Published on Arms Control Association (http://www.armscontrol.org)
An Unrealized Nexus? WMD-related
Trafficking, Terrorism, and Organized Crime
in the Former Soviet Union
Arms Control Today
Nuclear Black Markets / A.Q. Khan Network
Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, powerfully advanced the notion that terrorist groups
might acquire and use weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or, more plausibly, radiological
dispersal devices (RDD). Terrorist interest in weapons of mass destruction is ample. Al Qaeda
has been on record as determined to acquire and use these weapons.
In 1995, several years prior to the September 11 attacks, the Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo sought
to gain nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, and it successfully used sarin gas. That same
year, Chechen rebels planted but did not explode an RDD made of cesium-137 and dynamite in
Moscow’s Izmailovsky Park.
In 2004 the uncovering of the Abdul Qadeer Khan network fueled new concerns that trafficking
in WMD material could give rise to a parallel black market of nuclear material linked to
organized crime. Pointing out that terrorist organizations and organized crime had already
cooperated in the drug trafficking business, a number of analysts warned that organized crime
might decide to channel WMD material to terrorists.
Much of the concern about a possible nexus between WMD trafficking, organized crime, and
terrorism focused on the former Soviet Union, particularly Central Asia and the Caucasus. There,
a large number of insufficiently secured nuclear, chemical, and biological facilities are located in
close proximity to trafficking routes for drugs and small arms. Powerful radiation sources also
are plentiful and inadequately protected. Furthermore, several terrorist groups in the region have
become increasingly radicalized since the September 11 attacks.
Even though these developments suggested that a perfect storm was brewing, more than five
years later there is no compelling evidence of a solid nexus among WMD-related trafficking,
terrorism, and organized crime in the former Soviet Union. To be sure, a cautionary note is in
order. Serious data collection problems in the region make understanding trafficking patterns an
inherently limited proposition at best. They also make it essential to improve the quality and
quantity of data collection and sharing by local and regional authorities.
Nonetheless, all available evidence indicates that the character of WMD trafficking in the post-
2001 period has remained essentially the same as in the pre-2001 period, displaying amateurish
features and dominated by the supply side. Trafficking cases involving weapons-grade nuclear
material have entailed minuscule quantities, and their number has substantially decreased
compared to the pre-2001 period, when most of the proliferation-significant events involving
kilogram-level quantities of material were reported. That said, the post-2001 evidence of
trafficking in WMD-related material does show new and potentially worrisome characteristics
that bear close scrutiny.
The Data Set
This article is based on an analysis of 183 trafficking incidents that occurred in the former Soviet
Union between January 2001 and December 2006. The incidents were reported in the Center for
Nonproliferation Studies’ (CNS) NIS Export Control Observer, the International Export
Control Observer, and the CNS Newly Independent States Nuclear Trafficking Abstracts
Database, which gather information from a variety of regional, national and international
sources, including gray literature such as conference reports and interviews. The data set
includes incidents that constitute illegal activities, with or without criminal intent; orphan
material; and cases where the arrest of the perpetrators or seizure of the material occurred outside
the former Soviet Union but concerned material or individuals originating or suspected of
originating from the former Soviet Union. Hoaxes and events that were first reported as illicit
trafficking cases but later revealed to be legal shipments or that had no WMD connection were
discarded. Yet, because of the incompleteness of information available in open and gray sources
and inconsistencies in press reporting, the data set may include occasional mistakes.
WMD-Trafficking Incidents Prior to 2001
Prior to 2001, aside from a few proliferation-significant incidents in the early 1990s,
WMD-related trafficking in the region displayed amateurish features. Although known
trafficking involved primarily nuclear and radioactive material—low-enriched uranium
(LEU), radioactive isotopes, and contaminated scrap metal—the material was most often
stolen for the value of the metal casing and not for the radioactive or nuclear material it
Perpetrators were primarily opportunists motivated by financial gains. They generally were
uninformed about the value of the material, which they typically overestimated, or unaware of
the possibility of detection or of the associated health hazards. Trafficking was conducted in
contraband style, with material hidden in a bag, car, or bus and transported along a southern
route, crossing Central Asia and the Caucasus, and proceeding west toward Europe through
Turkey. In the late 1990s, the more commonly used westbound route from Russia to Europe was
replaced by the southern route. Trafficking appeared dominated by the supply side, with no
evidence of an actual demand or connection with organized crime or terrorist groups.
