You have no concern about the security of the Russian nuclear arsenal. Is
Based upon what I saw, yes. If you were to ask me, "What's your level of
sensitivity today, based upon the fact that there are significant economic
problems in Russia?" I would caveat that perhaps a little bit and say, "We need
to be sensitive to what's going on in Russia...." What if we had severe
economic problems here in the United States? Perhaps we'd be concerned about
our security of our sensitive military forces, if our military people perhaps
weren't being paid exactly on the first and 15th of every month. Or
in Britain, or in France, or in China. So it is something that we need to keep
on our radar scopes. But do I see alarm bells going off at this time? No.
You came back and you handled a rather remarkable press conference at the
Pentagon, at which you said, "I want to lay this idea that there are loose
nukes running around in Russia to rest." What did you see that made you so
The first trip I made to Russia, where I actually went out into the field -- this
was my fourth trip, in June 1998 -- the previous October, I'd been taken to two
missile complexes. And at the rail [mobile] base at Kastroma, which is about
350 kilometers northeast of Moscow, they actually took me into a nuclear
weapons storage area. They took me into the bunker where the warheads were, and
they showed me the security, the door, the three man policy in terms of getting
into the facility. They took me into the guard shack, and I actually got to
talk to the young, very sharp professional soldiers that were guarding those
nuclear weapons. And I was impressed. Again, there was a lot of areas that they
could have improved upon, especially with the application of technology. But
one of the things that drove us to technology in the late seventies and early
eighties was getting rid of manpower to reduce cost. And the Russians, at this
particular point in time, have lots of manpower and they don't have the bucks
to go out and apply technology to these security issues.
So...[in October] I went to actually two missile bases, and I saw the
security at the second base. But on this trip in June 1998, not only did I go
to two entirely different missile bases; I went to a bomber base....I went
to one of their national storage sites, a place called Saratov. And then they
took me up to the North Fleet submarine base at Severomorsk, and I went on a
ballistic missile submarine. And at one of the missile bases, the bomber base,
the national site, and the navy base, they took me in their nuclear weapons
storage sites. And what I saw gave me the realization that they're deadly
serious about nuclear weapons security, just as we are. And I would expect
General Bill Odom said, "Any general who would make an opinion based on one
observation, one trip" -- he was referring to your press conference -- "Any
general knows that you have to go back not once but several times." He was
skeptical in that what you saw was in fact they can choose where they want you
to go. They can drill their guys before you arrive. How can you be sure that
what you saw reflects reality?
Let me set the record straight. When I got back in from that October trip and
had that first press conference, I made it very clear that I saw one base, but
that I was told that this base was representative of what was going on in
Russia with the nuclear weapons security. I made that very, very clear. When I
went on this most recent trip in June, I asked if I was being shown the best.
If I were just [see]ing the best, how much worse were the worse bases? And the
answer I got was that I saw about the middle of the road. There are some bases
where some of the security was not quite up to the same standards, but that the
disparity was not that great. I was assured by several senior officers -- and
again, you know, trust and confidence is built on believing people when they
look you in the eye and say, "This is what's happening." And again, from what I
saw at the bases I went to, the two missile bases, the bomber base, the
national storage site, and the navy base, they're doing okay.
Most intelligence people that I speak with are more concerned about tactical
nukes, the threat of a rogue state getting fissile material and delivering a
bomb to our door via truck or backpack. How concerned are you about that
That's my primary concern. Of all the concerns I had while I was
commander-in-chief of Strategic Command, it was a terrorist event using a
nuclear device. I didn't say "weapon" but a device. The knowledge is out there
on how to build a nuclear device. If you look at what happened the World Trade
Center in New York with the conventional bomb, if that had been a nuclear
device, and instead of tens of people killed, you get tens of thousands, and
you have the nuclear radioactivity in the lower part of Manhattan, I mean, you
would have shut down one of our major metropolitan areas. And then, in addition
to the horrific things that would go on if a nuclear device were to be used
like that, what if, instead of a rogue state setting off that device, you had
an independent terrorist group? Now, who do you go retaliate against in that
kind of a situation? That's the thing that scared me more than anything else.
And then when you bring in the chemical and the biological concerns, I mean,
you go back and look at what happened in Tokyo with that religious sect. That
was very close to being a major, major disaster....And that's the thing that
scares me more than anything else. [Now], one of the beauties of the Nunn-Lugar
program is to insert lots of money into those areas in Russia where fissile
material is stored, to ensure the security of that stuff.
more about habiger...
Do you have any concerns about the current command and control issues of the
strategic arsenal in the former Soviet Union? And if so, what are they?
Although there are a number of ways that nukes could get loose, some of them
are evocative of the old nuclear exchanges: somebody deciding that they want to
launch a strategic nuclear weapon at the United States. That's something to
worry about, but I think it's far, far less likely and therefore less worrisome
than a much more mundane and simple scenario where a few guards at a location
where there are tactical nuclear weapons or fissile material decide that they
want to accept an offer of a terrorist group or a rogue nation to give them
many millions of dollars for one nuclear weapon, or for some fissile material....
How worried are you about that scenario?
I never thought that we would get to 1999 from 1991 without a instance of loose
nukes. When I was in the Pentagon, I would wake up every morning, and the
first thing I would do was look at the intelligence about whether a diversion
had taken place. I never expected to get through my time there, let alone to
now, without an example of loose nukes. Now, knock on wood, as far as we know,
there has been no example yet of loose nukes. But we're very lucky to have
gotten as far as we are. And consider the fact that the half-life of plutonium
is 24,000 years. The half-life of uranium is 713 million years. How many
turns of the wheel of history will go by before this stuff decays on its own?
It's a longlasting danger.
more about carter...
