- The Washington Times - Monday, April 10, 2000

The ten lead-lined containers of highly radioactive material seized by Uzbekistan's Customs authorities at a remote border crossing with Turkmenistan, is part of a new Islamic bomb that threatens the United States, Israel and many other countries. This new bomb is not a nuclear weapon. It is a radiation bomb. It is a weapon that Middle Eastern terrorists are likely to use in the near future.
The radiation bomb is made of highly radioactive materials and conventional explosives. The first recent example of such a weapon was built by Chechen terrorists and planted in a Moscow park in November 1995. The Chechens threatened to explode such a weapon in Moscow, and to lend credibility to their threat Chechen rebel commander Shamil Basayev said publicly where the bomb was planted. Subsequently a specially trained Russian team dug it up.
While the Chechen bomb probably would not have caused much damage, because it was buried in the ground, a bomb that is exploded above ground, dispersing radioactive material will result in huge casualties.
The seized material (which may be either Cobalt 60, Cesium 137 or Strontium 90 all perfect candidates for the New Islamic Bomb) was on its way to Pakistan in a truck driven by an Iranian national. Pakistan does not need this type of material for its nuclear weapons program, but Pakistan may be independently working on radiation-type weapons for itself or for others such as Iran. An air-burst type warhead on an Iranian missile is one possible use. More simple, man-carried terror weapons are another.
Because Islamic terrorists expect to become martyrs, carrying around a highly radioactive weapon in a suitcase is not a factor of importance in the calculation of these terrorists.
The Uzbeks were able to interdict the shipment because the United States provided a handful of portable radiation pagers (detectors) under an obscure, but well-managed, program called the Defense Department-Customs Counterproliferation Program. This program has minimal funding less than $2 million per year for 18 countries in the former Soviet Union, Baltic States, Eastern and Central Europe. This badly neglected program lacks money to buy sufficient numbers of radiation pagers, fixed site detectors or communications gear to enhance the effort being made by the Uzbek authorities and others. At least $50 million in funds for equipment and training is urgently needed for this border security program.
Along with the equipment and training requirements, the United States also needs to gear up its counterterrorism work in these countries and stop worrying about extraneous human rights issues. Terrorists, who get their support from Iran and Afghanistan, threaten Uzbekistan. Yet the United States has hardly lifted a finger to help the Uzbeki authorities deal with the terrorism problem, even though there is a clear link between the terrorists and the nuclear smuggling operations, and these operations are professionally run by well-disciplined intelligence services in Iran and Afghanistan and, quite possibly, Pakistan.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will be in Central Asia visiting Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan between April 14 and April 20. She is under pressure from the human rights crowd in the State Department to continue boycotting Uzbekistan because it is not democratic enough. This pressure led to the embarrassing refusal of the United States to provide observers to Uzbekistan's recent presidential election. And, because of this pressure the State Department has blocked progress on counterproliferation and on counterterrorism.
Mrs. Albright has a unique opportunity to set things right in Uzbekistan and the other Central Asian republics by providing real American support to them. In this way, Mrs. Albright will make a contribution to helping stop the New Islamic Bomb.

Stephen D. Bryen is the former head of the Defense Technology Security Administration.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide