Nuclear terrorism

Nuclear terrorism

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Nuclear terrorism denotes the use, or threat of the use, of nuclear weapon
Nuclear weapon
A nuclear weapon is an explosive device that derives its destructive force from nuclear reactions, either fission or a combination of fission and fusion. Both reactions release vast quantities of energy from relatively small amounts of matter. The first fission bomb test released the same amount...

s or radiological weapon
Radiological weapon
A radiological weapon or radiological dispersion device is any weapon that is designed to spread radioactive material with the intent to kill, and cause disruption upon a city or nation....

s in acts of terrorism
Terrorism
Terrorism is the systematic use of terror, especially as a means of coercion. In the international community, however, terrorism has no universally agreed, legally binding, criminal law definition...

, including
attacks against facilities where radioactive materials are present. In legal terms, nuclear terrorism is an offense committed if a person unlawfully and intentionally “uses in any way radioactive material … with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury; or with the intent to cause substantial damage to property or to the
environment; or with the intent to compel a natural or legal person, an international organization or a State to do or refrain from doing an act”, according to 2005 United Nations International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism
International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism
The 2005 United Nations International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism is a multilateral treaty open to the ratification of all states designed to criminalize acts of nuclear terrorism and to promote police and judicial cooperation to prevent, investigate and punish...

.

The notion of terrorist organizations using nuclear weapons (especially very small ones, such as suitcase nuke
Suitcase nuke
A suitcase nuke is a tactical nuclear weapon which uses, or is portable enough that it could use, a suitcase as its delivery method. Synonyms include suitcase bomb, backpack nuke, mini-nuke, pocket nuke and snuke....

s) has been a threat in American rhetoric and culture. It is considered plausible that terrorists could acquire a nuclear weapon. In 2011, the British news agency, the Telegraph, received leaked documents
Wikileaks
WikiLeaks is an international self-described not-for-profit organisation that publishes submissions of private, secret, and classified media from anonymous news sources, news leaks, and whistleblowers. Its website, launched in 2006 under The Sunshine Press organisation, claimed a database of more...

 regarding the Guantanamo Bay interrogations of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The documents
Guantanamo Bay files leak
The Guantánamo Bay files leak began on 25 April 2011, when WikiLeaks, along with several independent news organizations, began publishing 779 formerly secret documents relating to detainees at the Guantánamo Bay detention camp...

 cited Khalid saying that, if Osama Bin Laden
Osama bin Laden
Osama bin Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden was the founder of the militant Islamist organization Al-Qaeda, the jihadist organization responsible for the September 11 attacks on the United States and numerous other mass-casualty attacks against civilian and military targets...

 is captured or killed by the Coalition of the Willing
Coalition of the willing
The term coalition of the willing is a post-1990 political phrase used to collectively describe participants in military or military-humanitarian interventions for which the United Nations Security Council cannot agree to mount a full UN peacekeeping operation...

, an Al-Qaeda sleeper cell will detonate a "weapon of mass destruction" in a "secret location" in Europe, and promised it would be "a nuclear hellstorm".

Overview


Nuclear terrorism could include:
  • Acquiring or fabricating a nuclear weapon
  • Fabricating a dirty bomb
    Dirty bomb
    A dirty bomb is a speculative radiological weapon that combines radioactive material with conventional explosives. The purpose of the weapon is to contaminate the area around the explosion with radioactive material, hence the attribute "dirty"....

  • Attacking a nuclear reactor, e.g., by disrupting critical inputs (e.g. water supply)
  • Attacking or taking over a nuclear-armed submarine, plane or base.


U.S. President Barack Obama
Barack Obama
Barack Hussein Obama II is the 44th and current President of the United States. He is the first African American to hold the office. Obama previously served as a United States Senator from Illinois, from January 2005 until he resigned following his victory in the 2008 presidential election.Born in...

 calls nuclear terrorism "the single most important national security threat that we face". In his first speech to the U.N. Security Council, President Obama said that "Just one nuclear weapon exploded in a city -- be it New York or Moscow, Tokyo or Beijing, London or Paris -- could kill hundreds of thousands of people". It would "destabilize our security, our economies, and our very way of life".

