FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III yesterday said that it was only a matter of time and economics before terrorists will be able to purchase nuclear weapons and that the world’s law-enforcement community must unite to prevent it.
“Our greatest weapon is unity,” Mr. Mueller said at the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism law-enforcement conference in Miami. “That unity is built on intelligence and interagency cooperation. It is built on the idea that, together, we are smarter and stronger than we are standing alone.”
Mr. Mueller said federal authorities, working with their counterparts overseas, must secure loose nuclear material, share intelligence about those who wish to buy and sell such material, and stop those who do — adding that by some estimates, there is enough highly enriched uranium in global stockpiles to construct thousands of nuclear weapons.
Mr. Mueller said the economics of supply and demand dictate that someone, somewhere will provide nuclear material to the highest bidder, and that material will end up in the hands of terrorists. He said the al Qaeda terrorist network has demonstrated a clear intent to acquire weapons of mass destruction, noting that Osama bin Laden sought to buy uranium in Sudan in 1993.
But, he said, al Qaeda is not the only concern, adding that the United States faces threats from other terrorist cells around the world and from homegrown terrorists not affiliated with al Qaeda but who have been inspired by its message of hatred and violence.
“Several rogue nations — and even individuals — seek to develop nuclear capabilities,” he said. “Abdul Khan, for example, was not only the father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb; he peddled that technology to North Korea, Libya and Iran. Khan was one of many to prove that it is indeed a seller’s market in the so-called atomic bazaar.”
Mr. Mueller said the next terrorist attack is not a question of if, but when.
While the FBI investigates all acts of terrorism in the United States, he said that the prevention of a nuclear attack is a responsibility shared by many and that the necessary coordination to meet the threat begins with training.
“Together, we are training our foreign partners in WMD detection, border security, undercover investigations, nuclear forensics and crisis management. To date, we have trained more than 5,000 participants from more than 23 countries,” he said.
Strong intelligence, he said, is the FBI’s primary asset, but standing alone is not enough. He said that if the FBI uncovers information about potential nuclear trafficking or a pending plot, it must be able to move at a moment’s notice.
“We cannot sit back and wait for others to act. To do so is to continue to feed the crocodile, hoping he will eat you last, as Winston Churchill once said,” he said. “Our safety lies in protecting not just our own interests, but our collective interests.”