General Trends of Post-2001 WMD Trafficking
Since 2001, the features of WMD-related trafficking appear not to have changed substantially.
Most known trafficking incidents involve radioactive orphan sources, contaminated scrap metal,
radioactive isotopes such as cesium-137, and low-grade nuclear material, primarily LEU. The
first three items account for about 50 percent of the trafficking transactions. In many ways, this is
not surprising. Powerful radiation sources disposed of improperly by medical and industrial
facilities or abandoned by the Soviet army are abundant throughout the former Soviet Union.
Other potent sources contained in radioisotope thermoelectric generators—devices built to
provide electricity in lighthouses, radio beacons, and meteorological stations—are inadequately
No proliferation-significant cases have been reported in the 2001-2006 period. Known
trafficking incidents with plutonium or highly enriched uranium (HEU) involve minuscule
quantities of material that would not pose a proliferation threat. In addition, a very small portion
of these incidents involves weapons-grade material. For instance, 7 percent of the trafficking
transactions (14 cases) involve plutonium (Pu-238 and Pu-239), but they consist of minuscule
amounts contained in industrial instruments or smoke detectors, which would not pose a
Only 5 percent, or 10 cases of the known trafficking incidents during the 2001-2006 period,
involve HEU. Three of these cases concern HEU with an enrichment level of at least 80 percent,
but they also involve only small quantities of material. One had five grams of HEU enriched to
about 80 percent. The material, suspected of originating in an unidentified former Soviet Union
country, was seized in France in 2001. Another incident involves 170 grams of HEU seized
in Georgia at the border with Armenia. Although media reports issued after the material was
seized in 2003 did not specify the material’s enrichment level, later reports indicated that the
HEU was enriched to almost 90 percent. The third case, which occurred in early 2006, involved
100 grams of HEU enriched to 89.4 percent. This material was also seized in Georgia at the
border with Armenia. The enrichment level of the remaining seven HEU cases was not specified,
but four of these incidents were reported in 2005 by Georgian authorities, who indicated that the
material had been seized during the previous two to three years and was not weapons-grade
The profile of the perpetrators and their trafficking methods also remains constant. Perpetrators
usually are opportunists (39 percent), either facility insiders or native residents of the city or
country of material acquisition. Seven percent of the trafficking cases over the 2001-2006 period
involved crime groups (12 cases), which include established organized crime groups (seven
cases), such as the Balashikha group in Moscow, and groups of individuals suspected of
belonging to a regional or international smuggling rings (five cases). Trafficking perpetrated by
crime groups hardly differs from the other incidents. They do entail potent radioactive sources
that could be used in RDDs, such as cesium-137, or nuclear material such as HEU (two cases)
and LEU (two cases). They also involve material with no nuclear application, such as osmium-
187 (four cases), or with low radioactivity levels, such as depleted uranium. This may
indicate that these groups have a limited understanding of the material’s value. In addition, these
incidents generally involve small quantities of material.
Only three cases are loosely connected to a terrorist organization. The first case is based on a
2002 report published in The Guardian, indicating that, according to an unidentified U.S. official,
Chechen rebels stole radioactive sources and nuclear material from the Volgodonsk nuclear
power plant located in Rostov Oblast, Russia. These allegations were not corroborated by other
sources and even denied by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Russian
Ministry of Atomic Energy, and Volgodonsk officials. The second case involved two
individuals from the Caucasus who attempted to acquire 15 kilograms of uranium with an
unspecified enrichment level from a Russian nuclear combine in 2003. The Russian press
speculated that the material was to be used for a dirty bomb to be exploded in St. Petersburg
during the city’s tercentennial celebrations. These allegations could not be corroborated as the
buyer escaped the police. In addition, given the low radioactivity level of uranium, it would not
have made a particularly powerful RDD. The third case, which took place in 2005, involved a
Sunday Times reporter posing as an intermediary for Algerian terrorists. He approached an arms
dealer in the secessionist region of Transdniestria, Moldova, who was willing to sell Alazan
rockets with warheads purportedly containing the radioactive material strontium and cesium.
Yet, the possibility that these conventional rockets had been modified to carry radioactive
warheads has been subject of much debate and no firm conclusion. Moreover, the reporter’s
allegation could not be corroborated as he broke off the deal before paying a substantial amount
of money to the arms dealer.
