Do "backpack" nuclear weapons exist?
Yes, small atomic charges exist. They are very small. Several dozen kilos,
thirty kilos, forty kilos. I spoke with people that made them, I saw them. The
American specimens can be seen on the Internet, they can be seen on
photographs, they can even be seen in the movies. I have never seen Russian
analogies, I have only seen American ones, but Russian ones do exist, because I
spoke with people who made them, and I believe these people, these people knew
what they were talking about. And there was data published about it. ... Some
was published in the newspaper of a town in the south of the Urals in a little
paper, and it said there that the prominent achievement is that they have
manufactured a miniature atomic charge. ... No one knows how many exist ... .
Lebed mentioned that there's forty-eight, or a hundred and fifty, but no one
knows for certain.
How powerful are they?
Their power is about one kiloton, possibly less, but a powerful charge. You
cannot destroy Moscow or London, but the Kremlin, you can destroy ... Capitol
Hill can be wiped out by such a bomb. ...
Why were you raising the issue?
I talk about tactical nuclear arms, and including mini-nukes, nuclear cases,
because I believe that, after the end of the cold war, the situation with
nuclear arms has become much more dangerous. During the cold war, everything
was under strict control, now it's not the case anymore. Now, it's becoming
clear to us that tactical nuclear arms pose a great threat in people's minds.
People think that, "Well, the American President and the Russian President
have nuclear cases and only after the President presses a button in it, then
something happens." But that's not the case regarding tactical nuclear arms.
If we've got tactical nuclear arms and small briefcase bombs, a terrorist
version of it, it's not going to be up to the President to decide where and at
what time to set the bomb off. So, tactical nuclear arms exist under less
control than the strategic nuclear arms. The power is much smaller of tactical
ones, but the control is also much weaker. Therefore, it now poses a greater
threat to society, that's why I keep talking about it.
We know that Chechnyan leaders announced that they've got two nuclear bombs.
But we checked it out, and it seems that it's not the case. Palestinian
terrorists also made statements to that effect, they said they've got several
atomic bombs which they've purchased in the Soviet Union, but hopefully, they
are also bluffing. But, in reality, the danger comes from within the country,
from within Russia. We've got about one hundred organizations of a fascist
nature. These fascist organizations have got many military who know where these
bombs are located, who know how to use them. And if, inside the country,
there's a struggle for power, and these fascists and nationalists get hold of
these bombs--there's a small chance, but there is that chance, much smaller
than Chechnya or Palestine--but, if that happens, that will be terrible. That's
why I'm talking about this, that's why tactical nuclear arms, these small
nuclear bombs, ought to be destroyed as soon as possible. ...
When this scandal with the nuclear mini-bombs erupted, and when it became clear
to me that tactical nuclear arms poses a greater threat than strategic ones, I
sent a letter to President Yeltsin saying that I would hate to publish all the
data but I'd like to draw your attention to this and take measures. I had a
call from the Kremlin, from the Defense Council ... a decision was taken ... it
was deemed necessary to make a ruling which would impose more strict control
over tactical nuclear arms. I was told that such a decree would be worked out,
and I offered my own draft of such a decree and I sent such a draft to the
President [and the Defense Council]. I don't know what the state of affairs is
now, it's been three months since I submitted my draft decree. ...
Did you ever talk to General Lebed about this?
I never spoke with General Lebed about this question. I don't know what General
Lebed thinks. I've only heard his statement, and I saw it printed in
newspapers. When General Lebed was the Secretary of the Security Council,
someone mentioned this weapon to him, and he appointed a special commission to
look into the matter, and this commission was headed by one of his aides, with
whom I'm acquainted. And he gave an interview and he said that the commission's
been investigating, ... and they have found [these weapons], they've
established that they exist, there is no doubt about the fact that they exist,
they know where they are, the only question is, have they been able to locate
all? They said they'd found several dozen, but it's not clear whether they've
managed to locate all existing.
Why did you testify before the US Congress?
