Revelations about A.Q. Khan’s global nuclear marketing efforts and Osama bin Laden’s contact with Pakistani nuclear scientists have raised concerns about terrorist acquisition of a nuclear or radiological weapons capability. Such a capability would pose a grave danger to U.S. national security and also to the security of the international system of nation-states. Looking across three case studies, this documented briefing concludes with a set of observations. First, access to significant resources, including the sanctuary of a state, will not guarantee the success of a nonstate actor’s nuclear acquisition effort. Second, even sophisticated terrorists, searching for nuclear material, have been victims of scams. Third, Russian officials appear to have been less corrupt, and Russian nuclear materials and expertise more secure than many analysts in the West have alleged. Fourth, despite inspections and safeguards, the IAEA failed to prevent the loss of reactor fuel. Finally, the study suggests that strict control s on nuclear weapons, materials, and expertise will reduce opportunities for terrorists to acquire these resources.
The research reported here was sponsored by the United States Air Force and conducted by RAND Project AIR FORCE.
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