History


As early as December 1945, politicians worried about the possibility of smuggling nuclear weapons into the United States, though this was still in the context of a battle between the superpowers of the Cold War
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

. Congressmen quizzed the "father of the atomic bomb," J. Robert Oppenheimer, about the possibility of detecting a smuggled atomic bomb:
This sparked further work on the question of smuggled atomic devices during the 1950s.

Discussions of non-state nuclear terrorism among experts go back at least to the 1970s. In 1975 The Economist
The Economist
The Economist is an English-language weekly news and international affairs publication owned by The Economist Newspaper Ltd. and edited in offices in the City of Westminster, London, England. Continuous publication began under founder James Wilson in September 1843...

 warned that "You can make a bomb with a few pounds of plutonium. By the mid-1980s the power stations may easily be turning out 200,000 lb of the stuff each year. And each year, unless present methods are drastically changed, many thousands of pounds of it will be transferred from one plant to another as it proceeds through the fuel cycle. The dangers of robbery in transit are evident.... Vigorous co-operation between governments and the International Atomic Energy Agency could, even at this late stage, make the looming perils loom a good deal smaller." And the New York Times commented in 1981 that The Nuclear Emergency Search Team's "origins go back to the aftershocks of the Munich Olympic massacre in mid-1972. Until that time, no one in the United States Government had thought seriously about the menace of organized, international terrorism, much less nuclear terrorism. There was a perception in Washington that the value of what is called 'special nuclear material' - plutonium or highly enriched uranium - was so enormous that the strict financial accountability of the private contractors who dealt with it would be enough to protect it from falling into the wrong hands. But it has since been revealed that the physical safeguarding of bomb-grade material against theft was almost scandalously neglected."

This discussion took on a larger public character in the 1980s after NBC
NBC
The National Broadcasting Company is an American commercial broadcasting television network and former radio network headquartered in the GE Building in New York City's Rockefeller Center with additional major offices near Los Angeles and in Chicago...

 aired Special Bulletin
Special Bulletin
Special Bulletin is an American made-for-TV movie first broadcast in 1983. It was an early collaboration between director Edward Zwick and writer Marshall Herskovitz, a team that would later produce such series as thirtysomething and My So-Called Life...

, a television dramatization of a nuclear terrorist attack on the United States. In 1986 a private panel of experts known as the International Task Force on the Prevention of Terrorism released a report urging all nuclear-armed states to beware the dangers of terrorism and work on equipping their nuclear arsenals with permissive action links. "The probability of nuclear terrorism," the experts warned, "is increasing and the consequences for urban and industrial societies could be catastrophic."

Radiological weapons


It is feared that a terrorist group could detonate a radiological or 'dirty bomb
Dirty bomb
A dirty bomb is a speculative radiological weapon that combines radioactive material with conventional explosives. The purpose of the weapon is to contaminate the area around the explosion with radioactive material, hence the attribute "dirty"....

'. A 'dirty bomb' is composed of any radioactive source and a conventional explosive. The radioactive material is dispersed by the detonation of the explosive. Detonation of such a weapon is not as powerful as a nuclear blast, but can produce considerable radioactive fallout
Fallout
Fallout or nuclear fallout is the residual radiation hazard from a nuclear explosion.Fallout may also refer to:*Fallout , a 1997 post-apocalyptic computer role-playing game released by Interplay Entertainment...

. There are other radiological weapons called radiological exposure devices where an explosive is not necessary. A radiological weapon may be very appealing to terrorist groups as it is highly successful in instilling fear and panic amongst a population (particularly because of the threat of radiation poisoning
Radiation poisoning
Acute radiation syndrome also known as radiation poisoning, radiation sickness or radiation toxicity, is a constellation of health effects which occur within several months of exposure to high amounts of ionizing radiation...

), and would contaminate the immediate area for some period of time, disrupting attempts to repair the damage. The economic losses could be enormous - easily reaching into the tens of billions of dollars.

Nuclear weapon
Nuclear weapon
A nuclear weapon is an explosive device that derives its destructive force from nuclear reactions, either fission or a combination of fission and fusion. Both reactions release vast quantities of energy from relatively small amounts of matter. The first fission bomb test released the same amount...

s materials on the black market are a global concern, and there is concern about the possible detonation of a small, crude nuclear weapon by a terrorist group in a major city, with significant loss of life and property.