As far as the structure of the market is concerned, it remains decidedly supply side. There are no
established connections between suppliers and possible brokers or clients, who most often are
nonexistent. Suppliers still overestimate the value of the material and do not seem to have a clear
idea of what material has value for nuclear weapons or RDD development. Indeed, many of the
transactions entail materials that have no nuclear weapons or RDD application or hardly any
radioactivity (e.g., osmium-187, cesium-133, [red] mercury, or depleted uranium). In
addition, trafficking transactions are often held in public spaces, such as train stations, with few
precautions taken to hide these activities. Twenty-two percent of the trafficking cases identified
during the 2001-2006 period were discovered during the sale of the material, 10 percent of which
were the result of sting operations. Another 22 percent were discovered during the transportation
of the material, most often while crossing a border or as a by-product of roadside police checks.
Even though post-2001 trafficking data does not support the feared nexus among terrorism,
organized crime and WMD-related trafficking, new trafficking characteristics have emerged that
bear close monitoring.
One of these new features is the appearance of trafficking in chemical and biological material.
Only two incidents have been reported for the 2001-2006 period. One involved a nonpathogenic
strain of the Ebola virus in Ukraine in 2002. The other concerned mustard gas in Georgia in
2003. In both cases, a dearth of information was provided on the material and, in the case of
the Ebola strain, no details about the origin, destination, and perpetrators were revealed, making
it difficult to ascertain if this was indeed a trafficking case. Nevertheless, the two cases share
something in common: the material was discovered by chance, during an unrelated roadside
check (Georgia) and during a customs shipment inspection (Ukraine). Because of the absence of
appropriate material detection equipment deployed in the former Soviet Union, this fact alone
underscores the difficulty of detecting biological and chemical material. Therefore, the small
number of reported incidents may not be representative of actual trafficking in these materials.
Notably, trafficking routes appear to have become more varied during the post-2001 period.
Seizure and arrest patterns show that previously the main route went south through Central Asia
and the Caucasus and then west to Europe. Today, traffickers are likely using three main
corridors. First, the east-west route, going directly from Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus to Europe,
which was more widely used in the early 1990s, has been reactivated. Second, a new south-east
route crossing Central Asia into neighboring Asian countries seems to have emerged. Finally, the
late 1990s south-west route has been maintained, with a good portion of the traffic merging in
the Caucasus, probably because, from there, the goods can either go west through Turkey or east
into Asia and the Middle East. Although today most materials are seized before they reach their
declared destination, the use of multiple routes is worrisome because it may indicate that
traffickers have detected a possible new demand in these regions. Multiple routes may also
deplete the few resources available to the region’s enforcement communities, thus making it
more difficult to monitor and control trafficking.
Another troubling feature is that a few cases involved nuclear or radioactive material in
combination with small arms (four cases) and narcotics (two cases), which may indicate a
convergence between arms or drugs and WMD-related material. In some of these cases, the
nuclear or radioactive material was discovered by chance during an unrelated drug or financial
investigation. This may indicate that the drug control and financial fraud enforcement
agencies can also be useful instruments of proliferation prevention.
The data set also includes a small number of cases involving opportunists that show a higher
degree of organization. Several incidents involve groups of individuals who do not belong to an
established organized crime group but collaborate for a specific operation, sometimes with the
active participation of former law enforcement representatives. Some opportunist cases also
involve weapons and explosives, which may be indicative of a link with organized crime.
In addition, one out of four cases involves potent radioactive sources, particularly cesium-137
(37 cases) and stronsium-90 (six cases), which could be used for RDDs. This characteristic is not
completely new; trafficking with these sources was common before 2001 because they can be
found in many orphaned industrial instruments. Prior to 2001, however, monitoring focused on
state capabilities, and because these materials cannot be used for nuclear weapons, this type of
trafficking was not considered a high proliferation risk. Given current concern over terrorist use
of RDDs, trafficking with these potent radioactive sources has become more preoccupying. Yet,
in light of the meager information in media reports about either the quantity or quality of the
material, it is difficult to ascertain whether these events are of proliferation significance.
Absence of Proliferation-Significant Cases
The most striking change in the post-2001 period is the absence of reported proliferation-
significant cases (kilogram-level quantities of weapons-grade material). Whereas during the
early 1990s, when several cases involving kilogram-level quantities of weapons-grade material
were recorded, data for the post-2001 period show only three incidents with gram-level
quantities of HEU enriched to 80 percent or more. An analysis of these three cases indicates a
connection with organized crime for only one of them and no apparent connection with
The two Georgian cases have several common characteristics. They both involve opportunists,
who were arrested in Georgia while coming from Russia. In both cases, the enrichment level of
the material was almost 90 percent, which might indicate that they came from the same source.