On the scale of threats that the US faces from the former Soviet Union, are
you looking at command and control of the strategic arsenal, the idea that
tactical nuclear weapons might be spirited away by some malcontented soldier, a
chemical or biological threat, or scientists selling services to a rogue state?
What concerns you the most?
Well, earlier the tactical nuclear problem was paramount....Now, that is a
threat that miraculously has been contained. Over 30,000 of these weapons were
rounded up -- we think, almost every one of them. And they're in storage....And some of them have been dismantled.
The real threat is always the unknown. I mean, the potential for the stealing
of material is always there with desperate people, if the security is not
adequate. Some of the facilities (and I shall not name them) that I saw in
November appear to me to have inadequate security. This is not because the
Russians haven't thought about it, but once again, it costs money. And the
pleas of the people in these facilities...[are], "How can we secure this
place? How much money can you devote to making sure that even as we dismantle
or we defuse or whatever we're doing, we're going to be able to hold this
Another thing that we've dealt with, Nunn-Lugar has provided for a computer
system in which literally the Russians are able to record wherever they [are].
That might seem rudimentary in this country, but the Russians always tells us
eleven times, "Oh, it's a big country." And we've found, in fact, a lot of
records being kept in pen and ink at various places. Now, this is important in
terms of the accounting of this stuff, because how would you know if you were
missing a few pounds of highly enriched uranium, if you really didn't know how
much you had to begin with, where it is, if there are no testing of the system,
no accounting? Americans would say, "Well, why do we have to provide a
computer system to Russians so they can do their own accounting?" Well,
because it's important to us to know where it is, too, and how much, and what
is missing -- if something was missing.
more about lugar...
Bruce Blair, among others, has suggested that not only the morale but the
hardware itself, the command and control system for strategic arsenals, has
become dilapidated; that there's been no way to modernize; and as a result,
there is an increased chance of an accidental launch. Do you agree?
I don't know how one would verify these propositions that because deterioration
takes place in command and control system, that there's a greater chance. It
could be that deterioration means it's almost virtually impossible to launch,
because the systems don't work. Lack of maintenance of nuclear weapons for a
few months means that a number of them, a large or increasing number, will not
explode if launched. So I think a strong argument can be made that neglect is
reducing the threat. The idea that we should go out there and spend money and
try to improve their command and control system strikes me as the height of
more about lugar...
How confident are you that the Russian nuclear arsenal that you spoke about
Unfortunately, I'm not at all confident. Let me make a distinction between
nuclear weapons themselves and the nuclear material that is the essential
ingredients of nuclear weapons. The nuclear weapons themselves are much more
secure. They're guarded by a highly professional force in the Twelfth Main
Directorate. They are large items. You can't put a nuclear weapon under your
overcoat or in your briefcase and walk off with it, without anyone noticing.
And you can count them. A guy who runs a depot that has nuclear weapons knows
that "I'm supposed to have 35" or "I'm supposed to have 36"; whereas with the
nuclear material, it's a completely different situation. The guard force, many
of them are 18-year-old, virtually untrained conscripts, have no idea of the
importance of what it is that they're guarding. They haven't been paid in six
months. Many of them literally have been leaving their posts to forage for
food, have been refusing to patrol perimeters because they haven't been issued
warm uniforms and it's freezing outside. Also, nuclear material can come in
very small items that you can put in your coat pocket or in your briefcase and
walk out the door. And most of the Russian nuclear facilities still don't have
detectors at the gates that would set off an alarm if someone was doing
The Soviet Union had a security system for nuclear material that worked for 40
years. But it was built for a different world than the one we live in today.
It was built for a world of pampered, well cared for nuclear workers, in a
closed society, with closed borders, and everyone under surveillance by the
KGB. Now you've got desperate, unpaid nuclear workers in an open society, with
open borders. It's a totally different situation. Then, the threat was the
American spy getting into the facility. Now the threat you have to worry about
is the desperate worker carrying something out. And their systems weren't
designed to address that threat. So that's what we're working with them on
now, is installing the appropriate security technology to deal with this new
But you have to work not only on technology; you have to work on people, on
relieving the kinds of economic desperation to lead guards to go off and forage
for food. I'm very concerned, frankly, that if we don't deal with the
electricity at nuclear facilities keeping going, that runs the security
systems, if we don't deal with guards who haven't been paid for months at a
time and are literally hungry and heavily armed, that we could have a
proliferation disaster on our hands, with nuclear material finally falling into
the hands of a terrorist group or a rogue state. We know that kilogram
quantities of nuclear material have been stolen from Russian nuclear facilities
on several occasions in the past. We need to prevent that from happening again
and finally falling into the hands of a hostile party.
The fact that we have programs at all ten of the nuclear cities, or at the
various sites, does that mean that the materials at all ten of those places is
Absolutely not. There are ten cities built to produce nuclear weapons, but
there are more than 50 facilities in the former Soviet Union where there is
plutonium or highly enriched uranium. Many of them are civilian facilities,
just doing research with this kind of material. Many of them aren't even doing
that research any more because they don't have the money, and yet they still
have this material on site. There are facilities where the electricity has
been cut off, that runs the security systems, because the facility couldn't pay
its bills. There are facilities where they literally don't have the money to
have 24-hour manning even at the central guard station. So if you came and
tried to steal the material when the guard was off duty, you'd be able to. At
most facilities in Russia, there has never been a real physical inventory where
you actually measured how much plutonium and highly enriched uranium you had on hand. In the old days, they kept track of all of that on paper, and they had a
piece of paper that said, "Well, this is how much this was supposed to be when
it arrived," and another piece of paper that says, "This is how much I shipped
out," and the difference between paper 1 and paper 2 must still be around here
somewhere. That really has to be fixed. And that's going to be a lot of work
to get that done....
more about bunn...