According to leaked diplomatic documents, Al-Qaeda
Al-Qaeda
Al-Qaeda is a global broad-based militant Islamist terrorist organization founded by Osama bin Laden sometime between August 1988 and late 1989. It operates as a network comprising both a multinational, stateless army and a radical Sunni Muslim movement calling for global Jihad...

 is on the verge of producing radiological weapons, after sourcing nuclear material and recruiting rogue scientists to build "dirty bombs".

Alleged nuclear terrorism attempts and plans


In June 2002, U.S. citizen Jose Padilla
José Padilla (alleged terrorist)
José Padilla , also known as Abdullah al-Muhajir or Muhajir Abdullah, is a United States citizen convicted of aiding terrorists....

 was arrested for allegedly planning a radiological attack on the city of Chicago; however, he was never charged with such conduct. He was instead convicted of charges that he conspired to "murder, kidnap and maim" people overseas.

In November 2006, MI5
MI5
The Security Service, commonly known as MI5 , is the United Kingdom's internal counter-intelligence and security agency and is part of its core intelligence machinery alongside the Secret Intelligence Service focused on foreign threats, Government Communications Headquarters and the Defence...

 warned that al-Qaida were planning on using nuclear weapons against cities in the United Kingdom by obtaining the bombs via clandestine
Clandestine operation
A clandestine operation is an intelligence or military operation carried out in such a way that the operation goes unnoticed.The United States Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms defines "clandestine operation" as "An operation sponsored or conducted by governmental...

 means.http://politics.guardian.co.uk/terrorism/story/0,,1947295,00.html

In June 2007, the Federal Bureau of Investigation
Federal Bureau of Investigation
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is an agency of the United States Department of Justice that serves as both a federal criminal investigative body and an internal intelligence agency . The FBI has investigative jurisdiction over violations of more than 200 categories of federal crime...

 released to the press the name of Adnan Gulshair el Shukrijumah
Adnan Gulshair el Shukrijumah
Born in Saudi Arabia, Adnan Gulshair el Shukrijumah is a member of al-Qaeda, who grew up in the United States and worked as a school teacher....

, allegedly the operations leader for developing tactical plans for detonating nuclear bombs in several American cities simultaneously.

The Alexander Litvinenko poisoning
Alexander Litvinenko poisoning
Alexander Litvinenko was a former officer of the Russian Federal Security Service, FSB and KGB, who escaped prosecution in Russia and received political asylum in the United Kingdom...

 with radioactive polonium "represents an ominous landmark: the beginning of an era of nuclear terrorism," according to Andrew J. Patterson.

Security specialist Shaun Gregory argued in an article that terrorists have attacked Pakistani nuclear facilities three times in the recent past; twice in 2007 and once in 2008.

Pakistan


After several incidents in Pakistan
Pakistan
Pakistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is a sovereign state in South Asia. It has a coastline along the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman in the south and is bordered by Afghanistan and Iran in the west, India in the east and China in the far northeast. In the north, Tajikistan...

 in which terrorists attacked three of its military nuclear facilities it became clear that there emerged a serious danger that they would gain access to the country’s nuclear arsenal, according to a journal published by the US Military Academy at West Point. In January 2010 it was revealed that the US army was training a specialised unit "to seal off and snatch back" Pakistani nuclear weapons in the event that militants would obtain a nuclear device or materials that could make one. Pakistan supposedly possesses about 80 nuclear warheads. US officials refused to speak on the record about the American safety plans.

A study by Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
The Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs is a permanent research center located within the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. The center's current director is political scientist Graham T. Allison....

 at Harvard University
Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

 titled 'Securing the Bomb 2010', found that Pakistan's stockpile "faces a greater threat from Islamic extremists seeking nuclear weapons than any other nuclear stockpile on earth".

According to Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, a former investigator with the CIA and the US Department of Energy, there is "a greater possibility of a nuclear meltdown in Pakistan than anywhere else in the world. The region has more violent extremists than any other, the country is unstable, and its arsenal of nuclear weapons is expanding."