The French case, on the other hand, involved a criminal group. Although the investigation and
the trial that followed the seizure and arrest of the perpetrators did not establish the origin of the
material, plane tickets and documents written in the Cyrillic alphabet found in the apartment of
one of the perpetrators point to an Eastern origin. The French perpetrators also kept the material
in a glass ampoule contained in a lead cylinder. This is in sharp contrast with the
transportation means used by the perpetrator in the 2006 Georgian case, which consisted in a
plastic bag tucked in his pocket. As HEU is not highly radioactive, this did not represent a
health hazard for the perpetrator as long as the HEU was not ingested. Whether the
perpetrator was simply blissfully ignorant or was advised by a knowledgeable co-conspirator not
to fret about the matter is unknown. In any event, aside from the fact that the three cases involve
gram-level quantities of material that could have constituted a sample of a larger quantity of
material, the three cases do not seem to constitute a consistent trafficking pattern.
The absence of proliferation-significant cases may be an indicator that international efforts to
improve security at nuclear facilities in the former Soviet Union are bearing fruit. If so, the
occasional incidents involving small quantities of weapons-grade material may be instances of
material stolen in the early 1990s, when security measures were not in place. Conversely, the
absence of incidents with significant amounts of weapons-grade material also may be a sign that
local authorities are unable to identify such cases or that perpetrators have become more
sophisticated in their transactions. Because of the dearth of information, we can only speculate.
2003 Spike in Activity
The number of reported trafficking cases in most categories of material, except HEU and LEU,
suddenly increases in 2003 and steadily decreases the following years. The number of cases
involving opportunists shows a similar evolution. The surge in plutonium cases (small quantities
contained in industrial instruments or smoke detectors) is slightly delayed, with an increase
occurring in 2004 and a steady decrease starting in 2005. This parallel movement may indicate
an improvement in detection capabilities that may have produced a deterrent effect, which is
difficult to prove because media sources do not always indicate the circumstances surrounding
the discovery of the material. Nevertheless, the possibility underscores the importance of U.S.
and IAEA programs, initiated or accelerated after the September 11 attacks, to detect radioactive
sources at border points.
The number of cases involving HEU, LEU, and other unspecified enriched uranium, on the other
hand, decreases in 2002 and then flattens to a low level in subsequent years. This may be
indicative of the fact that there are not many such cases because of the improvement of physical
security measures at facilities storing such material. On the other hand, it may also indicate that
due to their weak radioactivity, HEU and LEU cannot be detected by existing radiation-detection
equipment. Consequently, more trafficking cases possibly have occurred. The small number of
cases involving organized crime and terrorist groups can be interpreted the same way. This may
indicate the absence of involvement of such groups in trafficking in the former Soviet Union, or
it may show that existing border-control equipment and methods are not efficient against more
Absence of Evidence Is Not Evidence of Absence
Except for the cases having a loose terrorist connection, the data does not show much of a
convergence between WMD-related material trafficking and terrorism. Yet, caution regarding
this conclusion is warranted for several reasons. First, investigations of trafficking incidents in
the former Soviet Union are usually incomplete, especially so in Central Asia and the Caucasus,
because the enforcement communities in these countries do not have sufficient funding or
appropriate training to conduct systematic investigations. As a result, investigations are often
limited to the arrest of the seller, with little or no information on the identity of other members of
a network, if any, or any determination of the origin of the material. The few cases where several
members of a trafficking chain—seller, buyer, and intermediaries—were identified and arrested
typically involve nationals of the former Soviet Union all meeting in the same place for the
transaction. Seldom can the police or security services identify sellers or buyers if they are
located in a foreign country. They are also often unable to discover the final destination of the
material or even the origin of the material if it did not come from a local facility.
A second problem relates to the lack of information sharing among enforcement organizations in
the region, which may spring from the absence of technical means, the lack of political will, and
territorial or political disputes. The problematic cooperation between Russia and Georgia
regarding the identification of the HEU seized by Georgian authorities in 2006 illustrates the fact
that political disputes constitute a powerful obstacle to cooperation in preventing proliferation
and identifying trafficking patterns.
