Korea, Iran, North Korea and others already possess.

That is both the beauty and lethal danger of networks. They can grow, shift products around within the network, and carry out transactions that take years to trace.

The concept of leaderless networks (although I think that ultimately there is almost always a leader providing direction in important ways) explains a great deal about how these groups can carry on even if their heads are cut off.

The plans were found in the computer of a family of Swiss businessmen, and now destroyed by the IAEA to keep them from falling into terrorist hands. But there is no way to tell how many times the plans may have been copied and distributed.

My IC sources told me last year they suspected 10 copies of the plans – two in the hands of Bout and eight in the hands of other parties unknown – had disappeared. And, of course, once another copy is made, there is no telling how many more times it is copied.

We focus on the threat of atomic weapons in the hands of radical Islamist groups, and rightly so.

But there are many other criminal groups that would love to have the weapon, either to sell or use in the time and place of its choosing. Separatist movements, ideological splinter groups and religious zealots other than Islamists would all be prime candidates.

So the news is not good. In fact, it should terrify all of us. The IC community, while paying lip service to the reality of the problem, has not yet gotten a grip on what the network was (is?) and the havoc it has wrought. We can’t wait until the next attack to figure out how to deal with this problem.

This article is complements of Family Security Matters.

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