“We have been monitoring known missile and chemical-agent storage facilities since the start of this conflict and will continue to do so,” he said. “We also continue to monitor storage sites of the Libyan stockpile of uranium yellowcake. I am not going to go beyond how we do these things other than to say we are using national technical means.”
“National technical means” refers to the overhead satellite and aircraft surveillance the U.S. government has used for decades to monitor known missile and nuclear facilities all over the world.
Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokeswoman, said “known missile and chemical agent storage facilities remain secure, and we’ve not seen any activity, based on our national technical means, to give us concern that they have been compromised.”
Regarding nuclear-related goods, the International Atomic Energy Agency estimates that Libya holds 2,000 tons of yellowcake uranium stored mainly at a facility in the southern town of Sebha.
“At this point, it’s a big amount. If you want to just remove [it], it’s a major effort. It’s packed in drums and would require a major operation,” said Olli Heinonen, deputy director general for safeguards at the International Atomic Energy Agency from 2005 to 2010.
Mr. Heinonen, now at Harvard University, said the Gadhafi regime wanted to sell the yellowcake uranium a few years ago, but he thinks the regime decided against that.
Mr. Heinonen said the material would be of interest mainly as a precursor to making nuclear fuel, but in and of itself it would not be useful as a weapon. “If you put it in a public place, it’s a problem,” he said. “But it’s less of a problem compared to other radioactive material.”
One U.S. official said the State Department has sent technical specialists to meet with the Transitional National Council and to help alert Libya’s neighbors about the possible transshipment of weapons across the country’s borders.
Another U.S. intelligence officer, who asked not to be named, said the United States also was relying on contractors to monitor known weapons sites.
“We don’t have much in the way of ground forces,” this official said. “Someone was supposed to be doing this. The Qataris and Emiratis were supposed to do it; they had their special forces on the ground, and there are contractors too. They were supposed to do site security and make sure nothing has been touched.”
The U.S. Special Operations Command has special units of commandos that are prepared to go to foreign countries, including North Korea, to destroy or secure foreign weapons sites. It could not be learned whether commando units are set for operations in Libya.