Nuclear weapons expert David Albright
David Albright
David Albright, M.S., is the founder of the non-governmental Institute for Science and International Security , its current president, and author of several books on proliferation of atomic weapons. Albright holds a Master of Science in physics from Indiana University and a M.Sc. in mathematics...

 author of 'Peddling Peril' has also expressed concerns that Pakistan's stockpile may not be secure despite assurances by both Pakistan and U.S. government. He stated Pakistan "has had many leaks from its program of classified information and sensitive nuclear equipment, and so you have to worry that it could be acquired in Pakistan,"

A 2010 study by the Congressional Research Service
Congressional Research Service
The Congressional Research Service , known as "Congress's think tank", is the public policy research arm of the United States Congress. As a legislative branch agency within the Library of Congress, CRS works exclusively and directly for Members of Congress, their Committees and staff on a...

 titled 'Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons: Proliferation and Security Issues' noted that even though Pakistan had taken several steps to enhance Nuclear security in recent years 'Instability in Pakistan has called the extent and durability of these reforms into question.'

United States


President Barack Obama
Barack Obama
Barack Hussein Obama II is the 44th and current President of the United States. He is the first African American to hold the office. Obama previously served as a United States Senator from Illinois, from January 2005 until he resigned following his victory in the 2008 presidential election.Born in...

 has reviewed Homeland Security policy and concluded that "attacks using improvised nuclear devices ... pose a serious and increasing national security risk". In their presidential contest, President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry both agreed that the most serious danger facing the United States is the possibility that terrorists could obtain a nuclear bomb. Most nuclear-weapon analysts agree that "building such a device would pose few technological challenges to reasonably competent terrorists". The main barrier is acquiring highly Enriched uranium
Enriched uranium
Enriched uranium is a kind of uranium in which the percent composition of uranium-235 has been increased through the process of isotope separation. Natural uranium is 99.284% 238U isotope, with 235U only constituting about 0.711% of its weight...

.

Despite a number of claims, there is no credible evidence that any terrorist group has yet succeeded in obtaining a nuclear bomb or the materials needed to make one. In 2004, Graham Allison, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense during the Clinton administration, wrote that “on the current path, a nuclear terrorist attack on America in the decade ahead is more likely than not". Also in 2004, Bruce Blair, president of the Center for Defense Information
Center for Defense Information
The Center for Defense Information , founded in 1972 by retired U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Gene La Rocque, states that it is dedicated to strengthening national and international security through international cooperation, reduced reliance on unilateral military power to resolve conflict, reduced...

 stated: "I wouldn't be at all surprised if nuclear weapons are used over the next 15 or 20 years, first and foremost by a terrorist group that gets its hands on a Russian nuclear weapon or a Pakistani nuclear weapon". In 2006, Robert Gallucci, Dean of the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, estimated that “it is more likely than not that al Qaeda or one of its affiliates will detonate a nuclear weapon in a U.S. city within the next five to ten years".

Detonation of a nuclear weapon in a major U.S. city could kill more than 500,000 people and cause more than a trillion dollars in damage. Hundreds of thousands could die from fallout, the resulting fires and collapsing buildings. In this scenario, uncontrolled fires would burn for days and emergency services and hospitals would be completely overwhelmed.

The Obama administration will focus on reducing the risk of high-consequence, non-traditional nuclear threats. Nuclear security is to be strengthened by enhancing "nuclear detection architecture and ensuring that our own nuclear materials are secure", and by "establishing well-planned, well-rehearsed, plans for co-ordinated response". According to senior Pentagon officials, the United States will make "thwarting nuclear-armed terrorists a central aim of American strategic nuclear planning". Nuclear attribution
Nuclear attribution
Nuclear attribution is the process of tracing the origin of nuclear material that has been used in a nuclear explosion. The problem is not necessarily a straightforward one, for it may be possible to obtain nuclear precursors through the black market, and therefore relatively anonymously....

 is another strategy being pursued to counter terrorism. Led by the National Technical Nuclear Forensics Center, attribution would allow the government to determine the likely source of nuclear material used in the event of a nuclear attack. This would prevent terrorist groups, and any states willing to help them, from being able to pull off a covert attack without assurance of retaliation.

In July 2010 medical personnel from the U.S. Army practiced the techniques they would use to treat people injured by an atomic blast. The exercises were carried out at a training center in Indiana, and were set up to "simulate the aftermath of a small nuclear bomb blast, set off in a U.S. city by terrorists".