... On the request of [Representative] Weldon, whom I know for a long time, I
made a statement in the Committee on National Defense, in the [House]. And we
spoke on the dangers of the tactical nuclear arms. Sometimes you have to go to
America and make a statement there, or, like when Lebed spoke about these
problems here, no one listened to him. But when he gave an interview to
Reuters, the entire world heard about it, and our people back at home began to
worry, too. So I agreed, at the request of Congressman Weldon, to appear
before the ... committee... Because, the problem, as I said, is a very worrying
one and concerns us all.
Read Yablokov's testimony
What was the reaction in Russia to your statements in America?
When I returned, an independent newspaper ... published a dirty article,
accusing me of being an American spy. They insisted that Yablokov is an
American spy and that he is using ecological organizations in order to collect
classified data. It's all lies. I was so indignant that I filed a court case
against [the paper]. And the press secretary of the Atomic Ministry, I sued him
as well. And this court case will take place a few days from now.
Can you tell me about your work?
All my life I was a biologist, but, towards the end of Gorbachev's perestroika,
I began to be interested in ecology. Towards the end of Gorbachev's
perestroika, I believed that it's time to take part in political life. I was
elected to the Soviet Parliament, I was Deputy Chairman of the Ecological
Commission of Russia. But before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Boris
Yeltsin offered me to become his aide in charge of ecological affairs, and for
three years, I was his aide in charge of ecology. Recently, I was chairman on a
commission on ecological security. Now I've finished my work in administration,
and I've returned to the Science Academy. And also to the ecological politics
in Russia. It's a small ecological organization, and our goal is to help the
government to resolve urgent ecological problems ... .
Do you think Russian officials are misleading the public opinion?
The fact that they mislead the public is absolutely clear. When Lebed first
talked about it ... he said that he tried to locate all the small atomic
charges, but he was unable to do that because he was sacked. The first official
reaction was that Lebed is mad, he is talking rubbish. And then I said, no,
it's possible, because I spoke to people who manufactured the briefcase bomb.
And then this flow was centered on me, all these lies. The federal intelligence
... , the former KGB, [announced] that this is impossible. The press secretary
for the Defense Ministry said, "We know what atomic bombs are, we have never
heard of briefcase bombs." The Ministry for Atomic Energy said the very same
thing, that we've never heard of anything like that. But, if I'm looking at a
photograph of these devices, I know they've been made, simply on the Internet.
My American friends say, why don't you have a look on the Internet, there are
photographs there of small, portable, American made bombs. And then, bit by
bit, people began to say, of course, yes, they exist, but Yablokov is
disclosing state secrets. What state secrets are we talking about? ... We
insisted that we have full parity in terms of nuclear arms, that we have
everything that the Americans have got; this was our official position. So, if
I'm looking at a [picture] of an American weapon, I must be sure that we have
an analogy. ...
more about yablokov...
President Yeltsin's former Science Advisor, Alexei Yablokov, testified to
the American Congress regarding the so-called suitcase bombs; the small, atomic
demolition devices. Can you confirm the existence of these weapons?
I don't really know anything about these devices. I know that some small
devices of this type existed both in the United States and in Russia, but why
they should be needed in a suitcase format, that's something really for
terrorists; I don't think they can really fulfill any kind of deterrence
function. ... But even if they did exist, this kind of mobile nuclear bombs or
devices, this is something that would have to be reproduced on a regular basis.
Made again. Any kind of nuclear device or bomb has a shelf life. And once the
service life has run out, then the charges on these devices become more
dangerous. They become more dangerous for the people that are actually in
possession of them.
You're referring to the tritium; the half-life of some of the
Not only, there are a lot of other factors that lead to the decreased
efficiency of devices like that ... . But I don't know anything about the
system and I don't really see why it would make sense. But the most important
answer would be that I don't know this field. ...
General Lebed, when he came and testified before the Congress, evidently
said that at one point he had known about them, evidently. And he had tried to
account for all of them and couldn't find some of them. Then when a team tried
to inquire about it later, he said that he was under investigation for
revealing state secrets for even having talked about it. Do you know anything
about that end of the story at all?
Well, I've heard about this incident. I can tell you that Lebed is probably
the least informed person as far as this topic is concerned. I considered him a
big specialist, really, an expert in the military folklore. That's really
where it stops.
He says that he was charged with actually making an accounting of these
things. Was he not a general, highly-placed enough to know?