Another major obstacle to understanding trafficking patterns is the infancy of export control in
the region. For instance, Turkmenistan has no export control law and no export control list for
strategic goods. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have export control laws, but implementing
legislation and an export control list for each country are still under development. Uzbekistan’s
export control law was adopted only in 2004, and the country’s export control list also is under
Except for Russia and Kazakhstan, most countries of the former Soviet Union have a weak legal
basis for regulating exports with contradictory and/or incomplete legislation, an underdeveloped
licensing system, and understaffed export control organizations with underpaid and untrained
personnel. Customs border posts are still ill-equipped to deal with trafficking of WMD-related
material, although several U.S. and international programs are underway to provide proliferation-
prevention equipment and training in several countries of the region. Some border sections also
remain unprotected because of access constraints, such as mountain passes, or territorial
disputes. For instance, because of disputes between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the Azeri
government does not control 132 kilometers of the border between Azerbaijan and Iran.
Mountain passes in Tajikistan, especially at the border with Afghanistan, which stretches over
1,200 kilometers, are the most difficult to protect. Visibility in these areas is limited to 10 meters
Finally, insufficient reporting is another cause for concern. Because of their lack of training,
customs officials, border guards, and security services sometimes do not recognize the
importance of events. During an IAEA workshop in 2001, a Russian customs officer indicated
that he was aware of more than 200 cases of illicit trafficking that had not been reported because
field custom agents considered them insignificant. Nuclear, chemical, and biological facilities
also may not report incidents occurring within their walls either because they poorly appreciate
the importance of the event or they fear being involved in a police investigation.
Training programs on export control of strategic material have been launched in various
countries in the former Soviet Union since the mid-1990s and are aimed to inform industry and
the enforcement community. These programs, however, are primarily directed toward aiding the
development of national export control systems or providing training on border control methods
and the use of border control equipment. Very little is done in the field of increasing
nonproliferation awareness among customs, border guards, and industry. The Export Control and
Related Border Security (EXBS) program managed by the Department of State is probably one
of the few programs that sponsors such training. The program is very limited, with a total budget
of $42 million in 2006 to cover 40 countries, of which former Soviet Union countries constitute
only a small portion.
Because our capacity to understand future trends in WMD-trafficking hinges on appropriate
reporting from the field, it will become increasingly important to improve the quality and
quantity of information gathering by training local and regional officials in recognizing
significant incidents. The proliferation consequences of such an imperfect system ought to
galvanize the international community to lend appropriate assistance.
The data collected over the 2001-2006 period shows that programs aiming to provide radiation-
detection equipment have had some success and should be continued and reinforced, especially
in countries located on the southern borders of the former Soviet Union. Although existing
technology does not detect HEU, it does detect other material with nuclear-weapon or RDD
applications (plutonium and radioactive sources). Until recently, the bulk of such U.S. assistance
went to Russia and Kazakhstan because they possessed the largest quantities of WMD material.
Only after 2001 did other countries in Central Asia and the Caucasus begin to receive more
attention, due to their location on trafficking routes, their position as transit countries, and their
proximity to troubled areas such as Afghanistan and Iran.
Nevertheless, border-control assistance programs in countries such as Tajikistan and
Turkmenistan are still wanting. These two countries are located on the trafficking routes for
drugs coming from Afghanistan, they have porous borders, and Tajikistan is a theater of terrorist
activity. In addition, their customs and border guards are ill-equipped and unprepared to deal
with trafficking in WMD-related material. These also are the two countries in the former Soviet
Union with the worst record in terms of export-control system development. It is important to
direct more funding to install radiation detection equipment at their borders—some of which is
already being done under the EXBS program—encourage the development of their national
export-control systems, and train their border control personnel.
Considering that several countries of the region, such as Georgia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan,
have mountainous areas difficult to protect, the provision of other technical means would greatly
improve border control. Tools such as night-vision equipment, all-terrain vehicles,
communication equipment, and helicopters would sharply improve the efficiency of these
organizations. It also is important to provide the means to support and operate such equipment.
Some of these measures are already being implemented under U.S.-funded programs. Many
customs and border guard posts remain unequipped, however, according to local customs and
border guard representatives. Another important measure consists of raising the morale and
motivation of customs and border guards to perform their tasks efficiently. Increasing or
complementing their salaries can help here.
