Most reports of nuclear material disappearing from Russia's arsenal involve either fraud or quantities too small to make a weapon, a CIA official says.
Over the past two years, the agency has received more than 100 reports alleging that nuclear warheads or other components had fallen into unknown hands, "but to date the reporting has been unsubstantiated and unreliable," David Osias, the CIA national intelligence officer for strategic programs, told a Senate subcommittee Tuesday.Osias noted seizures of small quantities of weapons-usable material by police in Germany and the Czech Republic in the last year. All other reports, he said, were of frauds - some involving low-enriched uranium, which is more readily available and unusable for nuclear bombs.
Political instability since the breakup of the Soviet Union has raised questions about the security of nuclear weapons, including substances that might go to terrorists or countries hostile to the United States.
"A few countries whose interests are inimical to the U.S. are attempting to acquire nuclear weapons, Iran and Iraq being two of our greatest concerns," Osias told the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on European affairs.
"Should one of these countries or a terrorist group acquire one or a few nuclear weapons, they could deter U.S. political or military actions, threaten or attack deployed U.S. forces or allies or possibly conduct an attack against the U.S.," Osias told Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, a Republican presidential hopeful and chairman of the subcommittee.
Lugar said he doubted if Congress, the Clinton administration or even the Russian government was devoting enough attention to the problem.
"It's a governmental failure," he told reporters covering the session. "I called these hearings to elevate us so that we all are up to speed."
Lugar was the only subcommittee member present for the first of two days of hearings. Both houses of Congress are in recess until next month.
Russian defense officials maintain "generally effective control," over the former Soviet nuclear arsenal, Osias said. But it is weaker than the Soviet Union's highly centralized, highly regimented military system.
He said the Russian government is aware of the nuclear smuggling problem and, with the United States, is making efforts to prevent it.
For years there were two obstacles for anyone wanting to build a nuclear bomb - the lack of technical know-how and the difficulties of obtaining the material needed to make it, Osias said.
"Today there is basically only one obstacle to a committed nation: acquisition of fissile material," the highly enriched uranium or plutonium needed to spark the energy of a nuclear blast, Osias said.