Well, theoretically, he could have dealt with these issues only when he was the
Secretary of the Security Council. That was a very short period of time, and he
had quite a few other problems to deal with. But he could not be qualified to
even deal with this issue, in principle, because that's outside of his
more about dvorkin...
Were we ever able to confirm that suitcase bombs existed?
Not that I'm aware of. Both United States and Russia of course built tactical
nuclear weapons that were quite small in size ... . We had, for example, what
we called atomic demolition munitions, that were designed to be carried in a
backpack. ... I doubt that there was ever anything that was specifically
designed to be carried in something that looked like a suitcase, though I
couldn't rule it out. My personal judgment is that there probably aren't 100 or
20 or however many suitcase bombs that are missing in the former Soviet Union,
although I would guess that Lebed, when he made his initial statements,
probably in good faith believed there were. The way the Russian accounting
system works, everything is accounted for on paper. And there's reams of
gigantic paper log books. You could easily imagine a situation where Lebed
sent somebody to check at a particular facility, and there's a 19-year-old
guard there, and he looks in the book and says, "Gee, there's supposed to be
100 here and it turns out there are only 30." And the reason is, there's
another log book over here that the 19-year-old forgot about, that describes
how many had been shipped off to such-and-such a place to be dismantled, or
something like that. ...
Could [Lebed] have been talking about the backpack-size devices rather than
Sure. He could have been. I wouldn't want to speculate as to exactly what it
was Lebed was trying to communicate. In some of the subsequent interviews he
gave, he back-pedaled significantly and just said, "Well, it's a possibility
that these things might be missing," rather than, "They are definitely missing,
and here's how many are missing." So it's a bit hard for me to parse exactly
what he really thinks is the situation.
Congressman Weldon said that we thought that the KGB might have commissioned
a suitcase-size specimen of the small atomic demolition device, as a thing to
sell to terrorists specifically. Does that wash with anything you know?
I don't think it was as something to sell to terrorists. It was something, I
believe, for the KGB's use, was the claim. Alexei Yablokov made that claim in
print, in the Russian press. I haven't looked at the intelligence in enough
detail to follow that. But it was denied by essentially everyone in a position
of authority in the Russian military and nuclear system....
more about bunn...
Yeltsin's former Science Advisor, Alexei Yablokov, came to the US last year
and testified about suitcase bombs that KGB or somebody was making for
terrorist use. Do we know whether these things existed? If so, do the Russians
now know where they all are?
Yes, we knew they existed. Suitcase nuclear bomb is, I think, a little
optimistic. It's certainly something that ... I would be hard pressed to carry.
It's fairly big and it's fairly heavy. The Russians, again from what I saw, go
to great lengths in the accountability of their nuclear devices. We are
spending a lot of money under Nunn-Lugar to automate that system. Our system is
very automated, and we test it on a regular basis. The Russian system is more
manpower-intensive. It's pretty much a stubby pencil and a spreadsheet kind of
thing. But I was shown how they account for their nuclear weapons. And I was
told that these smaller devices are included in that same accountability
system. I mean, General Yakoulev took me in his office--General Yakoulev is the
commander-in-chief of the Rocket Forces--and showed me an IBM computer screen,
and ... Yakoulev can track where every nuclear weapon is in his system by
serial number. I couldn't do that from my headquarters. ... If the Russians
were as deadly serious about the accountability of the nuclear weapons that I
saw and have been involved with, I can only surmise that they have the same
concerns with the smaller weapons. There have been a number of Russians that
have come over here and thrown a grenade on the table of some of our
Congressional committees, saying that there lot of loose suitcase bombs out
there. I don't think so. ...
more about habiger...
Could you tell me how you first found out about the existence of suitcase
Over the past several years in my work with Russia and its leaders, I have
reached out to have conversations with all the senior leaders of the various
factions in Russia, one of whom is General Alexander Lebed, a very prominent
official credited with ending both the Chechnyan war and the war in Moldova.