New methods are needed to improve data collection related to trafficking in the region. This
could be achieved by establishing a regional information-sharing mechanism that would allow
national export-control and intelligence communities to share information. Some countries in the
region exchange information on licensing on a bilateral basis (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan)
while others do not (Georgia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine). Regional organizations such as the
Eurasian Economic Community have been established to harmonize export control
procedures and improve information sharing. The organization has a limited membership,
however, and so far has achieved little tangible progress. No regional information-sharing
mechanisms exist. Previous attempts to create such a system—the Regional Transit
Agreement—were supported by the State Department for several years but failed in part because
of conflicts between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The initiative should be reactivated, and conflicts
between Armenia and Azerbaijan could be avoided by establishing Georgia as the intermediary
between the two countries.
Considering that 20 percent of known trafficking cases have been discovered as a result of an
investigation, improving police investigative capabilities and training police forces in the
region—drug control and financial brigades—in identifying WMD-related material could also
greatly benefit data collection and improve our understanding of the possible connections among
crime, terrorism, and trafficking.
Programs in the field of chemical and biological nonproliferation are still wanting. Existing
training programs and equipment provision are geared toward nuclear material and technology.
Considering the dearth of biological and chemical detection equipment, it is important to help
customs and border guards identify these materials with other means. These could include such
tools as product identification workshops or the design of manuals describing goods related to
biological and chemical weapons that could be used by border control personnel. The creation of
expert centers on which border control personnel could call for assistance in identifying such
material would also be helpful. So far, such centers only exist in Russia. Yet, many other former
Soviet states have facilities that at one time produced biological and chemical weapons and that
could serve as an expert adjunct to law enforcement agencies.
Finally, for any new system or mechanism to be successful in the region, another major
challenge will have to be overcome: the absence of a nonproliferation culture. Government and
customs officials, border guards, and exporters alike have little understanding of the concept of
export control as a means to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their
means of delivery. Improvements in this area have occurred in Russia and Kazakhstan, but in
most other countries of the former Soviet Union, export control is usually understood as
“customs control,” that is, the act of checking the validity of documents and collecting duties. It
is important to educate local authorities and industry representatives about basic nonproliferation
concepts while providing them with updated information on WMD-related material and
trafficking techniques and patterns. Several training workshops have been organized under the
auspices of the Departments of State, Energy, and Commerce as well as the IAEA. These
workshops, however, are often organized with long intervals between them and for a limited
number of actors. There is a need for continuous and wider training. Only such a system would
truly generate a change in mentality and behaviors. This could be achieved by setting up a
nonproliferation curriculum within customs, border guards, and police academies and supporting
the creation of such academies where they do not already exist.
Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley is a senior researcher at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies
at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. Marina Matevski and Karl Scheuerman
provided assistance in collecting and organizing the data that form the basis for this article.
1. See Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS), NIS Export Control Observer, available at
2. See CNS, International Export Control Observer, available at
3. See CNS, NIS Nuclear Trafficking Database, available at
4. The incident involving weapons-grade highly enriched uranium (HEU) that was reported in
January 2007 in The New York Times was included in the data set, as the material was seized in
Georgia in January 2006. See Lawrence Scott Sheets and William Broad, “Georgia Says It
Blocked Smuggling of Arms-Grade Uranium,” The New York Times, January 25, 2007, p. A1.
5. Proliferation-significant cases are defined as involving kilogram-level quantities of plutonium-
239 or HEU with an enrichment level of 80 percent or more. At least 3 kilograms of plutonium-
239 or 25 kilograms of HEU enriched to 80 percent or more would be required to build a nuclear
bomb. In principle, a nuclear bomb could also be built with uranium enriched to less than 80
percent. The lower the enrichment level, however, the greater the quantity of uranium required.
For instance, at 20 percent enrichment, about 200 kilograms of uranium or more would be
needed to build a bomb. A bomb maker would also need to understand very advanced techniques
in order to be able to use uranium enriched to about 20 percent. Charles Ferguson and William
Potter, The Four Faces of Nuclear Terrorism (New York: Routledge, 2005).
6. For a description of these cases, see William C. Potter and Elena Sokova “Illicit Nuclear
Trafficking in the NIS: What’s New? What’s True?” The Nonproliferation Review, Summer
2002, pp. 112-120.
7. Uranium containing less than 20 percent of the isotope uranium-235.
8. An additional plutonium event was reported in the press in 2003. Because the material was
stolen in 1993 and the perpetrator attempted to sell it the same year, this case was not included in
the data set.