Recovering lost weapons and material


In August 2002, the United States launched a program to track and secure enriched uranium
Enriched uranium
Enriched uranium is a kind of uranium in which the percent composition of uranium-235 has been increased through the process of isotope separation. Natural uranium is 99.284% 238U isotope, with 235U only constituting about 0.711% of its weight...

 from 24 Soviet
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

-style reactors in 16 countries, in order to reduce the risk of the materials falling into the hands of terrorists or "rogue state
Rogue state
Rogue state is a controversial term applied by some international theorists to states they consider threatening to the world's peace. This means meeting certain criteria, such as being ruled by authoritarian regimes that severely restrict human rights, sponsor terrorism, and seek to proliferate...

s". The first such operation was Project Vinca, "a multinational, public-private effort to remove nuclear material from a poorly-secured Yugoslav research institute
Vinča Nuclear Institute
Vinča Nuclear Institute is a nuclear physics research institution near Belgrade, in Serbia.-History:The Institute was originally established in 1948 as the Institute for Physics. In 1953 it was renamed in favour of Boris Kidrič. Several different research groups started in the 1950s, and two...

." The project has been hailed as "a nonproliferation success story" with the "potential to inform broader 'global cleanout' efforts to address one of the weakest links in the nuclear nonproliferation chain: insufficiently secured civilian nuclear research facilities."

In order to reduce the danger of attacks using nuclear waste material, European Union
European Union
The European Union is an economic and political union of 27 independent member states which are located primarily in Europe. The EU traces its origins from the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Economic Community , formed by six countries in 1958...

 Commissioner Loyola de Palacio
Loyola de Palacio
Loyola de Palacio y del Valle-Lersundi was a Spanish politician. She was one of the first women to rise to political prominence in Spain during the early years of democracy. She was a minister in the Spanish government from 1996 to 1998, and a member of the European Commission from 1999 to 2004...

 suggested in November 2002 the creation of common standards in the European Union, especially in the new member states operating Soviet-era reactors, for subterranean nuclear waste disposal.

In November 2007, burglars with unknown intentions infiltrated the Pelindaba
Pelindaba
Pelindaba is South Africa's main Nuclear Research Centre, run by The South African Nuclear Energy Corporation, and was the location where South Africa's atomic bombs of the 1970s were developed, constructed and subsequently stored...

 nuclear research facility near Pretoria, South Africa. The burglars escaped without acquiring any of the uranium held at the facility.

See also

  • List of crimes involving radioactive substances
  • Lists of nuclear disasters and radioactive incidents
  • Nuclear espionage
    Nuclear espionage
    Nuclear espionage is the purposeful giving of state secrets regarding nuclear weapons to other states without authorization . During the history of nuclear weapons there have been many cases of known nuclear espionage, and also many cases of suspected or alleged espionage...

  • Pelindaba
    Pelindaba
    Pelindaba is South Africa's main Nuclear Research Centre, run by The South African Nuclear Energy Corporation, and was the location where South Africa's atomic bombs of the 1970s were developed, constructed and subsequently stored...

  • Terrorism
    Terrorism
    Terrorism is the systematic use of terror, especially as a means of coercion. In the international community, however, terrorism has no universally agreed, legally binding, criminal law definition...

  • The World Institute for Nuclear Security
    The World Institute for Nuclear Security
    The World Institute for Nuclear Security is an organization which seeks to prevent nuclear terrorism and improve world nuclear security. It works alongside the International Atomic Energy Agency...

  • Weapons of mass destruction
    Weapons of mass destruction
    A weapon of mass destruction is a weapon that can kill and bring significant harm to a large number of humans and/or cause great damage to man-made structures , natural structures , or the biosphere in general...

  • Nuclear warfare
    Nuclear warfare
    Nuclear warfare, or atomic warfare, is a military conflict or political strategy in which nuclear weaponry is detonated on an opponent. Compared to conventional warfare, nuclear warfare can be vastly more destructive in range and extent of damage...

  • Guantanamo Bay files leak
    Guantanamo Bay files leak
    The Guantánamo Bay files leak began on 25 April 2011, when WikiLeaks, along with several independent news organizations, began publishing 779 formerly secret documents relating to detainees at the Guantánamo Bay detention camp...


External links