On my second meeting with him in Moscow last May  with a delegation of
five or six other members, I was discussing with him the security of Russia's
nuclear arsenal, and the status of conditions in the Russian military. This was
not a meeting that any press attended, there was no press conference before the
event or after the event, it was a quiet, off the record meeting to discuss in
an intelligent way ... what were his perceptions relative to Russian control of
their nuclear arsenal and their conventional forces. And he gave us ...
examples of his concerns, examples of senior Soviet military leaders being
forced out, being embarrassed and having to resort to illegal operations to
make a living, and how we should be worried in the West because these very
successful and capable soldiers and leaders were now having to resort to
selling off technology that presents a real danger for the world. He went into
the status of Russian nuclear submarines being decommissioned, with no place to
store them, no means to take apart these nuclear submarines, and the terrible
problem that Russia has today with ... nuclear submarines being stored in ports
potentially subject to an earthquake or another incident that could cause
terrible degradation of the environment.
And then he went into ... what he reported to Boris Yeltsin as Secretary of the
National Security Council. He said one of his assignments was to account for
132 suitcase size nuclear weapons that the Soviet Union had manufactured during
the sixties, the seventies and the eighties, much like we manufactured in our
country, even though today we no longer have small atomic demolition munitions,
we've destroyed them all. ... He said he could only find 48. We were startled.
We said, "General, what do you mean, you can only find 48?" He said, "That's
all we could locate. We don't know what the status of the other devices were,
we just could not locate them." ...
The Russian media tried to portray Lebed as trying to gain notoriety for his
campaign. There was nothing of that at all occurring. There were no media
present. Two months later, after I returned to the US and I debriefed our
intelligence community to give me their assessment of what Lebed had said, I
filed my trip report, as is required by Members of Congress. In the trip
report, I mentioned General Lebed's comments. A producer for 60 Minutes ...
contacted me, and she said, "Congressman, did General Lebed really say this?"
And I said, "Absolutely." She then asked to interview me and went over to
Moscow and interviewed General Lebed. That was the first contact by a member of
the media, and that was at the end of July, early August. That story then ran
nationally in America on 60 Minutes, and following that there was a tremendous
outcry. The Russian government denounced Lebed, the Russian media called him a
traitor, they denied that he would know anything about these demolition
devices. In some cases, senior Russian leaders denied they ever built these
devices and said, "This is a fabrication, that Lebed is totally wrong." I then
invited my good friend Dr. Alexei Yablokov to come to Washington in October,
because he also knew something about these devices. And in a public hearing,
Dr. Yablokov ... said that he knew scientists who had worked on these devices.
And in fact he said that he thought part of the problem in accounting for them
may have been because some of his colleagues who worked on these devices told
him they were building them for the KGB, and therefore if they were being built
for the KGB, they may not have been included under the counting of the Ministry
of Defense, an entirely separate operation. So therefore, he encouraged us to
work jointly with his country to work together to see if in fact we could
locate and then destroy these devices. It was not an attempt by him to
embarrass his country, it was an attempt by him to get to the facts and the
heart of the issue. Again, Yablokov was treated terribly by the Russian media.
They called him a traitor, they said he was coming over to America and giving
Finally, I went to Russia on my 13th trip out of 14 or 15 that I've
taken, last December, and I requested, besides my other meetings, a meeting
with the Defense Minister, Minister Sergeyev, as you know, General of the Chief
Command Staff for some 20 years. And I said to General Sergeyev, after a wide
range of topics that we discussed in a session that lasted well over an hour, I
asked him specifically, "One, did you build small atomic demolition munitions,
as we suspect you did? Two, do you know where they are? And three, have you
destroyed them all?" And to me he said, "Yes, we did build them, we are in the
process of destroying them, and by the year 2000 we will have destroyed all of
our small atomic demolition devices, the so-called nuclear suitcases." Now, I
have no reason to doubt General Sergeyev. In fact, I have a lot of respect for
him. He impressed me very much in the meeting that I had with him. But again, I
don't know whether or not we in fact know that they have the whereabouts known
of each of these devices. I have confidence that what he told me is true. They
will destroy all the devices that they currently know the whereabouts of.
That's not the question. The question is what about devices that Russia may not
have an accounting of? Do they exist? Do we have an accurate way of counting
How big are these things?
Well, it depends upon what you describe as a suitcase. Our understanding is
that Russia manufactured three different types of these devices, most of them
able to be carried by two people. Some able to be carried by one strong person.