9. Traditionally, plutonium-238 is used for civilian purposes, while plutonium-239 is used in
weapons production. Other types of smoke detectors use americium-241, a radioactive isotope
slightly heavier than plutonium. A terrorist would need millions of detectors in order to extract
enough americium or plutonium to make a powerful RDD. Steve Coll, “The Unthinkable,” The
New Yorker, March 12, 2007, pp. 48-57.
10. “French Court Sentences Uranium Smugglers to Jail” NIS Export Control Observer, August
2003, p. 17.
11. Sheets and Broad, “Georgia Says It Blocked Smuggling of Arms-Grade Uranium.”
12. “Georgia Reports Four New Cases of HEU Seizure,” NIS Export Control Observer, July
13. See “Cesium Sellers Caught Red-handed,” Security Service of Ukraine, May 6, 2004; “1.8kg
Uranium Seized in Batumi, Georgia,” Interfax News Agency, July 24, 2001; “Balashikha
Organized Crime Group Members Arrested for Attempted Sale of Uranium-235,” Gazeta.ru,
December 4, 2001; “Omsk Oblast: Counterintelligence Agents Catch Pensioners Selling
Radioactive Osmium and Counterfeit Iraqi Currency,” VolgaInform, March 2, 2003.
14. “Russian Nuclear Theft Alarms U.S.,” The Guardian, July 19, 2002.
15. “A Charmed Pilgrim,” Komsomolskaya Pravda, July 19, 2004.
16. “Dirty Bomb Rockets Again Reported for Sale in Transnistria” NIS Export Control
Observer, June 2005.
17. See “National Security Service Detains Three Residents of Tokmok Attempting to Sell
Strategic Material for Over One Million Soms,” Kyrgyzinfo News Agency, February 11, 2005;
“Incidents of Illicit trafficking in the NIS-Russia,” NIS Export Control Observer, April 2005.
18. “Two Incidents of Pathogen Smuggling Reported,” NIS Export Control Observer, July 2003.
19. “Two Radioactive Smuggling Cases Occur in Georgia Within Weeks,” NIS Export Control
Observer, July 2003.
20. See “Kazakhstani Officials Confiscate 1.5kg Uranium Oxide, Heroin,” Interfax News
Agency, March 11, 2002; “Tajik Authorities Foil Attempt by Uzbekistani Citizen to Sell
Plutonium,” ITAR-TASS, March 15, 2004; “Dirty Bomb in a Nuclear Suitcase,” Izvestia.ru,
October 3, 2003; “Des trafiquants d’uranium arrêtés par hazard,” Liberation, July 24, 2001 (in
21. “1.8kg Uranium Seized in Batumi, Georgia”; “Balashikha Organized Crime Group Members
Arrested for Attempted Sale of Uranium-235.”
22. “Polish Police Arrest Gang Selling Explosives, Radioactive Material,” Gazeta Wyborcza, in
FBIS document EUP20030903000339, September 3, 2003; “Dirty Bomb in a Nuclear Suitcase.”
23. “Des trafiquants d’uranium arrêtés par hazard.”
24. No information on the transportation means was given for the 2003 HEU case.
25. As a heavy metal, uranium can pose a toxic risk, especially to the kidneys, if taken into the
26. An artificial surge in HEU cases was created by the announcement made in 2005 by
Georgian authorities that they thwarted four attempts of trafficking with HEU in the previous
two to three years. As the dates of these incidents were not given, they were all recorded in 2005.
27. See “Radioactive Components Stolen From Scientific Research Institute’s Storage Facility
Pass Through Ukraine and Seized by Special Services on Western Border,” Fakty i kommentarii
(Kiev), May 23, 2002; “Smuggling of Rare-Earth Metals Into Russia Stopped,” Interfax News
Agency, December 28, 2001.
28. Turkmenistan’s existing export control list includes only categories of material, such as
nuclear material and military technology, but does not provide a detailed list of controlled items.
29. The Export Control and Related Border Security Assistance (EXBS) program.
30. Eighth Central Asia and the Caucasus Regional Forum on Export Control, Tbilisi, Georgia,
May 16-18, 2006.
31. The Eurasian Economic Community (EURASEC) was created in May 2001, when the five
member states—Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan—ratified the
corresponding treaty. Uzbekistan has joined the organization recently. EURASEC replaced the
customs union of the Commonwealth of Independent States.
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