This is a blog dedicated to a personal interpretation of political news of the day. I attempt to be as knowledgeable as possible before commenting and committing my thoughts to a day's communication.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Heading Off Nuclear Disaster Without MAD

"We can expect more of these cases. As long as the smugglers think they can make big money without getting caught, they will keep doing it [attempting to sell radioactive materials on the black market, singling out terror groups as potential clients]."
"I was afraid to imagine what would happen if one of these scenarios happened one day."
"What they did [his Moldovan police superiors] was simply create a scene for the news media. We lost a huge opportunity to make the world safer."
Constantin Malic, Moldovan police officer
"In the age of the Islamic State, it's especially terrifying to have real smugglers of nuclear bomb material apparently making connections with real buyers."
Matthew Bunn, Harvard professor, study author of security of Russia's nuclear arsenal

With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the world rejoiced that there would no longer be a Cold War standoff between the West and the USSR, each with their nuclear weapons and the apprehension that some misjudgement might cause one or other to press that red button activating a nuclear counter-attack. Former Soviet satellites were jubilant that they could at last, be free of the shackles of enforced union where Russia dictated their politics for them.

And those countries of the West with their own nuclear arsenals kept under close wraps to ensure nothing went astray began to worry about the former USSR's vast stockpiles of nuclear weapons and fissionable material, and radioactive waste. When the USSR collapsed so did the Russian economy, and it had scant funds to set aside for the securing of its nuclear and radioactive elements. In stepped the West, to offer their expertise, their funding and their assistance in disposal.

But of course not everything could be secured and it was well enough recognized that what had been spirited away could surface at any time, and eventually find its way into the hands of viciously unscrupulous elements, like terrorist groups. Perhaps the hope was that highly radioactive material needing special handling might ensure that those who took possession, unaware of how deadly the material was, would themselves suffer consequences.

Now, it is suspected that some agents belonging to the Russian successor agency to the infamous KGB have been involved with criminal gangs in moving radioactive materials onto the black market. Who might possibly be interested in procuring such illegal and dangerous products other than terror groups in their quest to subject their enemies to the horrors of radioactive threats? The groups that might be anxious to acquire such a weapon are readily recognized; Islamist jihadists.

And from what investigative agents and intelligence sources have been able to glean, a black market thrives in Russian nuclear materials long decommissioned but powerfully potent as weapons, through tiny Moldova. While Moldovan police have succeeded in detecting and breaking up no fewer than four nuclear materials-flogging conspiracies since 2010, the issue is complicated by the fact that in stopping those activities the main actors were permitted to flee, and often with their contraband.

They do point out, however, that the West's break with Russia over Ukraine has resulted in cooperation being cut off, making it extremely difficult to have any knowledge whether smugglers have discovered effective new ways to move some of Russia's huge store of radioactive materials to the black market. Moldovan police working with the FBI have seen a pattern emerge.

Whereby authorities detect plans to sell these deadly black market goods and zero in to stop their plans for moving beyond their early deal stages. But then the ringleaders are given the opportunity to decamp, sometimes with their nuclear contraband still in their possession, enabling them at a later date to simply pick up where the last deal left off.

And nor can it be known whether, despite the hobbling of the four deals that were discovered and stopped, some of such arrangements to transfer possession of the radioactive material did succeed, so that such material may now be in the possession of terrorist groups. The Moldovan policeman, Mr. Malic, has a fairly balanced and intense idea of what is happening; he went from total innocence to experienced investigator over a five-year period.

The four successful sting operations have made him an old hand at the game, but in full knowledge of the stark reality of the situation he must also be aware that sooner or later an event of horrifying proportions may come about as a result of those totally dedicated to mass slaughter, signifying that their hope to take possession of a weapon of mass destruction succeeded. His experience has not, he feels, been reassuring.
"Until the head of the criminal group is sentenced and jailed, until we know for sure where those substances seized in Europe came from and where they were going to, only then will we be able to say a danger is no longer present."
Gheorghe Cavcaliuc, senior Moldovan police officer
A container of the radioactive substance Cobalt-60 is kept in water at an institute in Russia, 12/02/1997  
A container of the radioactive substance Cobalt-60 is kept in water at an institute in Russia  Photo: Reuters

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