The typical size would be maybe like a large trunk, or in perhaps like a large
suitcase, probably weighing someplace in the neighborhood of 50 to 100 pounds.
These devices would be self activated, which means you would not have to have
some central command, as you do the long range missiles, but rather that [the]
individual controlling that device could in fact set that device for activation
and actually activate it ... independently from some central command. But these
are devices that, yes, could be carried portably. There's no reason why they
couldn't be put on a barge or a ship and floated into a harbor. And the
devastation that they would present to that area would be beyond anyone's
What is the scale of damage that a terrorist could do with one of these
First of all, it would change the whole face of the earth in terms of our
outlook on terrorism. Because you're not talking about a bomb that would blow
up perhaps one part of one building, as we saw in Oklahoma, or you see
repeatedly in London. You're talking about a bomb, a device with a capability
of one kiloton of destruction, which is a massive capability that would cause
severe destruction of a major inner city area, perhaps causing a multitude of
buildings to collapse with the people inside of them. So you'd have a massive
loss of life, you'd have massive radioactive contamination and you'd have
massive havoc, unlike any that we've prepared for in the past. Just the threat
of that kind of incident alone can change the face of the world in terms of the
way we deal with terrorists. That's why a full accounting of these kinds of
weapons has got to be the number one priority of both the US and Russia.
And following on this issue of small nuclear devices is the whole issue of
tactical nuclear weapons. I mean, one of the things that is not included in
arms control negotiations between the US and Russia are tactical nukes.
Tactical nukes are smaller devices that can wreak havoc. They too, in the wrong
hands, could cause massive destruction and loss of life. And that's why in our
discussions with Russia we must include the beginning of a formal counting
process and the beginning of a limitation process on tactical nuclear weapons,
not just those long range ICBMs. Because I would argue that the potential for a
small atomic demolition device or a tactical nuclear device is even greater
than the possibility of an accidental launch of a long range ICBM. ...
Lebed has said that he's been prevented really from talking about the
suitcase bombs. What's going on there? Why isn't he allowed to talk freely
about what is potentially a problem for the world?
I think it's partly because the Russian government and the media have tried to
portray him as creating sensational stories in the West, when that was not his
original intent. The sensationalization of the story came about by the Russian
government and the Russian media itself, in response to Lebed's interview on 60
Minutes. What Lebed asked for and what Yablokov asked for were deliberate, very
detailed efforts by our country to assist Russia, not to create any
embarrassment for Russia, but for us to assist ... them in helping them deal
with the problem. ... I think Russia took a very defensive posture that these
two individuals were out to embarrass the motherland. When I totally read the
opposite. I read their attempts to interact with us [as] a pleading for us to
come in and assist Russia in identifying these devices, locating them, using
whatever detection means we have, and then destroying them. Something that we
should be doing together. Again, as a country, America has not always handled
nuclear materials in the most correct manner possible, and so this is not an
attempt to try to embarrass Russia, but rather to focus on the potential
problem that could come about from one of these devices, be they small atomic
demolition nuclear suitcase or a tactical nuke, from getting into the wrong
General Lebed is now in a position where the State Prosecutor is
investigating him for disclosure of state secrets. Do you think that in
retaliation for speaking to you?
I asked General Lebed about this when he appeared before my committee just
earlier this year, and he said it's interesting that they could charge him if
in fact he didn't know what he was talking about. If, as they said, he didn't
know what he was talking about, how could they charge him with a crime? If
they're in fact charging him with a crime, then that must indicate he did know
what he was talking about, in which case it means the Russian government was
lying all this period of time when they said he did not know what he was
talking about. But either way, it's not a state secret. General Sergeyev has
told me, a Member of Congress, that they made these devices, that they are in
fact are in the process of destroying them. So that's in the public realm. And
to somehow try to create some false accusation against General Lebed or Alexei
Yablokov is just demeaning, I think, to a country that I have a great deal of
respect for. I respect the Russian people, and I desperately want to assist
them in this time of difficulty, but taking the steps to overreact and to pass
tighter restrictive laws, as they've done, only hurts the democracy that's just
beginning to take hold there. ...
more about weldon...